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Report Card: Venus, Nadal clinch titles; Cilic stays hot with another big week

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Venus Williams claimed her first title since 2012 with a victory over Alize Cornet in Dubai. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Venus Williams claimed her first title since 2012 with a victory over Alize Cornet in Dubai. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week featured titles for Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams, Ernests Gulbis and Marin Cilic. 

Venus Williams: A-plus. Since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011, Venus frequently stated that she just needed time and matches – time to learn how to best manage her body to practice and prepare for tournaments, and matches to get back to her competitive best. That two-and-a-half-year process has been marked by a number of tight three-set defeats, including a trio of them for her three losses this year.

Given that history, Venus’ dominant run to the Dubai title as a wild card was both unexpected and completely logical; she’s come close to breaking through many times over the last six months. The quality has been there in spurts — she reached the semifinals of the Pan Pacific Open last fall, where she lost to Petra Kvitova, and she lost to Ana Ivanovic in the final of the ASB Classic to start 2014.

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  • Published On Feb 24, 2014
  • Report Card: Simona Halep dazzles in Doha; Tomas Berdych ends drought

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    Simona Halep

    Simona Halep improved to 7-0 in finals with her victory at the Qatar Open. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Simona Halep bagged another title and Tomas Berdych ended his drought.

    Simona Halep: A-plus. The Romanian continued her incredible eight-month stretch by winning the Qatar Open for her biggest title. Halep began the week needing a third-set tiebreaker to hold off Kaia Kanepi, but she didn’t lose a set in her next four matches, including three against top-10 players — Sara Errani (6-2, 6-0) in the quarterfinals, Agnieszka Radwanska (7-5, 6-2) in the semifinals and Angelique Kerber (6-2, 6-3) in the final. In her most impressive victory, Halep responded to Radwanska’s defense and shot making with a remarkable display of speed, balance and execution.

    Halep lacks a signature victory: She has never beaten Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova, and last month’s Australian Open marked her first appearance in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 15 attempts. Still, with her improved forehand doing damage, Halep looked virtually unbeatable at times in Doha. She made quite an impression with her first title of 2014.

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  • Published On Feb 17, 2014
  • Report Card: Monfils, Fognini, Cilic win titles; Fed Cup semifinals set

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    Fabio Fognini

    Fabio Fognini has won three of his last four clay-court tournaments. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini continued their fine early-season form, and Germany was among four teams to earn a berth in the Fed Cup semifinals.

    Gael Monfils: A. Here’s a stat for you: The high-flying Frenchman is 12-0 this season against players not named Rafael Nadal. That’s a pretty darn good 12-2 record. (He lost to Nadal in the final of the Qatar Open and the third round of the Australian Open.) Monfils won the Open Sud de France for his fifth career title, beating No. 9 Richard Gasquet in the final to improve to 2-0 this year against his countryman. Monfils lost only two points on his first serve in the final. Not bad for a guy who was struggling with back pain at the start of the week. Monfils’ second Montpellier title brings his ranking up to No. 23, and he’s about to embark on a three-month stretch in which has just 60 points to defend.

    Fabio Fognini: A. It’s been a strong start to the year for Fognini, who had a career-best fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open, led Italy past Argentina in Davis Cup and last week won the Chile Open with victories over Nicolas Almagro in the semifinals and Leonardo Mayer in the final. The 26-year-old has won three of his last four clay-court tournaments and 19 of his last 20 matches on the surface. And he’s done it all in his trademark style.

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  • Published On Feb 10, 2014
  • Report Card: High marks for Roger Federer, Andy Murray in Davis Cup

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    Roger Federer

    Roger Federer helped Switzerland reach the Davis Cup quarterfinals. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, the Russians ruled the WTA and the ATP’s stars grabbed the Davis Cup headlines.

    Roger Federer: A. Federer’s last-minute decision to play Switzerland’s first-round Davis Cup tie against Serbia injected some life into what was shaping up to be an uneventful weekend. Federer, who had played only one first-round tie since 2004, swooped in to Novi Sad and defeated Ilija Bozoljac 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. He also confirmed his intention to play in the quarterfinal against Kazakhstan. My only lament about this tie is that we never got to see Federer face Novak Djokovic before a hostile crowd on the home turf of the Serb, who sat out the tie.

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  • Published On Feb 04, 2014
  • Report Card: Grading the Aussie Open

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    Li Na won the Australian Open final 7-6 (3), 6-0 over Dominika Cibulkova. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    Li Na took advantage of a favorable draw to win her second Grand Slam title. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here’s our review of the Australian Open.

    Stanislas Wawrinka: A-plus. The 28-year-old Swiss relied on an electrifying power game to win his first Grand Slam title and become the first player to defeat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the same major. Yes, Djokovic and Nadal weren’t at their best, but how many times have they played a subpar match and come out on top? Wawrinka snapped a 14-match losing streak to Djokovic and a 12-match skid to Nadal in which he had lost all 26 sets. Much like women’s champion Li Na, Wawrinka’s self-belief carried him to the title and a career-high ranking of No. 3.

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  • Published On Jan 29, 2014
  • Report Card: Lleyton Hewitt wins first title in Australia since 2005

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    At almost 33 years old, Lleyton Hewitt (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

    Lleyton Hewitt, who turns 33 next month, regained the status as the No. 1 Australian with his victory in Brisbane. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here’s how we rate the week at the the Brisbane International, the Qatar Open, ASB Classic, Chennai Open and Hopman Cup exhibition.

    Lleyton Hewitt: A-plus. Are you kidding me? A month shy of his 33rd birthday, Australia’s Lawnmower Man marched through the Brisbane International draw to win his first title on home soil since 2005, defeating top-seeded Roger Federer 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in the final. Hewitt won his first title since the Gerry Weber Open in 2010, when he beat — wait for it — Federer in the final. His 29th career title pushed him to No. 43 in the rankings — the first time since 2010 that he’s been ranked inside the top 50 — and made him the No. 1 Aussie again. He’ll be one of the most dangerous unseeded players at the Australian Open — all during a time when, let’s face it, everyone was wondering if this might be his last year on tour. Leave it to Lleyton to quiet the whispers with a resounding, “COME ON!”

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  • Published On Jan 07, 2014
  • 2013 BTB Awards: ATP Report Card

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    Rafael Nadal

    Rafael Nadal’s banner year featured 10 titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

    The Beyond The Baseline awards are our look back at the best — and worst — of the tennis season. Today we offer our final “grades” for the ATP Tour singles players. Rafael Nadal headlines the list after a monstrous comeback season in which he regained the No. 1 ranking. Click here for our complete archive of year-end awards.

    Head of the class

    Rafael Nadal: He’s the player of the year by any metric. The Spaniard won 10 titles, including his eighth French Open and second U.S. Open, upping his Grand Slam haul to 13 titles. His season was shocking simply because he was able to bounce back from a seven-month injury layoff to dominate the tour so quickly and so consistently. Beating everyone on his beloved clay was one thing, but through the U.S. Open he also transformed into the best hard-court player, outpacing the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and an admittedly subpar Roger Federer. For eight months, the Big Four was reduced to the Big One, and in this era of greatness, that’s one heck of a feat.

    Andy Murray: Seventy-seven. It’s a figure that will live forever in tennis history, signifying the number of years that Great Britain had to wait for another male champion at Wimbledon. Murray ended that hand-wringing drought, and that will forever define his career.

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  • Published On Nov 18, 2013
  • Report Card: Grading the Tour Finals

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    Novak Djokovic

    Novak Djokovic is 22-0 with four titles since the U.S. Open. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

    LONDON – The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here’s how we rate the week at the ATP World Tour Finals.

    Novak Djokovic: A-plus. In defeating Rafael Nadal to win his third ATP World Tour Finals title and extend his winning streak to 22 matches, Djokovic rewrote the script on a year that was all about Rafa. Nadal spent eight months racking up big titles, including three at the expense of Djokovic, who lost to the Spaniard in the French Open semifinals, Montreal Masters semifinals and U.S. Open final. As the headlines extolled Nadal’s incredible return from injury and observers debated his place among the greatest in history, Djokovic faded into the shadows and faced questions about some uncharacteristic lapses and struggles in marquee matches.

    Game-by-game analysis of Djokovic-Nadal

    Djokovic acknowledges that the two Slam losses to Nadal and one to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final hit him hard. But he viewed the fall stretch as an opportunity to make more of his season, and he delivered with four consecutive titles and multiple victories over Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro. Most important, Djokovic showed the mental strength and focus absent from his game at various times this year. A determined Djokovic rediscovered his edge just in time to tee up what should be a wide-open start to the 2014 season in Australia.

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  • Published On Nov 12, 2013
  • Report Card: Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep rack up sixth titles of year

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    Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep

    Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep have both won six titles this year. (AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic remained unbeaten since the U.S. Open and Simona Halep punctuated her breakout season with a perfect run at the WTA Tournament of Champions.

    Novak Djokovic: A-plus. Here’s what Djokovic has done since losing to Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final: rip off 17 consecutive victories, win two Masters titles as well as the China Open, and defeat the likes of Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

    Djokovic has accomplished all of that not by blowing everyone off the court and looking invincible but by being mentally stronger in the tough moments. That’s a positive development for the Serb, who has struggled to keep his focus during matches at times this year. That he enters the ATP World Tour Finals with even an outside chance to finish the year ranked No. 1 is a huge credit to Djokovic’s post-U.S. Open effort. He’s up to six titles this year, equaling last season’s haul, and 40 overall, joining Nadal and Federer as the only active players with that many.

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  • Published On Nov 04, 2013
  • Report Card: Serena Williams punctuates superb season with one last title

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    Serena Williams raises her trophy after clinching the WTA Championships. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

    Serena Williams raises her trophy after clinching the WTA Championships. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Serena Williams won the WTA Championships and Juan Martin del Potro continued his fine post-U.S. Open form.

    Serena Williams: A-plus. What’s left to say about Serena Williams? At 32, she put together the most consistent season of her career, one that actually left her wanting more. With a 78-4 record, capped by a title at the WTA Championships, Williams posted the tour’s highest single-season winning percentage since 1989. She won a career-high 11 titles and earned a women’s record of $12.4 million. Her most frustrating losses came to Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, where Williams was nursing ankle and back injuries, and to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round of Wimbledon, where Lisicki played lights out on her best surface.

    Most impressive is how mentally strong Williams remained all year. Unlike her other dominant seasons, there were no bad losses this year, no weeks in which she seemed like she wanted to do anything but swing her racket and no moments when she seemed to happily lose if it meant she could earn herself a break. Last week, Williams could have easily folded against Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals, when she confessed to hitting a wall the night before, and with the way Li Na played in the final, Williams would have been forgiven if she allowed her mind to wander about her vacation plans.

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  • Published On Oct 28, 2013


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