Monday July 23rd, 2012

Andy Roddick Andy Roddick took down Gilles Muller in Atlanta to win his 32nd ATP final. (Abacasa.com)

The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This past week saw Andy Roddick add to his trophy closet and one Williams sister stepped up in another's absence.

Andy Roddick: A-minus. The last time we saw Roddick, he was waving a symbolic goodbye to the Wimbledon crowd after losing in the third round to David Ferrer. Everyone watching his farewell wondered what it meant in the long-term, and Roddick didn't give any answers afterwards. But so long as Roddick's body holds up, he's not going anywhere and his grinding, three-set wins over John Isner in the Atlanta semifinals and Gilles Muller in the final seemed to prove that he still has gas in the tank.

The Atlanta title was his second straight ATP title (he won Eastbourne before Wimbledon) and further proof that Roddick finally has his teeth into this season. One slight problem: Roddick seemed to pick up a right shoulder injury during the final. He says his trainer assured him there was nothing structurally wrong with the shoulder but Roddick had to battle through some dull pain to grab his 32nd career title. He's on a roll right now, winning 11 of his last 12 matches, but did his Atlanta run come at a cost? The Olympic tennis competition begins in six days.

Venus Williams: A-plus. Of all of Venus' many accomplishments, the one that I've always respected the most is her unfailing commitment to Billie Jean King and World TeamTennis. So leave it to Venus to put WTT on everyone's radar on Saturday when she was called on to replace Serena, who pulled out their Washington Kastles match to rest her back. Venus took the court against her old rival Martina Hingis, with Hingis' New York Sportimes leading Venus' Washington Kastles 19-13. The Kastles' 24-match win streak was in danger, as Venus had to not only beat Hingis, but rout her to make up that six point difference. (WTT uses aggregate scoring, combining the games won by each team in each match.)

Venus stepped up and beat Hingis 5-1, moving the score to 20-18. But in WTT, if the trailing team wins the final set as Venus did, the match goes to overtime, which consists of a 2 game playoff. All Hingis had to do was win one game to clinch it for her team. But Venus broke Hingis and then saved four match points on her own serve to force a supertiebreak, which she won 7-0 to secure the win for the Kastles. That's 11 straight points Venus won in the end over Hingis. Entertaining stuff.

Dominika Cibulkova: A. An interesting question popped up in the press room last week at the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad: Is Cibulkova an overachiever? There was no definitive answer either way, but it was an interesting discussion as we watched the pint-sized Slovak cruise through the Carlsbad draw to win just her second career title. In a week that saw a flurry of matches go the full three sets, Cibulkova didn't drop a set the whole way through and only faced one set point in the tournament. Yet even with that on-court performance, her off-court performance was even better. Cibulkova, who parted ways with her coach Zeljko Krajan in April, had no problem talking about why Krajan's coaching method ground her down emotionally.

"[He] was a great coach, but in the end it was not helping me. He was just putting too much pressure and with every ball missed and every match I lost I was just putting myself really down because he was very, very tough. So after we split, you know, I just felt so much freer on the court, if I do mistake, it doesn't matter. But still sometimes after the three years with him, I do mistake and go crazy about that and that is what the new coach is trying to tell me. It's nothing. It's one ball and it's not the end of the world, and you have to keep going.

"He's very intense all the time. I think me being with him two years is something now I just don’t understand how I could handle it, but it made me maybe tougher in some way. But as I said in the end it was not helpful."

That's the first time I recall a player publicly criticizing Krajan's methods, which we first saw on display when he coached Dinara Safina to three Slam finals and the world No. 1 rank. Cibulkova said she's already prone to being negative on the court and Krajan's criticism and critique just fueled it. Interesting stuff.

Thomaz Bellucci: A. Bellucci had a stellar week in Gstaad, winning his third ATP title and beating Mikhail Youzhny, Feliciano Lopez, Grigor Dimitrov and Janko Tipsarevic to win the title, launching his ranking from No. 60 to No. 40. The Brazilian loves the clay but it's off to grass now for the Olympics.

Juan Monaco: A. Welcome to the top 10, Juan. His win over Tommy Haas in the final of Hamburg was the biggest title of his career. That makes two Argentines in the top 10. Kind of weird that one of them isn't David Nalbandian, no?

Jelena Jankovic: D. She had a great opportunity to jumpstart her season in Carlsbad, but lost to No. 161 Chan Yung-Jan in the quarterfinals. Was it a surprising loss? No. And that's the problem.

Janko Tipsarevic: B-minus. No top 10 player, man or woman, played as much tennis during the two-week break between Wimbledon and the Olympics as Tipsarevic. We'll see if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, he's got some confidence after winning the title in Stuttgart. On the other hand, after making the final of Gstaad last week (losing to Bellucci in the final), he played eight clay matches in two weeks. With the grind of the 2012 season, maybe taking a break was the better course of action here.

Christina McHale: B. Every time I watch McHale play, I can see how much she's improving and this week was no exception. Here's what I learned this week: A) she can pop a serve at 115 mph, B) her inside out forehand can be a weapon, C) she's getting emotionally feisty on court and D) she's still a work in progress. McHale pushed Marion Bartoli to three sets in a tough semifinal that could have gone either way (Bartoli survived 7-5, 4-6, 6-4) but when the pressure mounted, McHale blinked and Bartoli charged through. That's something you gain with experience. If she can learn to handle the pressure, I'd buy her stock sooner rather than later.

Marion Bartoli: C-plus. Bartoli will be the first to admit that she did not play well in Carlsbad. She finished the tournament with over 45 double faults, and made the finals after being pushed to the limit in three straight three-set matches. She complained of a hip injury and an ankle injury but progressed through the tournament on grit alone. Once in the finals she was thoroughly outclassed by her good friend Cibulkova. The top seed in Carlsbad and the No. 2 seed in Stanford will go home to Europe without much to show for her two weeks in California.

Yung-Jan Chan: A. Ranked No. 161, Chan qualified for the Carlsbad main draw and then scored the biggest win of her career when she upset Jelena Jankovic, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-5, to make her first WTA semifinal. The qualifier from Chinese Taipei, who has been more of a doubles specialist in her young career, had surgery during the off-season to remove a cyst and said the time off made her want to focus more on her singles career.

Of course, Chan's claim to fame before this week was the fact that she goes by "Latisha" amongst her friends and in the locker room. Asked to explain why... Well I'll just quote her in full:

"First all, the Taiwanese who speaks English will try to get an English name. I was searching by Internet or dictionary, and once I ask a tennis player, he's in Taiwan and lives in United States for a very long time, so I ask him if you have any good names which could fit like my personality. He gave me three. Then he tell me what it means, and finally I choose Latisha. It's a black name. I said, 'What's that mean'? Because I like when you pronounce. He says, It means a black girl who really loves sports. I said, Yeah, I'm going to take that."

"And then I was playing doubles final in Stanford against Williams sisters, and [Serena] came after me. She was like, Excuse me, excuse me. I was like, Is that Serena? She said, Is that your name Latisha? I was like, Yeah. She was like, Do you know that it's a black name? I said, Yeah. She said, Oh, that's cool. I said, I know. (Laughter.) It was really fun."

Funny one, that Latisha.

John Isner: B. Good signs from Isner to follow up his win in Newport with a semifinal run in Atlanta, losing to Andy Roddick and giving him some confidence going to the Olympics. But can we put some Shamwows in his shoes? The guy was sweating so profusely in the Atlanta humidity that he needed over four minutes on a changeover to swap out his socks and shoes. Incidentally, he didn't get a time violation. Benefits of being a Georgia Bulldog?

Go Soeda: B-plus. Kei Nishikori may get the headlines as the first Japanese man to do a whole lot of things, but Go Soeda has quietly climbed up the rankings. Now ranked inside the top 50, Soeda beat Nishikori in the quarterfinals of Atlanta, the first all-Japanese ATP quarterfinal in the Open Era. And Soeda didn't just beat Nishikori, he routed him 6-2, 6-1. Watch out, Special Kei. Ready, set, Go.

Sloane Stephens. D. If Stephens had 10 percent of the fight that Melanie Oudin had, she'd be a top 20 player. As it was, Stephens rolled against Oudin in their first round match in Carlsbad and had two match points at 6-4 in the second set tiebreak. She couldn't convert, lost four straight points, and never recovered, losing 1-6, 7-6, 6-0. That scoreline says it all. Rafael Nadal and Andrea Petkovic: D. Injuries sure do get in the way of this great sport, huh?

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