Report Card: Grading Olympic tennis
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This week wraps up the London Olympics, where Andy Murray and Serena Williams took home the singles gold.
Andy Murray: A-plus. Murray still has the "Slam Monkey" on his back, but he mitigated it slightly by bouncing back so resoundingly after his Wimbledon loss a month ago. Just for perspective, let's remember that this is the guy who went on a complete walkabout after he lost the Australian Open final last year, failing to win a match for almost three months. This time he had an even more gut-wrenching loss in a major, and 28 days later he avenged that loss against Roger Federer, dominating the Swiss on his best surface to win a gold medal. Overshadowed by his breakthrough singles win at his home Olympics? Murray also won a silver medal in mixed doubles with Laura Robson.
Serena Williams: A-plus. Double gold for Serena in singles and doubles, and an absolute smackdown of Maria Sharapova, the woman who may not exactly rival her on the court (a seven-year losing streak doesn't really scream "rivalry" to me), but definitely owns Serena off the court. I don't think that's ever sat well with Serena and I'm guessing this win was a little sweeter given it came at Sharapova's expense.
Maria Sharapova: B. Maria Sharapova, Olympic silver medalist. That has a nice ring to it. Serena Williams defeats Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the Olympic final. Uh ... less so.
Roger Federer: B. Like Sharapova, Federer will leave the Olympics with something he did not have: a singles medal. Though his performance during the gold-medal match was disappointing, his semifinal win over Juan Martin del Potro was the match of the tournament, with Federer coming through 19-17 in the third. That win alone has to ease the disappointment. I'm skeptical sometimes when Federer dismisses some of his losses and goes all "glass half full" on us, but this interview made me genuinely believe he knows this was a great week for him.
Mike and Bob Bryan: A. The Americans won the doubles to complete their career Golden Slam. Rock solid and dedicated members of the U.S. Davis Cup, good on them for finally getting the ultimate patriotic prize in sports.
Victoria Azarenka: A. A gold medal in mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi and a bronze medal in singles. When the draw came out, I'm not sure Azarenka could have realistically imagined a better result (had Serena ended up in the other half of the draw, she may have been able to secure silver).
Juan Martin del Potro: A-minus. I'll be honest, I didn't give the big man a chance against Federer in the semifinal, but there he was, summoning his 2009 form and battering the ball with brutal force. Does this match signal a return to the Del Potro whom everyone feared in the draw? If that loss meant the end of his tournament, I would say no. But he rebounded two days later to hand Novak Djokovic a devastating loss in the bronze-medal match. Interesting. Very interesting.
Novak Djokovic: B-minus. What is going on with Djokovic? He hasn't been the same since Miami, and it seems that Rafael Nadal's ability to roll over him on clay has left the Serb with a whole lot of self-doubt in the pressure moments. The swagger is gone and when you look at his big matches over the last two months, he's had a hard time showing up and summoning his best.
Lisa Raymond: B-plus. No doubt she and partner Liezel Huber were disappointed to finish their women's doubles event with two losses, one in the semifinals and again in the bronze-medal match to leave without a medal. So it was great to see Raymond, at 39 years old, team up with Mike Bryan to capture the bronze -- her first and only Olympic medal -- in mixed doubles. It would have been an injustice if she finished her career without standing on that Olympic podium.
Venus Williams: A. Mission accomplished. Venus capped her comeback with a third straight gold medal in doubles and a solid run in singles, beating French Open finalist Sara Errani easily in the first round before falling to Angelique Kerber in a high-quality third-round match, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). But will we see her on the regular tour for the rest of the year? We'll see.
Agnieszka Radwanska: F. Thank goodness the world No. 2 had the honor of carrying the flag for Poland at the opening ceremony, because otherwise this Olympics would have been a pointless exercise. The Wimbledon finalist entered all three events and lost in the first round of singles and mixed and the second round of doubles.
Young Americans: C-minus. Let them take a moment to bow down and thank their elders, for the veterans took the spotlight off a pretty sorry, though not completely unexpected, performance from the young guns. Ryan Harrison, Christina McHale and Donald Young all lost in the first round and Harrison was compelled go on television to apologize for his racket-throwing temper tantrum.
Maria Kirilenko: B-plus. Kirilenko was a few points from making the Wimbledon semifinals a month ago and she proved that run wasn't a fluke. The Russian was the bracket buster of the tournament, knocking out Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals in straight sets. She walked away with a bronze medal in doubles with partner Nadia Petrova and a fourth-place finish in singles.
Petra Kvitova: C. Another big tournament, another example of Kvitova's playing to her ranking, yet somehow it feels like a massive disappointment. Her loss to Kirilenko wasn't a complete shock given her erratic results this year, but you have to wonder how she's feeling physically. She was expected to play mixed doubles with Radek Stepanek but eventually chose to skip the event. Those two would have had as good a shot as any to medal, so it leaves me wondering.
Laura Robson: B-plus. Talk about someone who made the best with her luck. The 18-year-old was only supposed to play doubles with Heather Watson via an ITF wild card, but with Petra Martic's withdrawal from singles, Robson was the next alternate in. She ended up notching the best win of her young career over Lucie Safarova and then once again played well against Sharapova (in a loss). Then, when Murray lost his doubles match with his brother, he decided to enter the mixed doubles event and chose Robson, with whom he had played mixed at Hopman Cup, as his partner. It was a controversial decision (Watson voiced her disappointment), but it paid off. Robson helped Murray get a second Olympic medal and in return Murray helped her become the youngest Olympic tennis medalist since Jennifer Capriati in 1992. Not that Robson would remember that. She wasn't even born yet.
Team India: F. All that drama for nothing. Its two men's doubles teams and mixed doubles team all lost in the second round.
Kei Nishikori: B-plus. Nishikori spent months sidelined with an abdominal injury and returned to grass with mediocre results. So no one saw his quarterfinal run coming. The Japanese No. 1 beat Bernard Tomic and Nikolay Davydenko and upset No. 4 seed David Ferrer.
Milos Raonic: B. Another tournament, another display of Raonic's promise that ultimately ends in a loss. But hanging with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their marathon second-round match showed a lot about Raonic's ability to handle pressure. Then again, he ultimately lost 3-6, 6-3, 23-25.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-plus. Tsonga goes home with a big smile and a silver medal in doubles, and it's hard to argue that anyone worked harder for his or her hardware than the Flying Frenchman. Not only did he have the record-breaking 25-23 epic with Raonic, but he and Michael Llodra also went 18-16 in the third to beat Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez in the doubles quarterfinal. The French love drama and Tsonga was the king of it at the Olympics.
John Isner: B. Isner was finally able to do something at the All England Club that he's never been able to do during Wimbledon: collect two straight wins. In fact, Isner won three, the most impressive being his third-round win over Janko Tipsarevic, before losing to Federer. Watching Isner through the week, I couldn't help but wonder: How different would his career be if Slams were best-of-three, rather than best-of-five?
Mixed doubles: A-plus. Mixed doubles was a blast to watch all week and the team pairings were fun to track. Now let's expand the draw for Rio.
Rafael Nadal: D. On the day Federer, Djokovic and Murray progressed to the semifinals, Nadal announced he was withdrawing from this week's tournament in Toronto. It was no surprise, but again, those knees have to be in bad shape.
Gael Monfils: D. Speaking of bad knees, Monfils hasn't played a match since he lost to Brian Baker in Nice and he announced his withdrawal from both Toronto and Cincinnati.
Brian Baker: C. Tough adjustment or a return to earth? Baker hasn't won a match since returning to the States, going 0-3 in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
All England Club: A. It unlocked the gates to the grounds and stepped aside as the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the ITF ran the show. As a result, everyone from fans to players were reminded as to how good it is as the show-runner during Wimbledon. Sure, we may quibble with court assignments, roof closures (or non-closures) and erratic stoppages in play during the Championships, but there's a reason why Wimbledon is what it is. It's not just because the players deck themselves out in white and play on grass. It's because the people running the show, though not infallible, are pretty darn good at what they do.
NBC Coverage: B-plus. There were a few miscues here and there -- Pat O'Brien's awkward hosting encapsulating a vast majority of them -- but overall NBC treated tennis at the Games with respect. Not only did the event get its own dedicated channel on Bravo, but it also was aired live in its entirety and the finals were brought over to NBC, creating a "Breakfast at Wimbledon but it's not really Wimbledon but just go with it" event that brought in a record number of viewers for tennis. So yes, we snark, we complain, we poke fun and we act like entitled brats when matches aren't shown exactly as we want. But it all comes from a place of love -- the love of tennis -- and on the whole, NBC came through. LOCOG: D-plus. From court scheduling, to empty seats, to going out of its way to erase every vestige of class and style that has long been the trademark of the All England Club, LOCOG ran a tournament that would barely pass muster as a low-level tour event.