Report Card: Davis Cup heroes, first-time champs, more grades
Tomas Berdych: A-plus. A week after losing to Andy Murray in the U.S. Open semis, Berdych was back on his horse to almost single-handedly put the Czech Republic in just their second Davis Cup final since they won the title as Czechoslovakia in 1980. Berdych excelled on the red clay in Buenos Aires, coming back to win when trailing two sets to one (and a break down) to Juan Monaco on the first day. Then, he teamed up with Radek Stepanek to win doubles and give the Czechs a 2-1 lead heading into the last day, where he clinched the tie by defeating Carlos Berlocq, a late replacement for Juan Martin del Potro who withdrew due to injury. That's a solid weekend's worth of work and it's an effort that other top players should look to when it comes to Davis Cup commitment. Berdych and Stepanek have carried this team all year, with Berdych losing just one singles match in the last two years and he hasn't lost a doubles match since the 2009 final. With so many Davis Cup ties turning on the doubles rubber, that's some clutch work from Berdych, who rarely has any success outside of Davis Cup.
The win means the Czech Republic will be in the finals of both Davis Cup and Fed Cup -- Petra Kvitova & Co. clinched their final spot in April -- giving them the opportunity to become just the third country to ever win both Davis Cup and Fed Cup in the same year. They will host the defending champions, Spain, who beat the Czechs in the 2009 final. The difference is that Spain won't benefit from their clay superiority. As hosts, the Czechs will have choice of surface, and I'm pretty sure they're Googling "fastest hardcourt surface the ITF will allow" as we speak.
Berdych also gets high marks for taking this picture, which was easily the picture of the tournament.
David Ferrer: A. Credit to Ferrer for making the most of Rafael Nadal's absence. First he makes the semifinals of the U.S. Open in the Rafa-less quarter and now he won't let that spotlight go, winning both of his singles matches against the United States to send Spain into their second straight Davis Cup final. In so doing, he extended his record to 16-0 in singles matches at home.
Bernard Tomic: C. It was always going to be a tough ask for Australia to avoid relegation against Germany on clay in Hamburg, but after Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione snagged a crucial point by winning the doubles to give Patrick Rafter's men a 2-1 lead heading into the final day, Tomic had a prime opportunity to play the hero against Germany. Instead, he went down in straight sets to the always tricky Florian Mayer, leaving Australia's hopes with Hewitt in the final match of the tie, which he lost in straight sets to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. With Hewitt's Davis Cup days numbered, you have to wonder how long it will be until we see Australia back in the top flight World Group.
Roger Federer: B-plus. An admittedly exhausted Federer dusted himself off from a disappointing U.S. Open to help Switzerland avoid relegation and stay in the World Group, winning both his singles matches against an outmatched team from the Netherlands. Theoretically that would bode well for his Davis Cup participation in 2013, but Federer said afterwards that Davis Cup simply isn't a priority for him. It's the same sentiment he's offered before and it continues to puzzle me. You need three points to win any Davis Cup tie and you have to think Federer could count on himself to deliver two of those points. With Wawrinka playing behind him and teaming up for doubles, I'd give the Swiss as good a chance as any to capture a title any given year.
John Isner: B. The fact that the Americans were even in the semifinals is a credit to Isner and a triumph in and of itself. Isner led the Americans to away wins over the Swiss (def. Federer, Chiudinelli) and French (def. Tsonga, Simon), but with an opportunity to put the pressure on the Spaniards he got locked into a long, drawn out five-setter once again and looked gassed by the end of it, losing to Nicolas Almagro on the first day. That loss put the Americans in an 0-2 hole after Sam Querrey lost to Ferrer in the opening rubber. Two days later, Ferrer laid down the hammer to hand Isner a four-set loss. None of that should take away from what Jim Courier's team was able to do this year.
The Bryans: A. Rock solid again. In a must-win tie, the twins scored a big win over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez to keep the tie alive going into Sunday.
Radek Stepanek: C-minus. The guy just loves to invite Davis Cup controversy. First there was that "handshake" with Janko Tipsarevic earlier this year, now he tells the press that Del Potro was exaggerating his injury. As AP reported, Stepanek told Czech media that Del Potro looked “absolutely healthy," and that Del Potro’s tears after the win seemed “blown out of proportion.” Considering Del Potro subsequently withdrew and his wrist has to be immobilized for 10 days, I'm not so sure, Radek.
Nicolas Almagro: A. If Almagro loses to Isner on Day 1, who knows how this tie could have turned out. But he didn't. Davis Cup is a pressure cooker that can melt the steeliest of minds and Almagro was dealing with one of the most frustrating players on tour. But as Isner blew ace after ace by him and the Spaniard grew frustrated by his inability to convert break points, Nico stuck with it. His reward was a stadium full of Spaniards chanting his name. With the stacked Spaniard team, that's not an opportunity that comes often for Almagro.
Venus Williams: A. You have to admire Venus' commitment to WorldTeam Tennis and her participation, especially this season, has been the spark the competition needed. On Sunday, Venus clinched the second straight title for the Washington Kastles, who finished the season undefeated and extended their unbeaten streak to 32-0 over the last two years. While her play has occasionally been spotty, her enthusiasm never wavers. Check out the celebratory pictures of Venus being hoisted by her team. Venus is exactly what WTT needed and she delivered both for her team and the league.
Kristen Flipkens: A. Prior to this weekend, Flipkens' main claim to fame was being Kim Clijsters good buddy. Clijsters was spotted at the U.S. Open cheering her countrywoman on during singles and the two paired up together for doubles in Kim's last go-round. Fast forward a few weeks and the 26-year-old wins her first WTA title in Quebec City. She did it the hard way too, beating Mona Barthel, Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Hradecka for the title.
Irina Camelia Begu: A. Apparently beating Caroline Wozniacki at a Slam gives you wings -- tough luck, Red Bull. Begu, who beat Wozniacki in the first round of the U.S. Open, captured her first WTA title in Tashkent.
Donna Vekic: B-plus. The 16-year-old Croatian became the youngest woman to make a WTA final since Tamira Paszek won Portoroz as a 15-year-old in 2006. I confess I've yet to see her play, but there's a lot of buzz around this youngster. She's coached by David Felgate, who worked with Tim Henman, Xavier Malisse and Nicole Vaidisova.
Juan Martin del Potro: C-minus. He ignores doctors orders and decides to play Davis Cup anyway, winning his first match in straight sets over Stepanek. Then, with Argentina down 1-2, he withdraws under doctors orders before his highly anticipated match against Berdych. It's easy to say that he never should have played in the first place, but this Argentina and this is Davis Cup. They take this competition seriously (understatement alert) and the pressure to play must have been immense.
Team Russia: F. They lost 5-0 to the Brazilians with a team that didn't include their No. 1, Mikhail Youzhny. Youzhny says no one asked him to play. “There actually wasn’t a refusal. As funny as it seems, no one invited me, no one called me,” Youzhny said. Russian Captain Shamil Tarpischev has been known to make some curious lineup decisions but this one was suspicious. So much so that Youzhny was asked whether he thought Tarpischev was deliberately trying to lose the tie. He declined to comment. “That question isn’t for me."
French Paparazzi: A. Kudos to you guys for being on-hand when Serena was walking hand-in-back-pocket with her married coach/advisor Patrick Mouratoglou. Now here's my question: How did y'all know to be in Valbonne, a small French city that is a nine-hour drive from Paris on this exact day, at that exact moment, looking for these two? Something to think about. The Tennis Calendar: C. I know it will never happen, but there's something to be said about the notion that the tennis season should end with the U.S. Open.