Report Card: Top grades for Serbia, Canada and the Williams sisters
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here is a wrap-up of performances from the Davis Cup, the Family Circle Cup and more.
Serena Williams: A-minus. By rallying past Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 to defend her Family Circle Cup title, Williams improved to 11-0 since unseating Victoria Azarenka at No. 1. It wasn't the dominant performance she had here last year, but she was facing much tougher competition: Jankovic, who has always played her tough; her sister Venus; and Mallory Burdette, who forced Serena to elevate her game in the third round. She'll now have the opportunity to rest before possibly joining the U.S. Fed Cup team in Delray Beach, Fla., against Sweden and then beginning her red clay season in Madrid in May.
Her Charleston win didn't come without a bit of controversy. After dropping the first set, Serena exchanged words with Jankovic about how fast she was playing between points. The Serb later admitted she lost her focus. Jankovic has quick-served in the past, though I'm not convinced she does it intentionally. But Serena's complaints undercut her own gripes to the umpire about Azarenka's holding her up when she served in the Doha final in February. The rule is to play at the reasonable pace of the server, not at the reasonable pace of Serena.
Team Serbia: A. A win over the Americans in the Davis Cup quarterfinals was expected, but the way the Serbians did it was not. After Sam Querrey defeated Victor Troicki on Day 1 to make it 1-1, the conventional wisdom was that if the Serbs were going to win the tie they would have to go through John Isner in a decisive fifth rubber. The assumption, of course, was that Bob and Mike Bryan were a lock to secure a second point for the Americans, while Djokovic would level things at 2-2 by defeating Querrey in Sunday's first singles match.
Well, Ilija Bozoljac cares not for your assumptions. Paired with Nenad Zimonjic, the 27-year-old Bozoljac, ranked No. 334 in singles and No. 634 in doubles, was the man of the match. He carried the team through the five-set epic before the Serbs were finally able to break to 14-13 in the fifth set. Zimonjic had a big service game to close out the match 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 4-6, 15-13 and give the Serbs a 2-1 lead. Djokovic got the decisive point the next day, playing through injury to beat Querrey 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-0. All in all, a gutsy performance by the Serbs.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: A. It got a little dicey in the end, as the Russian came close to blowing a 5-0 lead in the third set against Angelique Kerber in the Monterrey final. But Pavlyuchenkova held on for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory to capture her first title since she won Monterrey in 2011. Overall, it's been a good start to the season for the 23-year-old, who also made the Brisbane final.
Bob and Mike Bryan: D. It's the curse of success that we just expect the Bryans to come through in any and all Davis Cup ties. But they've now lost two in a row in the team competition, against Serbia and Brazil. The Serbs out-aced the brothers 36-12 and hit 30 more winners. As always, the Bryans were classy in defeat, giving all credit to Bozoljac's beast-mode performance.
Team Canada: A-plus. How's this as a signal of the changing tennis landscape: The U.S. Davis Cup team barely scrapped out a win over Brazil before losing to Serbia. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north are into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time after beating Spain in the first round and then Italy over the weekend, winning the tie 3-1. Milos Raonic continues to be a reliable Davis Cup soldier, beating Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini in singles. Daniel Nestor teamed up with Vasek Pospisil to oulast Fabio Fognini and Daniele Braccaili 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 15-13. Next up, Serbia.
Jelena Jankovic: A-minus. The affable Serb has found her swagger over the last month and a half: She won a small title in Bogota, made the semifinals in Miami and played for the title in Charleston, where she took the first set off Serena before unraveling. After saving two match points with some big serving against Caroline Garcia in the third round -- yes, Jankovic was serving big last week -- the always-dramatic former No. 1 really found her form. Through it all, she kept the crowd laughing with her on-court antics. She also kept the press room in stitches with her ruminations on glitter hairspray ("You can't glitter during the day. It doesn't shine"), her status as a fan favorite ("Am I entertaining? For real?") and her on-court temper ("I'm like a dragon who spits fire"). It's great to see her tennis and her personality back in the spotlight where it belongs.
Venus Williams: A. Playing five sets in one day, as she did last Friday, has to be a confidence booster, given her health concerns. Venus downed Varvara Lepchenko in three sets and then turned around to oust Madison Keys in straight sets later in the day after rain forced the top half of the Charleston draw to do double duty. Serena routed Venus 6-1, 6-2 the next day in their first meeting since 2009, but as Serena pointed out, it's much tougher for Venus to play three matches in two days than anyone else. Still, a Premier semifinal is a solid result for Venus.
Sam Stosur: D. Stosur never retires from matches and rarely gives walkovers. So the calf injury she sustained in Indian Wells that forced her out of that tournament and led to a mid-match retirement against Genie Bouchard (who led 6-1, 2-0) in Charleston is very worrisome.
Caroline Wozniacki: D. I really thought Wozniacki was back on course after making the final in Indian Wells, but she followed that up with a loss to Garbine Muguruza in Miami and another loss to 63rd-ranked Stefanie Voegele in the Charleston quarterfinals. Wozniacki squandered a 3-1 lead in the final set to lose the last five games.
Generation 2020: B-plus. What will Slam quarterfinals look like in 2020? I got a pretty good look last week in Charleston, as the WTA under-20 set showed there's a lot to be excited about in the future. Off the court, the likes of Taylor Townsend and Laura Robson continue to charm, and on the court the teens are putting up quality results. Keys, 18, continues to be a reliable winner in the early rounds, making her second WTA Premier quarterfinal of the year. Bouchard, 19, reached her
first second WTA quarterfinal after scoring her two biggest wins as a pro, against best friend Robson in the second round and Stosur in the third round. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's Monica Puig, 19, had Venus on the ropes in the second round, losing 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. And Jessica Pegula, 19, enjoyed a breakout tournament, coming through qualies to snag her first WTA main-draw win, over Muguruza, and then beating No. 34 Mona Barthel 7-6 (4), 6-1.
I asked Keys and Bouchard which of the recent results among their peers gave them belief that they could start beating the pros at such a young age. They both cited Robson's run to the fourth round at the U.S. Open last year.
"It definitely shows us all that they're human, these top stars, and we can take them down," Bouchard said.
Team France: F. With a high-quality team of eighth-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 13th-ranked Gilles Simon and the veteran doubles team of Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra, France still lost to an Argentine team that didn't have Juan Martin del Potro. While Tsonga came through with two wins, the French couldn't close it out. Simon went 0-2 in singles, with losses to Juan Monaco, who hasn't won an ATP match all year, and Carlos Berlocq in the deciding fifth rubber.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: B-plus. Mattek-Sands looks as fit as ever thanks to a diet change, and her hard work paid off when she saved match point to edge Anastasia Rodionova 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) in the longest WTA match of the season. She quickly recovered from that three-hour, 42-minute marathon to bully Sloane Stephens off the court just 24 hours later, surrendering only two games. Stephens' continued slump understandably drew the attention, but this was A-plus aggressive tennis from Mattek-Sands and very fun to watch.
Andrea Petkovic: C-minus. Here's hoping Petkovic's withdrawal from Charleston before her third-round match against Wozniacki was 100 percent preventative and not the sign of yet another significant injury. The German's knee swelled after a long match in Miami and she came into Charleston with a calf injury sustained from overcompensating for her knee. Sloane Stephens: D. Losing to Mattek-Sands isn't necessarily a bad result, but winning only two games is a shocker. Stephens says she can't wait to get to Europe so she can get some space and reset herself. Hope that works.