Report Card: Novak Djokovic at his best in Monte Carlo; Fed Cup review
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal's supremacy in Monte Carlo, and Italy and Russia advanced to the Fed Cup final.
Novak Djokovic: A-plus. What in the world would be the upside of playing an ATP Masters 1000 on a bum ankle? Turns out, quite a bit. After watching him struggle physically through his first two matches -- he needed three sets to get past both Juan Monaco and Mikhail Youzhny -- it seemed that Djokovic should pull the rip cord and rest for a while. Then the draw opened up with surprising losses by Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro, and Djokovic was able to make the final without really being tested by Jarkko Nieminen or Fabio Fognini. What he did in that final was simply unbelievable.
In snapping Rafael Nadal's 46-match winning streak in Monte Carlo with an emphatic 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory, Djokovic not only played flawless tennis but also reset the expectations for both men for the clay season. Nadal had thrown down the gauntlet in his four-tournament return, culminating in a win at Indian Wells on the hard courts that Djokovic is supposed to dominate. And now Djokovic has come out on top in the King of Clay's backyard (this was the world No. 1's third victory in 15 meetings on the surface), making the lead-ups to the French Open in Madrid and Rome even more important.
One stat to keep an eye on when the summer rolls around: Djokovic has now won all the ATP Masters 1000s except one -- Cincinnati. No player has won all nine.
Here are highlights from the match:
Rafael Nadal: B-minus. Djokovic denied his rival a ninth consecutive title at Monte Carlo by rolling early (the winner had a chance at a 6-0 first set), rallying late (Nadal was broken at love when he served for the second set at 6-5) and breaking down the Spaniard's backhand throughout. Nadal hit 28 backhand errors and wasn't able to control rallies using his forehand in the way he'd like. Djokovic's ability to neutralize Nadal's topspin off the ground recalled his dominant 2011 season, when he went 6-0 against Nadal in finals. It's no time to panic for Rafa, as Djokovic admitted he played his best, but this result only heightens the anticipation for their next match on clay.
Serena and Venus Williams: A. Can't the United States contest all of its Fed Cup ties in Delray Beach, Fla., if it guarantees that the Williams sisters will play? Serena cruised in two straight-set victories over Sweden in the World Group playoff to improve to 10-0 in Fed Cup singles, while Venus clinched a tie for the Americans for the first time in her career. The Williamses played three singles matches and the Americans got three wins. Simple.
Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci: A. Italy won Fed Cup titles in 2009 and 2010 behind Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, as Errani and Vinci rarely had to pick up a racket to play a live rubber in doubles. Now the two effectively represent the entire Italian roster, and they led the team back into the Fed Cup final by ousting the two-time defending champion Czech Republic. Vinci was the hero of the semifinals, beating Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova to clinch.
Team Russia: A. The Russians became the first team to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a Fed Cup semifinal to win. Slovaka took a surprising 2-0 lead in Moscow on Day 1 thanks to singles victories from Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova. But on Day 2, Maria Kirilenko rebounded to defeat Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova -- who replaced Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after her opening-day loss -- edged Hantuchova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to push the tie to a deciding doubles match. Makarova paired with Elena Vesnina to rally past Cibulkova and Hantuchova 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. That's a heartbreaker for the overachieving Slovakian team.
Jarkko Nieminen: A. In the "good things happen to good people" department, the 31-year-old known as the Friendly Finn made his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal since 2006 by knocking off Milos Raonic and Juan Martin del Potro. His tweets after upsetting Del Potro showed how much it all meant to a guy who's spent most of his career as an unheralded journeyman.
Fabio Fognini: A. It's easy to forget that Fognini is a former French Open quarterfinalist. And last week, thanks to wins over top-10 players Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet in Monte Carlo, the 25-year-old made his first Masters semifinal. He is up to a career-high No. 24 this week. Bravo!
Ernests Gulbis: C-minus. The Latvian was an emotional mess in his 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 loss to Monaco in the second round of Monte Carlo. Gulbis racked up code violation after code violation for destroying multiple rackets and kicking a ball, all of which resulted in a game penalty. This was his first loss to a player ranked outside the top 10 in five tournaments.
Juan Martin del Potro: C. The Argentine suffered his second early exit in a row since reaching the Indian Wells final, losing to Nieminen 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4) in his second match in Monte Carlo. Del Potro's loss ended in unusual fashion, as he walked to his chair and asked for the trainer while trailing 4-5 in the third-set tiebreaker. Here's more from Tennis.com's Matt Cronin:
Juan Martin del Potro says he was not cramping, but suffering from a right quadriceps issue when he called for the trainer ...
Del Potro’s camp claims he was feeling pain in his right quad while he was serving. Del Potro went to his chair, sat down and the asked chair umpire to call for the trainer, but the trainer didn’t make it to court quickly enough, so the chair umpire told del Potro: "If you want to play, you play; if you want to stop, you stop." Del Potro chose to play and lost the next two points and the match.
Genie Bouchard: A. The 19-year-old overcame an ankle injury to help lead Canada past Ukraine 3-2 to earn promotion into Fed Cup's World Group II. Bouchard, who made her first WTA quarterfinal of the year in Charleston, S.C., earlier this month, injured her ankle in a three-set loss to Elina Svitolina on Saturday. But she came back on Sunday to beat Ukraine No. 1 Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 7-5, and teamed with Sharon Fichman for a clinching doubles victory.
Sloane Stephens: D. The slumping Stephens unraveled in her Fed Cup debut, losing to Sweden No. 1 Sofia Arvidsson 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 and hitting 74 unforced errors. Seventy. Four.
Ryan Harrison: D. Now ranked No. 100, Harrison played his first ATP Challenger event since 2011, as the No. 2 seed in Sarasota, Fla. He lost his first-round match to a 198th-ranked 20-year-old, Facundo Arguello, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
Alex Kuznetsov: A. Kuznetsov, 26, beat Wayne Odesnik 6-0, 6-2 in the Sarasota final to take the lead in the USTA's race for a French Open wild card and raise his ranking from No. 271 to No. 181.
Ana Ivanovic: A-plus. With countrywoman Jelena Jankovic sitting out Serbia's tie against Germany in the World Group playoff, Ivanovic had her best Fed Cup weekend ever, winning both singles matches for the first time since 2009, against Japan. She started by defeating Mona Barthel 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-2 and followed it up by beating Angelique Kerber 7-5, 7-5 to give the visiting Serbs a chance at the upset. They couldn't pull it off (Germany took the next two matches to win 3-2), but it was a stellar weekend for Ivanovic, who displayed the type of form on clay that won her the 2008 French Open.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A. Leads Poland to a 4-1 win over Belgium in a World Cup II playoff, gives us this awesome picture (via Fed Cup on Facebook) to boot: