Report Card: French Open grades
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here's our review of the French Open.
Serena Williams: A-plus. The Star-Spangled Banner returned to Court Philippe Chatrier after an 11-year absence, thanks to Serena's dominant two weeks in Paris. Well, as finalist Maria Sharapova pointed out, it's actually been a dominant year for the WTA's 31-year-old No. 1, who has won a career-high 31 consecutive matches and finished the clay season 23-0 with titles in Charleston, S.C., Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
"I definitely want to go out in my peak," she said after becoming the oldest woman to win the French Open in the Open era (since 1968). "That's my goal. But have I peaked yet?"
That's what we're all wondering. She now has 16 Grand Slam titles, just two behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Williams will go into Wimbledon as the defending champion and overwhelming favorite, and it's conceivable she could catch those two two greats at the U.S. Open. Will we be looking at another Serena Slam in Melbourne next year?
Rafael Nadal: A-plus. His record eighth French Open title served as a coda to what has been a remarkable four months. Since returning after a seven-month injury break, Nadal has made the finals of all nine tournaments he's played and won seven, compiling a 43-2 record. He says he's done it by thinking positively and working as hard as his body will allow. But from the outside, it simply looks like he does it by sheer force of will.
Down a break in the fifth set against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, he fought back to get level and then broke Djokovic at love to win. Two days later, he was equal parts the better player and a man who would not be denied in a straight-set victory over David Ferrer in the final.
Nadal's French Open victory sets up an intriguing second half of the season in his bid to regain the No. 1 ranking. While Nadal (who actually fell from fourth to fifth this week after defending his French Open title) has only 45 points to defend for the rest of the season -- and, yes, he's already No. 1 in the Race to London rankings -- he won't get the benefit of his beloved clay, upon which he's played eight of his nine tournaments. Can he keep this going on the grass and hard courts? His Indian Wells hard-court title in March definitely makes us think so.
Maria Sharapova: A. One of these days, Sharapova will catch Williams on an off day and finally end a losing streak that has reached 13 matches and spans nine years. But as long as Williams insists on playing at or near her best every time she takes the court against the Russian, Sharapova will be forced to play a perfect match. She nearly did in the final, converting her two break points and continually battling to hold. And she still lost 6-4, 6-4. But that shouldn't take away from a strong tournament for Sharapova, who did well to beat Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. The 2012 champion proved that last year's surprising title was no fluke.
Bob and Mike Bryan: A-plus. Williams wasn't the only American to break a decade-long drought in Paris. The Bryan brothers, who last won in Paris in 2003 (their first major title), rallied from 2-4 down in the decisive tiebreaker to beat Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4) in the men's doubles final. The twins collected their 14th Slam title and became the first team to win all four majors twice. They're also the first team to win the first two majors in a year since 1967.
David Ferrer: A-minus. The 31-year-old Spaniard made good on a favorable draw -- he didn't have to face a member of the Big Three in his first six matches -- to make his first Slam final in his 42nd appearance. There's no shame in losing to Nadal in Paris, but the final felt like such a snoozy foregone conclusion.
American women: A. All of the talk about American futility on clay doesn't apply to the women this year. For the first time since 2004, four U.S. women made the fourth round -- Williams, Sloane Stephens, Jamie Hampton and Bethanie Mattek-Sands -- and one of them gave the United States its first title since 2002.
Hampton and Mattek-Sands had tremendous efforts. Hampton, 23, beat two seeded Czechs in No. 7 Petra Kvitova and No. 25 Lucie Safarova, the former being the biggest win of her career. Mattek-Sands, 28, continued her top-20-level play by knocking off No. 6 seed and 2011 champion Li Na 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the fourth round of a major for the second time.
American men: B-minus. Two U.S. men -- John Isner and Sam Querrey -- made the third round for the first time since 2010. Isner gamely saved 12 match points against Tommy Haas before losing 10-8 in the fifth set. But his comeback from two sets down to outlast Ryan Harrison 8-6 in the fifth set in the second round was a hard-fought all-American derby from both men. Meanwhile, American No. 1 Querrey couldn't hold a two-sets-to-one-lead against No. 15 Gilles Simon, who rallied to win 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 2-6. And credit to 20-year-old Jack Sock for qualifying for the French Open and winning his first-round match, his first main-draw victory in Paris.
Gael Monfils: B. Faced with a brutal draw as a wild card after a knee injury dropped him outside the top 100, Monfils upset fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-7 (4), 7-5 in the first round and defeated Ernests Gulbis 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the second round. Then he blew a two-set lead against Tommy Robredo. Oddly, this counts as progress. Besides, I will forever be indebted to him for giving us the photo of the tournament, which was taken after Robredo broke him when Monfils served for the match:
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-minus. In the 30th anniversary of Frenchman Yannick Noah's Roland Garros triumph, France's Tsonga looked poised to make his first French Open final after defeating Roger Federer so decisively in the quarterfinals. But with so much on the line in a winnable match against Ferrer, a flat Tsonga lost 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-2. The boos from the hometown crowd said it all. Losing would have been forgivable. Not showing up was not -- which drops him to a "B-minus."
Victoria Azarenka: B-plus. Azarenka is back up to No. 2 after making her fourth straight Slam semifinal and her first at Roland Garros. She's still not a natural clay-courter, but I really believe it's just a matter of time before she wins there. She's gotten better on clay every year and just needs to improve her movement and comfort on the surface. Hey, if Sharapova can do it ...
Sara Errani: B. Her 46-minute semifinal loss to Williams was highly criticized, but let's stop and take note of the fact that this was Errani's third semifinal appearance in her last five majors. Her runner-up finish last year was written off as a fluke, but she beat No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals this year for her first victory against a top-five player after 28 losses. Errani's weekend didn't end well in doubles, either, as she and Roberta Vinci, the top-seeded defending champions, lost to Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova in the final.
Novak Djokovic: B-plus. After learning of the death of his childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, the stars appeared to be aligned for a title run of destiny. Nadal outplayed him in their titanic semifinal, but Djokovic kept himself in the match by repeatedly coming back. The Serb, who was distracted in the fifth set by a number of officiating decisions, was broken at love in the final game. It was an anticlimactic ending to a dramatic final set.
Tennis players named Tommy: A-plus. Throw on your Oakleys and flip your lid for Robredo and Haas, who paid tribute to Aaliyah in making the quarterfinals in their 30s in memorable fashion. Robredo, 31, became the first man in 86 years to win three consecutive Slam matches from two sets down, beating Igor Sijsling, Monfils and No. 11 Nicolas Almagro. Not to be outdone, the 35-year-old Haas rallied from 1-4 down in the fifth set against Isner and persevered to win on his 13th match point. One thing you learn as you get older: Sometimes it's OK to take the scenic route. Efficiency is overrated.
Roger Federer: C-plus. With no Nadal or Djokovic, Federer had the easier half of the draw but couldn't get to the final. He did, however, reach his 36th consecutive Slam quarterfinal and join Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Guillermo Vilas in the 900-win club. After beating Simon in five sets in the fourth round, Federer hit error after error against Tsonga to lose in straight sets. Let's see what happens at Wimbledon, where Federer is the defending champion.
Nicolas Mahut: Hug. Another blow for tennis' hard-luck man. He made his first Slam final in doubles, with Michael Llodra, only to lose to the Bryan brothers in a final-set tiebreaker. His post-match tears said it all. He's the Job of tennis.
Francesca Schiavone: B-plus. The 2010 French Open champion showed she still had a little magic left in her, knocking out two seeds (Marion Bartoli and Kirsten Flipkens) to make the fourth round. But Azarenka blitzed her 6-3, 6-0.
Samantha Stosur: C-minus. The Aussie had a tough draw, losing to Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the third round, but in failing to defend her semifinal points she drops out of the top 10 (at No. 14) for the first time since 2011.
Ernests Gulbis: C-plus. If he got a nickel for every entertaining loss, Gulbis would probably be richer than his father. As it is, he's just another second-round loser who missed out on a big opportunity. But we all have to thank him for labeling the Big Four as boring in their interviews. I half-expect Federer to walk into his pre-Wimbledon news conference juggling tennis balls and ranting about who got unjustly voted off The Voice.
Stanislas Wawrinka: B-plus. If the last two Slams have taught us anything, do not take your eyes off Wawrinka at Wimbledon. His fourth-round battle of one-upsmanship with Richard Gasquet was the highest-quality match of the tournament. If the FFT wants some free money, it should put that fourth set on DVD.
Richard Gasquet: B. Yes, his fitness failed him again. And, yes, he lost in the fourth round of a Slam for the 15th time in 16 attempts. But he actually looked like he was enjoying the spotlight and the battle against Wawrinka. It's as emotional and demonstrative as I've ever seen him. That was great to see.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: A-. The two-time major champion gave Williams her toughest test of the tournament but couldn't hold on after taking a 2-0 lead (and being a point away from 3-0) in the third set of their quarterfinal. Kuznetsova has been a quarterfinalist at both majors this year.
Maria Kirilenko: B-plus. The 26-year-old Russian made her first French Open quarterfinal thanks to a cushy draw that opened up once Mattek-Sands knocked out Li in the second round. She makes her top-10 debut in this week's rankings. To top it all off, her tweets featuring fiance Alexander Ovechkin kept me entertained.
Janko Tipsarevic: D. It speaks volumes about Tipsarevic's recent form that I consider it a surprise that the No. 9 seed got to the third round. But he gets a "D" for taking out his frustration on the fans. Look, the French crowd can be horrible. But you're a professional. There's no need for this.
Ana Ivanovic: C. She had a nice path to make the semifinals (and she was my dark-horse pick to do so), but she fell 6-2 6-4 in the fourth round to Radwanska, who had been struggling.
Monica Puig: A. The 19-year-old became the first woman representing Puerto Rico to make the third round of a Slam, upending 11th-seeded Nadia Petrova and promising American teen Madison Keys. Puig, who is a career-high 65th in this week's rankings, will be one to watch when the tour returns to hard courts.
Caroline Wozniacki: D. No, really! She did play the French Open. I'm looking at the draw right now and ... yup, there's her name right there, a straight-sets, second-round loser to Bojana Jovanovski.
Andy Murray: B. He ruled the first week of the tournament with his tweets and then abruptly stopped once his good buddy Monfils crashed out in the third round. Let's face it, he probably would have lasted about the same number of rounds if he had decided to play.
Venus Williams: A. Nursing a back injury, Venus gave us the most dramatic women's match of the tournament on the very first day. She pushed Urszula Radwanska to three sets seemingly by will alone. Was that the last time we'll see Venus in a singles match on Court Philippe Chatrier? Either way, her fight, both on and off the court, continues to inspire.
Tennis Channel: B-minus. The free online streaming of multiple courts from its website was top notch and a huge value add for people at work or those who don't have the channel. Securing the rights to the blockbuster semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic was great for the network but horrible for fans. The streaming service ended late in the tournament, so if you didn't get Tennis Channel, you couldn't watch the match legally until NBC took over coverage when its broadcast window opened. (NBC picked up the match in the fifth set for East Coast viewers; West Coast viewers weren't so fortunate.) This is how the most highly anticipated match of the year was treated.
ESPN: B. I have no major complaints this time about the commentary team on the whole, which continues to improve. This was also the first tournament for which I've used used ESPN3 to stream matches on alternate courts, which was fantastic. Unfortunately, the streams cut out whenever ESPN's broadcast window ended, which left a lot of us scrambling to find alternate streams for whatever match we were watching.
NBC: C-minus. It's a broken record at this point, but the tennis coverage on the broadcast networks still leaves so much to be desired. NBC offered no streams of any alternate courts when it took over all coverage during the middle weekend, meaning that weekend coverage of the Slam was worse on the days people actually had time to sit down and watch tennis. NBC chose to air taped footage in lieu of live tennis -- sorry, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic, you're not worthy -- and its penchant for running long commercial breaks during the trophy ceremony instead of airing it in full is always disappointing.
French security: D-plus. Props for knocking down the flare-wielding protester so quickly. But there's absolutely no reason that guy should have come within six feet of any player, let alone be able to smuggle a flare onto the grounds. This isn't even the first on-court breach at Roland Garros. It happened to Federer in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73SaYzrKHf4