Report Card: Agnieszka Radwanska, Ernests Gulbis end title droughts
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A. She cruised into the Korea Open final without dropping a set (and serving up three 6-0 sets in the process). When she was finally tested, she rallied past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4 in one of the best women's finals of the year. The 24-year-old Pole won her third title of the year and 13th overall. It was a much-needed result for Radwanska, who had not won a title since back-to-back season-opening victories in Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney. She joined Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep on the list of players with at least three titles in 2013.
Watch Radwanska save break points at 3-3 in the third set (she was down 0-40) in pretty spectacular fashion:
Ernests Gulbis: A-minus. Ernie did how Ernie does. In the quarterfinals of the St. Petersburg Open, Gulbis needled Roberto Bautista Agut with some intentional shoe squeaking; afterward, the outspoken Latvian called his Spanish opponent a "spoiled princess." In the final, Gulbis fell behind 3-6, 1-4 before running off the last 11 games to beat another Spaniard, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 to win his second title of the year (and first since Delay Beach, Fla., in early March) and raise his ranking from No. 36 to No. 27. If that's not a truly Gulbis-ian title run, I don't know what is.
Gilles Simon: A. In his first tournament since the Western & Southern Open in mid-August, Simon defeated fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-3 to win the Moselle Open. The 28-year-old Simon denied Tsonga a third consecutive title at the tournament in Metz, France, while extending his streak with at least one title to seven years. Simon, who welcomed this birth of his second son, Valentin, two weeks ago, didn't drop a set in his four matches (including a quarterfinal victory against Sam Querrey) and was broken only twice.
Zhang Shuai: A. The Chinese wild card, 24, ranked No. 112, stormed through the draw at the Guangzhou Open to win her first title. She beat American qualifier Vania King 7-6 (1), 6-1 for the last of her five consecutive straight-set victories during the week, reeling off the final 13 points. She became the fifth Chinese player to win a WTA title. With Zhang climbing to No. 74, China has four women in the top 100 for the first time in two years.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: B-plus. The Russian, who is up to No. 29, couldn't have played better in her three-set loss to Radwanska in the Seoul final, but her fitness was once against exposed early in that match. She was hunched over and breathing heavily in the second set, and though she fought valiantly in the third, it was clear that her footwork and discipline were gone. Then she retired to Simona Halep in the third set of the first round of the Pan Pacific Open on Monday. Until she figures out her fitness issues, it's hard to know what to expect from the talented 22-year-old.
Fabio Fognini: F. Yes, he had a nice run post-Wimbledon run, when he won back-to-back tournaments in Germany and made the final in Umag, Croatia. But it's hard to take any player seriously when he ends two matches with complete tank jobs, like Fognini has done this year. In Cincinnati, Fognini let Radek Stepanek break him to win the match without having to hit a single ball. Last week in St. Petersburg, he abruptly retired two points from losing to Michal Przysiezny after a protracted argument with the umpire in the previous game. (Fognini cited a foot injury in retiring down 3-6, 3-5, 0-30.)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-plus. He didn't win the title in Metz, but it was a solid tournament for Tsonga in his first action since retiring from his second-round match at Wimbledon with a knee injury. He came through three-setters against Tobias Kamke and Florian Mayer to make his third straight final in Metz. Ranked 10th in the Race to London, he still has an outside shot at qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals.
Vania King: A. We rarely give such a high grade to players who fail to win a title, but King had a tremendous week in Guangzhou. King, 24, ranked No. 124 entering the tournament, was the comeback kid throughout the tournament. She erased a 1-4 deficit in the third set to beat Chan Yung-Jan in the final round of qualifying; rallied from 1-4 down in the third set to defeat Bojana Jovanovski 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 in the second round; stunned Monica Puig by battling back from a set and 2-5 down to win 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5) in the third round; and overcame a 1-3 deficit in the third set to oust Zheng Jie 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to advance to her first final in seven years. (King also made the doubles final.) She's back into the top 100 at No. 94.
Andy Roddick: A-plus. Am I sick of his drunk dancing yet? Nope, not at all.
Kimiko Date-Krumm: A. The 42-year-old began the season barely ranked in the top 100, but she moved up to No. 60 after defeating Heather Watson and No. 2 seed Maria Kirilenko to make the quarterfinals in Seoul. She continues to inspire.
Andy Murray: A. Murray's decision to hop off the hamster wheel that is the year-long tennis circuit and attend to his back injury is a smart one and perhaps inspired somewhat by Rafael Nadal's dominance after a seven-month absence. Though I still doubt any back surgery can be considered "minor," hopefully the time away will get him physically ready for the 2014 season, which will be a big one for him. The time off will also give him a much-needed mental break from his whirlwind season.
Belinda Bencic: A. A teen prodigy, coached by Melanie Molitor, gets her first WTA Tour win. Sound familiar? Bencic, 16, the No. 1 junior and girls' winner at the French Open and Wimbledon this year, won her first WTA match when she defeated Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 in the first round of the Pan Pacific Open over the weekend. She lost to Petra Kvitova 7-5, 6-4 in the next round, but she's a legitimate talent to watch. Her forehand alone will remind you of a certain other Swiss Miss.
WTA Tournament of Champions: D. If you have no idea what the Tournament of Champions is, you're not the only one. I'm not sure the WTA remembers either. The tournament is the tour's minor-league version of the WTA Championships, in which the top eight women who won an International-level title this year qualify to play the season-ending round-robin event in Sofia, Bulgaria. Make that the top six women. Last week, the WTA handed out wild cards to Ana Ivanovic, who won the tournament twice when it was staged in Bali, and Bulgaria's own Tsvetana Pironkova, who is ranked No. 101. To be clear, neither woman has won a tournament this year. In fact, Pironkova went through an early-season stretch in which she lost in the first round of 11 of 12 tournaments, while Ivanovic hasn't made a final since winning Bali in 2011 (when she got a wild card, by the way). That leaves just six spots for women who have actually qualified. The WTA can run the invitation-only tournament however it sees fit. But it's denying an opportunity for points and money to two women who might actually deserve to be there.