Report Card: Petra Kvitova, Milos Raonic win second titles of year; Venus shines
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Petra Kvitova and Milos Raonic won their second titles of the year, while the ATP welcomed its first title winner from Portugal.
Petra Kvitova: A. Leave it to the ever-streaky Kvitova to get bageled and still win the Pan Pacific Open final, a 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 victory over Angelique Kerber. A 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7) comeback win over Venus Williams highlighted the week for Kvitova, who is 11-4 in finals. Kvitova's second title of the year moved her back into the top 10, at No. 7, and put her in good position to qualify for the WTA Championships for the third consecutive year.
It's always difficult to say whether Kvitova can sustain her good form for a long period of time. But her ability to claw back to edge Williams and then recover from her second-set whitewashing to beat Kerber in the final were positive signs that the 23-year-old Czech has turned the corner since her pre-Wimbledon struggles.
Highlights from Kvitova's win over Venus:
Milos Raonic: A-plus. Put Raonic under a roof and he excels. The 22-year-old Canadian beat Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych to win the Thailand Open, his fourth indoor title among five overall. Raonic improved to 2-0 against Berdych with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory in the final, and he gained ground in his bid to rally to be one of eight qualifiers at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Highlights from Raonic-Berdych:
Joao Sousa: A-plus. Sousa became the first man from Portugal to win an ATP title, thanks to an impressive run at the Malaysian Open. The 24-year-old upset top-seeded David Ferrer in the quarterfinals and saved a match point on his serve to beat fifth-seeded Julien Benneteau 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the final.
Sousa has had a meteoric rise in recent weeks. At the start of July, Sousa was ranked outside the top 100 and battling his way through the Challenger circuit. But a surprising third-round appearance at the U.S. Open, where he outlasted Grigor Dimitrov and Jarkko Nieminen in back-to-back five-setters, seems to have kick-started his confidence. Two weeks ago, he made his first career ATP semifinal, in St. Petersburg, Russia, and on Sunday he had to figure out how to pack a trophy in his suitcase. Sousa has climbed to a career-best No. 51 this week, the highest for a Portuguese player.
Julien Benneteau: A-minus. This might have been his best shot at removing himself from the list of best players without an ATP title. The 32-year-old Frenchman dropped to 0-9 in finals after a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss to the unseeded Sousa, who came up with a forehand passing shot to spoil Benneteau’s match point in the second set. (See the shot at the 1:13 mark of this video.) Poor guy. Benneteau made the final, his first since February, by upsetting second-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka.
Angelique Kerber: A-minus. The German rediscovered her top form to reach the Tokyo final. She finally got her first top-10 win of the year when she defeated fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and followed that up with another one, ousting No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 7-6 (7). The third set of her final against Kvitova featured some classic Kerber counterpunching.
Venus Williams: A. It's a shame that most of America was asleep while Venus was putting together her most impressive tournament in more than a year. She beat an under-the-weather Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-4 in the second round, but what stood out was her ability to battle through nine grueling sets over three days. She bounced the surging Simona Halep 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round, held off Genie Bouchard 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in the quarterfinals and came within a few points of upending Kvitova in the semifinals. All that, and she still had energy to hit the karaoke bars in Japan. Good stuff.
Eugenie Bouchard: A. Bouchard has been the late bloomer among the WTA's 20-and-under set. She won the Wimbledon girls' title last year at 18, four years after her best friend, Laura Robson, did so, and her list of notable scalps is much shorter than that of the likes of Robson, Madison Keys or Sloane Stephens. But thanks to her steady work during her first full season on the WTA Tour, the 19-year-old from Canada is now the highest-ranked WTA teenager, at No. 36.
Last week, Bouchard won the first five games, lost the next seven and managed to rebound to defeat Stephens 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3 in the second round. Then came a straight-set victory against No. 10 Jelena Jankovic and a strong performance against Williams. Bouchard's game lacks the fluidity of some of her peers, but right now she's the best competitor of the bunch.
"I want to do as well as I can as soon as I can, but it also takes patience and time and experience," Bouchard told Beyond The Baseline in a recent interview. "Obviously, the game is getting older. The more experienced players are doing better now than they were in the past. Maria Sharapova winning Wimbledon at 17, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again. It’s a different game now. I need to stay focused and work on my game and it will come."
Bojana Jovanovski: A. Jovanovski, 21, has won two titles in the last three weeks, first as a qualifier at the Tashkent Open and last week when she rallied from a set and break down to beat Zhang Shuai in the final of the WTA's inaugural event in Ningbo, China. The Serbian also opened the China Open with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Sorana Cirstea.
Samantha Stosur: C-minus. Stosur is probably ready for this season to be over so she can take a deep breath and think about what's gone wrong. She suffered back-to-back defeats to Lucie Safarova, losing to the Czech lefty in the third round of Tokyo and the first round of the China Open. Safarova is now 8-2 against Stosur. Talk about a matchup problem.
Sloane Stephens: C. The second-round defeat to Bouchard in Tokyo was a wasted opportunity for Stephens, who's chasing both a top-10 ranking and one of eight spots at the WTA Championships. Stephens remains 12th in the Race to Istanbul. She gets a rematch against Bouchard in the second round of the China Open.
Victoria Azarenka: C-minus. Azarenka blamed a virus that kept her off the practice courts all week for her error-strewn performance against Venus in her opening match in Tokyo, but then she followed that up with a three-set loss to Andrea Petkovic in the first round of the China Open. She admitted that she didn't handle her pre-Asia preparation as well as she would have liked. It wouldn't be surprising if she's still struggling mentally to bounce back from her loss to Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final.
Donald Young and Melanie Oudin: A. Both won titles last week to inch closer to returning to the top 100 -- Young, 24, at the Napa Valley Challenger (where he defeated Tim Smyczek in the semifinals and Matt Ebden in the final) to raise his ranking from No. 142 to No. 125, and Oudin, 22, at the ITF Women's Circuit's Party Rock Open (where she rallied past Coco Vandeweghe in the final) to improve her ranking from No. 141 to No. 127.
Grigor Dimitrov: D. Dimitrov split with the Sweden-based Good to Great Academy, the team behind his rise into the top 30. The academy says the main reason for the split is Dimitrov's desire to spend more time in Los Angeles -- presumably to be closer to his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova. It's probably a good move personally. But professionally? No way. Meanwhile, Dimitrov lost to Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday in the first round of the China Open. https://twitter.com/SteveTignor/status/384687972487938049