Report Card: High marks for Roger Federer, Andy Murray in Davis Cup
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, the Russians ruled the WTA and the ATP's stars grabbed the Davis Cup headlines.
Roger Federer: A. Federer's last-minute decision to play Switzerland's first-round Davis Cup tie against Serbia injected some life into what was shaping up to be an uneventful weekend. Federer, who had played only one first-round tie since 2004, swooped in to Novi Sad and defeated Ilija Bozoljac 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. He also confirmed his intention to play in the quarterfinal against Kazakhstan. My only lament about this tie is that we never got to see Federer face Novak Djokovic before a hostile crowd on the home turf of the Serb, who sat out the tie.
Highlights from the tie here:
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: A-plus. This was one of those weeks when Pavlyuchenkova proved why the hype about her talent remains justified. The big-hitting Russian, 22, won five consecutive three-set matches, including three in a row against top-10 players, to claim the Paris Indoors for her first Premier-level title (she has five International-level titles). She produced some sublime shot making with her make-or-break game, which carried her to victories over No. 9 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and No. 7 Sara Errani in the final. Pavlyuchenkova is now the No. 2 Russian behind Sharapova, at No. 21.
Check out this sweet drop shot:
Ekaterina Makarova: A. The No. 4 seed took advantage of a favorable draw to win the Pattaya Open for her second title. The 25-year-old Russian survived three-set matches against No. 105 Kimiko Date-Krumm in the quarterfinals and No. 126 Andrea Hlavackova in the semifinals before a straight-set victory in the final against her highest-ranked opponent of the week, No. 66 Karolina Pliskova. Makarova moved up five spots, to No. 23, after her first title since 2010.
Maria Sharapova: C-plus. There's no shame in losing a three-set match to a zoning Pavlyuchenkova. But going out on back-to-back double faults? Ouch.
Kei Nishikori: A. Nishikori has been a committed member of Japan's Davis Cup team and his hard work over the years finally paid off. Japan defeated a short-handed Canadian team to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time. Canada was without its top-two players in Milos Raonic, who missed the tie with a foot injury, and Vasek Pospisil, who was a late scratch because of a back injury. Nishikori beat Peter Polansky in the opening singles rubber and clinched the tie in reverse singles when Frank Dancevic retired with an abdominal injury early in the second set after losing the first set. Japan will face the defending champion Czech Republic in Tokyo in April.
Andy Murray: A. Either the British press were playing possum or they genuinely didn't know whether Murray would take the court for Great Britain's first-round tie against the United States. But Murray indeed played, and won both his singles rubbers, clinching the tie with a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-3 win over Sam Querrey on the makeshift clay court at Petco Park in San Diego. Much like Federer's willingness to commit, Murray's decision to help Great Britain reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years added some star power to the weekend. Murray extended his Davis Cup singles winning streak to 18. Next up for Team GB is host Italy. Get ready for more clay, Andy.
James Ward: A-plus. It turns out Ward wasn't just in San Diego to be Murray's PlayStation punching bag. Ward, ranked No. 176 last week and chosen over Britain's No. 2, Dan Evans, came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit and a break down in the fourth set to upset Querrey 1-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Ward won 10 of the last 11 games to seal the match and give Britain a 2-0 lead heading into the weekend.
Sam Querrey: D. Needless to say, Querrey has seen better days. Elevated to the U.S. No. 1 spot after John Isner pulled out with an ankle injury, Querrey's loss to Ward was a shocker. The Americans knew they were probably going to concede two points to Murray in singles and needed two victories over Ward (from Querrey and Isner's replacement, Donald Young) and one win from the top-ranked doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan to advance. But Querrey's opening-day loss blew up that path to victory.
USTA: A. Some people (including me) scoffed at the idea of putting a clay court in the middle of Petco Park for Davis Cup, but the USTA did a great job and the venue worked. Props for thinking outside the box.
Fabio Fognini: A. The flashy Italian played a role in all three decisive points of his country's victory at Argentina, which didn't have an injured Juan Martin del Potro. Fognini beat Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq in singles and paired with good friend Simone Bolelli to win the doubles. Nice work.
Team Germany: A. The Germans rolled past Spain's C-team, which was missing its top-four players in Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro. Philipp Kohlschreiber swept the red-hot (and probably exhausted) Roberto Bautista Agut, who was coming off a fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open, and Florian Mayer outlasted Feliciano Lopez in five sets to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. Kohlschreiber teamed with Tommy Haas to clinch the tie with a doubles victory over ATP World Tour Finals champions David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco. German will play France, which blanked Australia in the first round. Alize Cornet: B. If you love three-set nail-biters, the Paris Indoors was the tournament for you. Like Pavlyuchenkova, Cornet went the distance in all four of her matches, including a 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (7) loss to Errani in the semifinals. Oh, the drama.