Report Card: Monfils, Fognini, Cilic win titles; Fed Cup semifinals set
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini continued their fine early-season form, and Germany was among four teams to earn a berth in the Fed Cup semifinals.
Gael Monfils: A. Here's a stat for you: The high-flying Frenchman is 12-0 this season against players not named Rafael Nadal. That's a pretty darn good 12-2 record. (He lost to Nadal in the final of the Qatar Open and the third round of the Australian Open.) Monfils won the Open Sud de France for his fifth career title, beating No. 9 Richard Gasquet in the final to improve to 2-0 this year against his countryman. Monfils lost only two points on his first serve in the final. Not bad for a guy who was struggling with back pain at the start of the week. Monfils' second Montpellier title brings his ranking up to No. 23, and he's about to embark on a three-month stretch in which has just 60 points to defend.
Fabio Fognini: A. It's been a strong start to the year for Fognini, who had a career-best fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open, led Italy past Argentina in Davis Cup and last week won the Chile Open with victories over Nicolas Almagro in the semifinals and Leonardo Mayer in the final. The 26-year-old has won three of his last four clay-court tournaments and 19 of his last 20 matches on the surface. And he's done it all in his trademark style.
Here's a clip (via Nicolas Marioni) of Fognini pulling down his shorts and plopping down in an umpire's chair after losing a point to Almagro in the semifinals. Oh, Fabio.
Marin Cilic: A. Home-court advantage is something very real for the Croat, who has won four of his 10 titles at the Zagreb Indoors. His latest triumph on home soil came Sunday when he defeated Tommy Haas 6-3, 6-4 in the final, capping a week in which Cilic didn't drop a set in five matches, including three against players ranked outside the top 100.
U.S. Fed Cup team: C-minus. The Americans lost the first three singles matches and fell to Italy 3-1 in the first round in Cleveland. Without Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens or Jamie Hampton, the United States fielded a young team of No. 37 Madison Keys, No. 46 Alison Riske, No. 59 Lauren Davis and No. 62 Christina McHale against an Italian B-team led by No. 40 Karin Knapp and No. 84 Camila Giorgi.
In a surprise move, captain Mary Joe Fernandez opted for McHale instead of Riske in Day 1 singles (McHale had won her last four Fed Cup singles matches) and then subbed in Riske, making her Fed Cup debut, for Keys in a must-win rubber against Knapp on Sunday. The latter may have been a reaction to Keys' 6-2, 6-1 loss to Giorgi on Day 1. As Andrea Petkovic emphasized over the weekend, Fed Cup is a completely different beast and not everyone can deal with the pressure. Then again, Keys has been hampered by a shoulder injury. She served at only 48 percent against Giorgi.
German Fed Cup team: A-plus. Germany, buoyed by Angelique Kerber and Petkovic, advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1995 with a 3-1 victory over host Slovakia. In the most high-powered tie of the weekend, Kerber defeated Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets and Petkovic came back from match point down to overcome Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova 2-6, 7-6 (7) 6-2 on Day 1. Kerber clinched the victory with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Cibulkova in the reverse singles. Germany, which played without No. 15 Sabine Lisicki (shoulder injury), will face host Australia in April.
Highlights from Petkovic's hard-fought win over Cibulkova:
Dominika Cibulkova: D. A post-Australian Open letdown isn't all that surprising from Cibulkova, who made her first Grand Slam final three weeks ago. And it's no easy task to have to play a top-10 player in Kerber and a former top-10 player in Petkovic. But it's never good to get beaten (twice) at your own homecoming, even if you throw in some spectacular shots like this forehand winner:
Russian Fed Cup team: D. The tennis powerhouse has basically thrown in the towel when it comes to Fed Cup. Russia's top 13 players opted out of its first-round tie against Australia, which dominated the team of unknowns 4-0 behind Samantha Stosur, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty.
Czech Fed Cup team: A. The Czechs joined Italy, Germany and Australia in the semifinals despite the absence of No. 6 Petra Kvitova. Trailing Spain 2-1 on the road after two singles victories for Carla Suarez Navarro, the Czech Republic rallied behind Lucie Safarova's 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa and a straight-set doubles win for Barbora Zahlavova and Andrea Hlavackova over Suarez Navarro and Soler-Espinosa. The Czechs, who won in 2011 and '12, will host defending champion Italy in the semifinals.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A. The highest-ranked WTA player to take on Fed Cup duties last week, No. 4 Radwanska won two singles matches and the decisive doubles point to lift Poland past Sweden 3-2 in the World Group II first round. Radwanska, a Fed Cup stalwart, has guided Poland to the World Group playoffs for the first time in 21 years and given it a chance to make the World Group for the first time since 1994. Given that Poland was toiling away in zonal ties when Radwanska made her Fed Cup debut in 2006, that's good work.
Eugenie Bouchard: A. The top-ranked Canadian lost just four games en route to wins over Vesna Dolonc and Jovana Jaksic of Serbia to put her country into the World Group playoffs. I'm selfishly hoping for a Canada vs. Poland playoff in April. The draw will take place on Tuesday.
Belinda Bencic: A-plus. This kid is special. In her Fed Cup debut for Switzerland, the 16-year-old won straight-set matches against quality French players in No. 25 Alize Cornet and veteran Virginie Razzano. Switzerland lost the World Group II tie 3-2, but Bencic continues to show an incredible amount of promise.
Ivo Karlovic: B-plus. The Croat blasted a record-tying 44 aces to beat Daniel Brands 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3) in the first round of Zagreb. He lost a round later.
Dan Evans: A-minus. The Brit made the most of being a lucky loser in qualifying at the Zagreb Indoors, upsetting No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber to reach his first ATP semifinal. Evans lost a three-setter to No. 12 Tommy Haas, but he moved up 24 spots, to a career-high No. 123, this week. Not a bad couple of weeks for British men's tennis.
Bjorn Phau: A. Ranked No. 358, Phau, 34, qualified in Zagreb (where he beat Evans in the final round), stunned No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the second round of the main draw and made his first ATP semifinal since 2009. He's up to No. 223 this week.
Maria Sharapova: B-plus. The Sochipova tour is sadly over, as Sharapova's stint as a Winter Olympics correspondent for NBC ended. Getting the nod to carry the Olympic torch in the final group was a nice surprise (four of the six athletes selected were Summer Olympics medalists) -- and she didn't trip jogging around the stadium. So, mission accomplished. The best moment of Sharapova's week in Sochi was her beaming, child-like smile as she ran into the stadium with the torch. Always the consummate professional -- that's a compliment -- it was nice to see even Sharapova, a Sochi native, wowed by the moment. DEITSCH: Does Sharapova have a future in TV?