Report Card: Western & Southern Open grades
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This week wraps up the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, where a couple of oldies walked away with the goodies.
Roger Federer: A-plus. He won his sixth title of the year in Cincinnati without getting broken during the week, and in the final he dropped a bagel set on the No. 2 player in the world who happens to be one of, if not the best returner in the game. Federer beat Novak Djokovic 6-0, 7-6 (7) for his record fifth Cincinnati title, which, to top it all off, means he's now won seven tournaments five or more times (Wimbledon, U.S. Open, World Tour Finals, Cincinnati, Dubai, Basel and Halle). I can't help but feel for the person who must run Federer's Wikipedia page. Must be annoying to have to keep up his résumé.
Li Na: A. You never know what can light a fire inside a player at any given moment, but Li has a track record of lifting her game and honing her focus when she brings in outside help right before a Grand Slam tournament. She did it last year when she hired Michael Mortensen to be her coach a few weeks before the French Open, making two Premier semifinals and going on to win her first Slam. Now she's brought on Carlos Rodriguez, formerly Justine Henin's coach, and Li proceeded to reach the final of Montreal and win Cincinnati for her first title since the French Open. As the always-succinct but spot-on Li said during the trophy presentation as she thanked her boss, "Carlos, you are good."
Novak Djokovic: B-plus. He showed up to the final 20 minutes late and couldn't recover after spotting Federer a lightning-quick 6-0 first set. But once he got there he played well, steeling himself through a no-break set before losing the tiebreaker 9-7. Djokovic has gone nonstop over the last three weeks, playing the Olympics, Toronto and Cincinnati, and given that schedule, his win in Toronto and finalist appearance in Cincinnati (a tournament he's never won) was a gutsy effort. Now it's time to rest up for the U.S. Open, which begins next Monday.
Angelique Kerber: B-plus. Speaking of resting up -- with a her body taking a pounding from a tour-leading 53 victories this year (she won a combined 40 matches in her previous two seasons), Kerber has to run out of steam at some point, right? Yet her ability to grind was on full display in Cincinnati, where she ousted Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova to make the final. I've heard comparisons being made between Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, both of whom possess defense-oriented games, but I don't see it. Kerber's defense is outstanding but it's her power and penchant for shotmaking that is the difference. If anything, she reminds me of a souped-up Jelena Jankovic circa 2008. Believe me, that's a good thing.
Petra Kvitova: B. In Kvitova's words, she went a little bit "crazy" in her semifinal loss to Kerber, where she couldn't execute her big shots to hit through Kerber. But the Czech did a lot over the last two weeks to prove to herself and others that she can win in North America (she won only three matches on the continent last year), and she was able to grind out a few tough wins in humid conditions. Her inhaler (Kvitova suffers from asthma) got quite a workout in Cincinnati, but with the title in Montreal and a semifinal run in Cincinnati, Kvitova is slowly realizing that she can do well here.
Stanislas Wawrinka: B-plus. Wawrinka demolished David Ferrer 6-4, 6-1, and edged Milos Raonic 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in Cincinnati. A fantastic week for the Swiss flag-bearer, who's back into the top 20 after advancing to the semifinals, where he ran up against that other Swiss guy who was having a pretty good week himself.
Juan Martin del Potro: B. A solid tournament for Del Potro, who lost in the semifinals to an in-form Djokovic 6-3, 6-2. But most worrying is that he complained of left-wrist pain throughout the week. He refused to retire to Djokovic, saying that he respected Djokovic as a friend and had been assured that his wrist wouldn't get worse if he played on. He'll get the wrist checked out this week and here's hoping it's not serious and that he'll be 100 percent for the U.S. Open.
Agnieszka Radwanska: D. She's tired, has a shoulder injury and couldn't adjust to the hard courts in her 6-1, 6-1 loss to Li in the quarterfinals. Despite her fatigue, she's playing New Haven this week. I admire the commitment to the tournament and the tour, but I question the sanity of all of it.
Andy Murray: C-minus. Many players complained of not having the time to properly adjust to the hard courts after more than a month on grass, and Murray came up against it in his straight-set loss to Jeremy Chardy in the third round. Murray couldn't handle the high bounce off Chardy's forehand and the Frenchman, who has been playing very well lately, picked a good day to zone, blasting forehands as Murray could only stand there and shake his head. No need to press the panic button on Murray, though. He'll get his game right by the time the U.S. Open starts.
Venus Williams: A. Venus' body failed her a the most inopportune time, but this time it wasn't her illness. Her back flared up before her semifinal showdown with Li and she spent the entire match spinning in serves in the 80-90 mph range. Still, this was the best tournament Venus has played since coming back to the tour in Miami, defeating Sara Errani and Sam Stosur to make her first semifinal in two years.
Serena Williams: C-minus. Serena spent the week playing some very fatigued tennis, an understandable letdown after her Wimbledon/Olympic runs. Much like Murray, there's no need to panic here. She'll be right by the time the Open comes around.
Sloane Stephens: B. Here's hoping that Stephens' charming, unguarded approach to press conferences never goes away. Stephens -- who won two matches in Cincinnati before losing a three-setter to Radwanska -- is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have become accustomed to hearing cliché after cliché.
Donald Young: F. The losing streak will end, Donald. It will.
Brian Baker: B. He finally got his first win since Wimbledon by avenging his fourth-round loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber at the All England Club.
Andy Roddick: C-minus. A first-round loss to a streaking Chardy was tough, but picking up a lower-back injury right before the U.S. Open was tougher. The back must not be too bad, though, as Roddick is in the draw at Winston-Salem.Mardy Fish: B-plus