Report Card: French champs Sharapova, Nadal, Schiavone conquer clay again
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Francesca Schiavone showed their class on clay yet again.
The 2012 French Open champions: A. Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova took home their first European clay titles of the season by defending titles. Nadal summarily dismissed the Barcelona field without dropping a set to win his eighth title in nine years at the event. He became the first man to win four titles this season, an accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that he's played only six tournaments (and made the final of every one of them, incidentally). Sharapova, meanwhile, scratched and clawed her way through back-to-back-to-back three-set matches before beating Li Na 6-4, 6-3 in the Stuttgart final.
While Nadal's Barcelona triumph was wholly predictable, Sharapova's winning performance was not. She needed three sets to slip past Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber to get to the final and then, in what should have been her toughest match of the week, she got revenge on Li, who abruptly ended her Australian Open campaign in the semifinals. It may just be time to acknowledge that Sharapova's best surface these days is red clay, a weird fact to accept in light of her famous "cow on ice" comments. Six of Sharapova's last eight titles have come on clay. She has a 16-match winning streak on the red stuff, dating to her wins in Rome and Roland Garros last year.
Lukas Rosol: A-plus. The man most known for being the guy who ended Nadal's 2012 season at Wimbledon finally broke through for his first ATP title, in Bucharest. Rosol revealed after the final that his father had died 11 days earlier. "Before the last game, there were already emotions," Rosol told ATPWorldTour.com. "I was shaking a lot before the match point, not because I was nervous, but because I was thinking about everything." Rosol dedicated the title to his father.
Francesca Schiavone: A. Amid a year to forget, the 32-year-old won her sixth career title after defeating Lourdes Dominguez-Lino 6-1, 6-3 in the Morocco final. The 2010 French Open champion has climbed to No. 37, which means a good showing in Madrid and Rome could get her seeded for the French Open.
Li Na: B-plus. I said before the tournament that a semifinal run would be a success for Li, who was playing her second event since the Australian Open in January. Making the final was a fantastic result for her. She didn't drop a set on her way there and scored a big win over Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals. I'm looking forward to see if she can tighten things up for Madrid and Rome. Right now, she's a top-five favorite for the title in Paris.
Milos Raonic: A-minus. For the second straight year Raonic made the semifinal in Barcelona, this time losing to Nadal 6-4, 6-0. The bagel set wasn't great, but it was a strong week for the Canadian, who beat Ernests Gulbis and a resurgent Tommy Robredo. Give him a good draw, and there's no reason he can't make the fourth round of the French Open.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: A-plus. If you haven't had a chance to see Mattek-Sands play over the last two months, make a note. Mattek-Sands has been a player transformed since she made the final of Kuala Lumpur in February. Ranked No. 104 heading into Stuttgart, she successfully qualified and then pulled off upset after upset to make the semifinals, easily posting the highest-quality week of her career and rising to No. 72. She beat 35th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer 6-2, 6-1, stunned Sara Errani 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 and backed that up with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Sabine Lisicki. Noticeably fitter thanks to a change in her diet -- she took a blood test that revealed a number of food allergies -- Mattek-Sands is playing with controlled aggression and a remarkably clear sense of purpose. If she keeps this form, she'll be a very dangerous floater in Paris.
Jelena Jankovic: C-minus. Jankovic had a great run in North America, making the semifinals of Miami and the final in Charleston, so her second-round loss to Lisicki was a disappointment, especially on her best surface.
Serena Williams: D. No, she didn't play last week, but she did send out this cryptic tweet that has left me scratching my head for the last 48 hours. What's going on, Serena?
Tommy Robredo: B-plus. Robredo, 30, followed up his title run in Casablanca last week by knocking out Tomas Berdych in Barcelona 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 and challenging Raonic before losing the third-set tiebreaker. Now No. 38 (he was outside the top 70 before Casablanca), he could land a seed at Roland Garros.
Ryan Harrison: A. The jury is still out on the playoff beard he seems to be growing, but kudos to Harrison for bouncing back from a shocking loss to Facundo Arguello in Sarasota to win the Savannah Challenger by beating Arguello 6-2, 6-3 in the final for his first title since the Honolulu Challenger in 2011. The win means he's no longer on the verge of dropping out of the top 100, rising 19 spots to No. 81 going into this week's Challenger in Tallahassee.
German engineering: A. Maria SharaPorscha? Maria PorschePova? Either way, this was some precise planning by the Porsche folks. Not only were they the title sponsor of the Stuttgart event, but a few days after they signed Sharapova to be their first global ambassador she goes on to win the title by beating Li, who just so happens to be sponsored by Mercedes Benz. As if that weren't enough, Lisicki and Mona Barthel, members of the Porsche-sponsored German Fed Cup team, won the doubles title.
Oh, and Victoria Azarenka, who didn't play the tournament, tweeted this last week: