Report Card: John Isner finds a way
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, John Isner worked hard to win the Atlanta Open title, while the WTA put on a good show at the Bank of the West Classic despite a decimated field.
John Isner: A. The 28-year-old American began his hectic pre-U.S. Open schedule by winning the Atlanta Open for the first time. It wasn't easy for Isner, who played a trio of three-setters (including two that went to a third-set tiebreaker) and won his other match in two tiebreakers over James Blake. In the final, the former University of Georgia standout saved two match points and edged Kevin Anderson 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) in two hours, 54 minutes, the longest best-of-three title match on tour this year. Isner climbed from No. 22 to No. 20, the only American in the top 20.
"This is a tournament where I could have been out in my first match," said Isner, who defeated Christian Harrison in three sets in his opener. "I lived on the edge all week, and seemed to come through for the good every time."
Dominika Cibulkova: A-plus. Cibulkova admitted that her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska in the Sydney final in January derailed the beginning of her season psychologically. That made Cibulkova's 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 comeback victory over Radwanska in the final of the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday all the more impressive. She wore down the fourth-ranked Radwanska with her big hitting and also gave the Pole a taste of her own medicine by drop-shooting her into frustration. Down a break at 2-4 in the third, Cibulkova won the last four games of the match and didn't flinch when Radwanska saved four match points with some incredible defense and shot making.
"It's a big deal for me Cibulkova said of her third career title and first win over Radwanska in five matches. "She's a really tough competitor and I had to earn every point myself. It was tough mentally and physically out there, so I'm really happy I won."
Here are highlights from high-quality final:
Tommy Robredo and Mikhail Youzhny: A. In a week when Roger Federer seemed to be showing his age with back woes and his first opening-round loss since 2010, Robredo and Youzhny won titles representing the over-30 set. Youzhny, 31, won his first clay-court title in more than two years after the top-seeded Federer's early loss at the Swiss Open, beating Robin Haase in the final. Robredo, also 31, ended Fabio Fognini's 13-match winning streak in the Croatia Open final, 6-0, 6-3. The ATP is up to 13 30-and-over winners in 2013, equaling last year's total.
Elina Svitolina A. While the 31-year-olds were rolling to titles on the ATP Tour, Svitolina became the WTA's newest teen winner. The 18-year-old from Ukraine bounced fellow teenager Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals and defeated Shahar Peer 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the International-level Baku Cup. She cracked the top 50 (at No. 49) for the first time this week, meaning we'll hopefully get to see her in more WTA main draws down the road.
Agniezksa Radwanska: B. Radwanska served at 4-2, 40-15 in the third set of the Stanford final before Cibulkova mounted her comeback. Cibulkova played incredibly well, but this was yet another reminder that, unlike the case with several other top-10 players, a match is never entirely in Radwanska's hands because of her lack of power. Cibulkova's high-risk, high-reward style paid off in the end.
Jamie Hampton: B. I wasn't sure how Hampton would respond in her first tournament as a top-four seed, but she handled pressure and expectation well enough to make her fourth semifinal of the year. Hampton lost to a "suffocating" Radwanska, but she still managed to rise five spots to a career-high No. 24.
Also, she hit what I thought was the shot of the tournament:
Robin Haase: A-minus. Youzhny proved too strong for him in the Swiss Open final, but Haase, now ranked No. 68, had good wins over Janko Tipsarevic and Feliciano Lopez to make his first final of the season. Enjoy your celebratory dinner, Robin:
Kevin Anderson: B-plus. How do get broken just once in four matches and yet walk away with the runner-up trophy? Tough luck for Anderson, who couldn't convert those two match points or any of his 11 break points against Isner.
Ryan Harrison: B-plus. Harrison needed a string of wins to help his confidence and he finally got it in Atlanta, where he made his first semifinal in a year. The solid tournament came after he split with coach Tres Davis and began working with the USTA's Jay Berger. Now creeping closer to the top 100 at No. 107, let's see if the 21-year-old American can keep it going.
Christian Harrison: A. Baby Harrison has officially grown up. The 19-year-old beat No. 83 Alejandro Falla 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-2 at the Atlanta Open for his first ATP main-draw victory. He also pushed Isner to three sets in the second round. Here are some highlights of Harrison-Isner:
Shelby Rogers: A. The Charleston, S.C., native, who won the USTA's French Open wild-card playoff in the spring, earned a U.S. Open wild card after accumulating the most points at two of three USTA Pro Circuit hard-court events in Yakima, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Lexington, Ky. She won Lexington and made the semifinals of Portland.
Baku Cup: F. I don't have the official figures, but having watched a few rounds of the tournament, it's clear that attendance was abysmal in Azerbaijan. So abysmal that Andy Murray's tweet had to be smothered in sarcasm:
Sorana Cirstea: B-minus. With last week's loss to Cibulkova, Cirstea is on an 0-10 run in WTA semifinals dating to 2008. No Plan B and a wildly inconsistent Plan A. Same book as always.
Varvara Lepchenko: B. I was impressed to hear that Lepchenko has left the USTA coaching staff and is working with Roger Smith on a trial basis. She says she got tired of the revolving door of multiple coaches and wanted one voice to be with her on a weekly basis. That's a confident move that shows that being a top-40 player isn't enough for her. She wants more.
Roger Federer: D-plus. Kudos to Federer for keeping his commitment to play Gstaad; the tournament no doubt benefited from his presence. But his straight-set loss to Daniel Brands extended his slump and raised more concerns about his back ahead of the U.S. Open Series. I can't be the only one doubting that he'll actually play the Rogers Cup next week.
Here's video of Federer's being gifted Desiree the cow. He looks like he's being punk'd.