Report Card: Nadal, Serena roll at Rogers Cup; banner week for Canada
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams put to rest any doubts they can dominate the hard courts after a disappointing Wimbledon, and for the first time in the 40-year history of the ATP rankings, a Canadian man is in the top 10.
Rafael Nadal: A-plus. Nadal looked terrific in winning his third Rogers Cup title, his first tournament since an extended break after his first-round loss at Wimbledon. He defeated Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-2 in a final that lasted barely an hour, on the heels of a three-set semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic and a hard-fought straight-set win over Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz in the third round. His aggressive hard-court adjustments were positive, but his ability to simply out-compete his opponents en route to his 25th Masters 1000 title shows that he's mentally ready to make a charge in two weeks for his second U.S. Open title.
Now back up to No. 3 in the ATP rankings, Nadal has put himself in prime position for the year-end No. 1 spot. He already has a 1,420-point lead on Djokovic in the Race to London rankings, and he has a chance to overtake Andy Murray this week in Cincinnati. If he can do that, he'd go into the U.S. Open as the No. 2 seed.
Serena Williams: A. Her eighth title of the year, courtesy of a 6-2, 6-0 win over Sorana Cirstea in the final in Toronto, matches her career high, and she still has three months of the season left. Williams blew through the Rogers Cup field without dropping a set. Her toughest competition came from No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals; Williams, struggling with an upset stomach during the match, still prevailed 7-6 (3), 6-4. She wasn't tested by any of the big hitters who can cause her trouble, but that was a solid week for Williams. Barring a catastrophe this week in Cincinnati, she's the U.S. Open favorite.
Canada: A-plus. We're going to have to break down the banner tournaments for our neighbors to the north, as Canada had, in tennis terms, the best week ever:
• Milos Raonic: B-minus. Raonic needed this week. After stalling in the rankings, picking up a string of bad early losses and ending his longtime partnership with coach Galo Blanco in favor of Ivan Ljubicic, the Raonic stock was beginning to tip toward "sell" rather than "hold." But he finally broke through to make his first ATP Masters final, thanks to a very soft draw and some gutty performances.
He beat Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-4 in the third round, edged Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals and escaped fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4) in the semifinals. He was no match for Nadal in the final -- both the men's and the women's Rogers Cup finals mirrored each other in how undermatched the challengers were against their more experienced opponents -- but Raonic spent much of the week winning matches he's supposed to win. The deep run enabled him to climb three spots to No. 10 in this week's rankings, the highest ever for a Canadian man.
So it's a shame that Raonic's milestone week in front of his countrymen was tainted by that controversial non-call in his quarterfinal against del Potro. The debates will continue to rage about the balance between sportsmanship and hard-knuckled competition (hypothetically or technically), but when former players are up in arms about Raonic's refusal to call the net touch on himself, and he follows by telling reporters that he knew he got away with a rule violation, it's a breach of tennis etiquette that's hard to ignore.
• Vasek Pospisil: A-plus. The 23-year-old wild card had a giant-slaying week, coming within a few points of making the final. Pospisil, ranked No. 71 heading into the tournament, beat John Isner, Radek Stepanek, Tomas Berdych and Nikolay Davydenko in four days. He fired up the crowd with every fist pump and "come on" as he tried to battle his nerves. If Raonic is the calm and collected face of Canadian tennis, the rosy-cheeked Pospisil is the feisty crowd favorite. Pospisil is up to No. 40 this week.
• Genie Bouchard: B. The face of women's Canadian tennis got more publicity in Toronto than her No. 62 ranking would have otherwise justified. However, she seemed to do OK with the attention and pressure, beating Alisa Kleybanova 6-3, 6-1 before falling to Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2. The 19-year-old remains a work in progress, but it won't be long until she's a household name in Canada.
• Sharon Fichman and Gabriela Dabrowski: A. Canada's success even extended to doubles, where the wild cards knocked off the top-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci to make the women's semifinal. Seriously, something was in the maple syrup last week.
• Montreal crowd: B-plus. The fans brought a Davis Cup atmosphere to every match involving a Canadian. Loud, boisterous and, yes, sometimes ill-timed and rude, they got into the heads of Berdych and Gulbis, for sure. Gulbis complained about their lack of etiquette.
"I don't understand why you need to clap for a double fault," Gulbis said after losing to Raonic in the quarterfinals. "Simply I don't understand it. There can be emotions, but I think it's stupid. I can't call a thousand people stupid. Don't put it as a quote. But it's something [that] I don't understand. That's why all the Canadian players, they play always very well in Canada. Honestly some of them ‑- I guess you know who -- they don't play really nowhere else. Milos is a great player. But the rest of the guys, they play great in Canada because it's like Davis Cup every match. People are clapping after a double fault, before a second serve to provoke a double fault. I don't think it's nice."
Gulbis may not have liked it, but if that's the type of crowd interaction needed to get Canadians into tennis, I'm all for it.
Sorana Cirstea: A-plus. Sure, Williams routed her in the final, but the 23-year-old Romanian got there by upending a bunch of former No. 1s and Grand Slam winners. She beat Caroline Wozniacki 5-7, 7-6 (0), 6-4 in the match of the tournament, and followed that up with wins over Jelena Jankovic, Kvitova and Li Na to make her first WTA final since 2008. It's great to see that her talent might finally be coming together.
American men's tennis: D. In a week that ended with a Canadian cracking the top 10 for the first time, Isner's first-round loss to Pospisil (symbolic?) meant that there would be no American men in the top 20 for the first time. Hard not to wince at that contrast.
Novak Djokovic: B-minus. The best thing about Djokovic's Montreal stint was his dancing. He seemed to crumble under pressure, something he's been doing at a surprising rate this year. Djokovic couldn't have played a more tentative tiebreaker in the third set against Nadal.
Ernests Gulbis: B-plus. His aggressive yet calm and composed 6-4, 6-3 takedown of Murray in the third round just made you shake your head and wonder why he can't play like that consistently. He had a prime opportunity to make his first ATP Masters semifinal since 2010, but he couldn't hold his nerve in front of the partisan crowd and lost to Raonic. Once again, promise unfulfilled.
Agnieszka Radwanska: B-plus. Another tournament, another semifinal for Radwanska. Also, this shot was awesome: