Report Card: Strong weeks for Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic lost the No. 1 ranking but scored an impressive victory, while Serena Williams continued her sterling season.
Novak Djokovic: A-plus. Djokovic decisively defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 to win his fourth China Open title in four appearances and snap a three-match losing streak to the new No. 1. To say Djokovic needed the victory would be an understatement. With the same form and tactics that helped him rout Nadal in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters in April, Djokovic was unrelenting in his offense and showed why he troubles Nadal when his serve and forehand are clicking. The Serb's excitement was somewhat muted, given his relinquishing of the No. 1 ranking, but the win sets up an exciting finish to the season. The two could easily meet three more times (in Shanghai, Paris and London) if they maintain their schedules.
Serena Williams: A. The numbers keep piling up for Williams, who raised her 2013 counts to 10 titles and 73 victories after beating Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-2 in the China Open final. The latter figure is the most on the WTA Tour since Kim Clijsters won 90 matches and Justine Henin 75 in 2003. Williams will have a chance to overtake Henin at the WTA Championships, but first she gets a well-earned two-week break to rest. She'll need it. Williams called the trainer for treatment on her back during her semifinal win over Agnieszka Radwanska, and the injury flared up in the second set of the final. Not that it stopped her. With her 56th title, Williams took over sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list.
Juan Martin del Potro: A. Welcome back to the top five, DelPo. The Argentine edged Milos Raonic 7-6 (5), 7-5 in the Japan Open final to win his third tournament of the year. Del Potro returns to the top five this week for the first time since May 2010, and he's also leapfrogged Tomas Berdych for fifth place in the Race to London rankings.
Rafael Nadal: B-plus. Nadal clinched the No. 1 ranking by making his 13th final in 14 events, this one thanks to Berdych's mid-match retirement. That Nadal would even reach the semifinals was in doubt after he fell behind 6-2, 4-1 to Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals, but he rallied to win 11 of the last 12 games. Much of that early hole resulted from some incredible shot-making from the Italian, who was in the zone until the wheels fell off, but Nadal struggled to get the depth he needed to disrupt Fognini. That trend continued in the final, as again he left the ball short too many times and let Djokovic dictate the rallies.
Milos Raonic: B-plus. Raonic put his hat in the the ring for the ATP World Tour Finals, backing up his title at the Thailand Open with a run to the final in Tokyo. He didn't drop a set until the final, where he lost a serve-fest to Del Potro. The 22-year-old Canadian is 290 points out of the eighth qualifying spot for London.
Jelena Jankovic: B-plus. Jankovic's resurgence has been one of the more under-the-radar stories this year, a pretty surprising feat because it's rare for her to do anything under the radar. Her only title came at a small tournament in Bogota, Colombia, in February, but she's consistently making the late rounds of tournaments. She's firmly back in the top 10, at No. 8, and in a good position to qualify for the WTA Championships for the first time since 2010.
Petra Kvitova: B. The problem with playing so many three-set matches is that you're playing so many three-set matches. Kvitova has contested 36 of them this year, the most on tour since 2005, and she's won 24, the most since century. She's played six three-setters in a row, including a 6-7 (7), 6-1, 6-1 loss to Jankovic in the semifinals in Beijing. But it's been a good two weeks in Asia for Kvitova, highlighted by victories against Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber in Tokyo and a particularly strong performance against Li Na in Beijing. She withdrew from this week's Generali Ladies Linz with a back injury. If healthy, Kvitova could do some more damage at the WTA Championships in two weeks.
Andy Roddick: B-plus. He danced through Las Vegas, interviewed Justin Timberlake and revealed that he almost came to blows with Djokovic after their heated quarterfinal at the 2008 U.S. Open. That's a good week's work.
Richard Gasquet: B. Gasquet continues to play some solid tennis, beating David Ferrer in straight sets at the China Open before losing to Djokovic. He also keeps showing off his throwing skills:
Sloane Stephens: C. With a big opportunity to boost her ranking through the Asian swing, Stephens couldn't capitalize. She won two matches in two tournaments and lost to Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1 in the third round of the China Open. The 20-year-old American hasn't won a set in three matches against Wozniacki. She did get some nice revenge on Genie Bouchard in the second round, though; Stephens beat her 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 a week after losing to the 19-year-old Canadian in Tokyo.
Andrea Petkovic: B-plus. Is the German back? She sure did look like it in Beijing, where she upset Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 and knocked off Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 before losing to Lucie Safarova 6-4 , 6-7 (4), 7-6 (7) in one of the best WTA matches all year. Petkovic has to be feeling good about her finish to the season. She's back in the top 40 after starting the season ranked No. 125.
How about this rally she played to beat Azarenka:
Victoria Azarenka: C-minus. Azarenka went winless in Asia after losing to Petkovic at the China Open. It's hard to blame her for any lack of motivation on the practice court. With Serena sewing up the No. 1 ranking and Azarenka's No. 2 spot under no threat, coasting through the end of the season makes sense.
Venus Williams: C. Williams couldn't replicate her Tokyo magic in Beijing, where she lost to Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-2 in the first round. She's reportedly shut down her season.
Angelique Kerber: B. The German started the Asian swing at No. 12 in the Race to Istanbul. But thanks to a runner-up finish in Tokyo and a quarterfinal appearance in Beijing, she's climbed to ninth. Maintaining that spot would be enough for Kerber to qualify after Maria Sharapova's withdrawal.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A-plus. It didn't matter if she won the China Open or lost early. (For the record, she lost to Serena in the semifinals.) Aga gets top marks for this ridiculous forehand against Madison Keys in the second round:
Fabio Fognini: B. Unpredictable as always. Two weeks ago, Fognini melted down at the St. Petersburg Open and retired two points from losing a match. Last week in Beijing, he decided to show up and play, dominating Nadal for a set and a half.
Top American men: B-plus. John Isner and Sam Querrey had good weeks in Beijing. Isner, whose struggles outside the United States are well documented, won two three-setters before losing to Berdych in the quarterfinals. Querrey eliminated two higher-ranked players, No. 20 Mikhail Youzhny and No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, before Djokovic dismissed him in the quarterfinals.
Anastasia Rodionova: F. In the final round of qualifying for the Japan Women's Open, Rodionova retired two points from a loss to 16-year-old Belinda Bencic at 5-7, 6-2, 5-0. Come on, take your beating (and your bagel) and give the teen a proper victory.
Generali Ladies Linz: D. Kerber received a wild card after the draw had already been made. To make room for the new top seed, the tournament asked 22-year-old Austrian Lisa-Maria Moser to give back her wild card. Brutal.
Andy Murray: B. His live-tweeting of his boredom has been great.