Spring Tennis Grades for the Stars
The calendar has flipped to April. That means that the two biggest non-major events in tennis are behind us. With most of the big names taking a few weeks off before the clay court season kicks into high gear, this is always a good time to take stock of the sport.
Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Milos Raonic and Novak Djokovic all missed one or both of the events. Thus, it is not fair to evaluate them. However, here are some grades for other top stars in Indian Wells and Miami.
Roger Federer-The English language no longer possesses enough adjectives to describe how remarkable Federer is. His schedule for the clay court season is up in the air. The 35-year-old is expected to take an extended break. We may not see him again until the French Open in late May. After winning these two titles back-to-back, there is not a high enough grade to give. Grade: A++++
Rafael Nadal- He is finally healthy again and a threat in every tournament he enters. Back in the top five and with only losses last month coming to Federer, Nadal has to be deliriously happy with 2017 thus far. Grade: A
Stan Wawrinka- 2017 looks to be following a familiar pattern for the World No. 3. He is beating the players he is supposed to while occasionally getting tripped up by one of the talented young guns. He struggles against the “Big Four”. However, each of the last three years Wawrinka has been able to catch lightning in a bottle and win at least one huge event. That did not happen in Indian Wells or Miami, but he was by no means terrible. Grade: C
Jack Sock- We may have finally found the next American man to win a singles Grand Slam. The more I see from the 24-year-old the more I like. His forehand is one of the most devastating shots in the sport. He reached his biggest singles semifinal in Indian Wells and the quarterfinals in Miami losing to Federer and Nadal respectively. There is absolutely no shame in that. Grade: B+
Nick Kyrgios- Could Indian Wells and Miami have finally been a turning point for the controversial young Aussie? Let’s hope so. Knocking off Djokovic before coming down with food poisoning in Indian Wells and going toe to toe with Federer in the Miami semis should let him know how good he can be.
He is one of the most naturally gifted players I have ever seen. It was refreshing to spend March talking about Kyrgios’ game as opposed to disciplinary actions related to on and off court behavior. Grade: A
Alexander Zverev- The tall and talented young German continues to cement himself as the second best prospect of the young generation. Upsetting top seeded Wawrinka in Miami adds to a growing list of big wins that the almost 20-year-old has already had. Despite losing to Kyrgios in both Indian Wells and Miami, Zverev may be a safer long-term bet in terms of career success. Unlike Kyrgios, Zverev is already handling himself very well on and off the court. Grade: B
Elena Vesnina- By winning her biggest career title in Indian Wells, the Russian veteran proved that her game and mental toughness had levels most people did not know existed. By losing her opening matches in Miami and Charleston respectively, she proved that she is just another WTA player in the last 18 months who had a career altering breakthrough and could not back it up. Grade: B
Angelique Kerber- A fourth round showing backed up by a quarterfinals appearance is not a bad month, unless you are the World No. 1. Despite the title, the German counterpuncher has yet to play like the best in the world in 2017. She is looking to vulture a championship trophy as the main attraction at a small hardcourt event in Monterrey Mexico this week. Grade: C-
Svetlana Kuznetsova- The fact that this two time Grand Slam champion continues to put herself in big time finals like Indian Wells in her early 30s is more than commendable. The fact that she blew a lead in a big time final once again makes you wonder just how good she could have been if the mental skills match the physical ones. A fatigued Kuznrtsova was no match for Venus Williams in Miami. Grade: B-
Venus Williams- Much like Federer, Venus simply continues to amaze. The run to the Australian Open final was no fluke. She reached the semis of Miami. In the process, she became the oldest player to ever defeat a World No. 1, knocking off Kerber in the quarters.
What a splendid way to back up a run to the last eight in Indian Wells. Her opening match loss in Charleston yesterday is understandable. She has never been a big fan of the clay. Throw in a little jet lag, and you could almost see it coming. Even at 36, no one wants to play Venus Williams. Grade: A-
Caroline Wozniacki-The Dane’s late 2016 resurgence has carried over into this year. A quarterfinal appearance in Indian Wells followed by a runner-up trophy in Miami, and a return to the top 10 is just a matter of time. Grade: B+
Johanna Konta- Ranked outside the top 100 is recently as the summer of 2015, Most folks are still trying to get their arms around who this Brit is and where she came from. Her relative anonymity will not last much longer. After overpowering Venus and Wozniacki on her way to the Miami title, she is knocking on the door of the top five in the world. Grade: A-
Simona Halep- Admittedly, this grade is a bit kinder than it normally would be for a top five player who failed to reach the semis in Indian Wells or Miami. In fact, the stealthy Romanian has not reached the semifinal of any event in 2017. Even so, Miami could be a real building block for Halep. Reaching the quarterfinals and narrowly losing to the eventual champion is nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, by her own admission, it was the first event of the year that Halep entered and exited healthy. Grade: C+
Agnieszka Radwanska- In a sport dominated by power, the diminutive Pole’s cerebral style of play is a pleasure to watch. However, her fall from grace in 2017 has been swift and mystifying.
She was blasted off the court by bigger hitters in just her second match in both Indian Wells and Miami, winning just 11 combined games in those defeats. Apart from a runner-up result in Sydney, Australia in the second week of the year, 2017 has been a disaster for Radwanska. It just looks like the power of the modern game has finally overtaken her. She has been a top 10 mainstay for the better part of a decade, but with just nine match wins in six events this year, she does not even look like a top 30 player at the moment. Grade: D-