The Pick, May 1: Andy Murray wants to win a clay court, badly. To face Rosol

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Andy Murray vs. Lukas Rosol, Munich, May 1

Murray would love to win a clay court for the first time. He’s won 31 titles over the years, winning two major Slams at the US Open on a hard court and Wimbledon on grass. He has beaten the big member of the ‘Big 4’ Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but he has never taken them out during prime-time at the clay tournaments. Those men have all won gigantic clay events, but the Scot has not come super close.

Murray wants to win any type of a clay tournament, which is why he is in Munich this week (and a lot of additional money, of course). The world No. 3 is still learning how to play the right way and he is only 27, so he has years ahead. When he slides on the red clay, sometimes he just continues to slip, and he isn’t able to lock it in and club the balls. He can strike his phenomenal backhand just about everyone, but he can push his forehand because he isn’t set and floats the balls into the middle of the court. He needs to use more spins, drop shots and be patient.

The veteran Rosol is tall at 6-foot-5 and he is a huge hitter. Last year he had played very well overall, reaching his high ranking at No. 26. But this season he has struggled big time, only winning two matches in a row, which is problematic. Rosol has a huge first serve, but he has never looked fantastic on clay, which means that Murray will figure him out early and win 6-3, 7-5.

In Estoril the 18-year-old Borna Coric now has a new coach in Thomas Johansson, which the Swede will make sure that the young one will be enthusiastic. But is Coric ready on clay against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who won Romania? Nope, the Spaniard will best him in sets.

In Istanbul, Grigor Dimitrov will face Ivan Dodig, who is a big hitter but the Bulgarian has a lot more variety and is faster. Dimitrov will win in straight sets.

In Prague Karolina Pliskova has won her third straight three-set wins and if she is more consistent she should be able to grab the title. She will face Yanina Wickmayer who is powerful, but she is erratic and this time Pliskova will win in straight sets.

In Marrakech, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova has been playing excellent ball on clay, reaching the final in Rio, winning Poland and on Thursday she beat the red hot Timea Bacsinszky 6-3 3-6 7-5. She will win again when she upsets Elina Svitolina in three long sets.

 

Pick Em: Istanbul has new event, Federer vs Nieminen. Thoughts on Kerber, Wozniacki & Nishikori

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Roger Federer vs. Jarrko Nieminen, Istanbul, April 29

Roger Federer is 14-0 against Jarrko Nieminen. Wow, that is almost possible. Sure the 17 times Grand Slam has won everything and he is clearly better than the Finland is, but Nieminen has been respectable over the year and he can mix up his shot. One would think that the left-handed would roll his forehands into the corner and come into the net when he can crisply putting it away, but when he faces the Swiss, he is confused and leads his strokes too short.

The two have known each other for ever, meeting each other for the first time in 2002, when Federer beat Nieminen 6-1 6-4 on carpet at Moscow. The now 33 year olds have also faced each other in hard courts, grass and clay. Jarrko has only won one set in the last 14 matches, in 2011 Basel when for a brief moment he though he could grab it for the first time, but Federer raced away 6-1 4-6 6-3.

Nieminen has won two titles over all, but Federer has won 84 titles, which is slightly better, or how about way, way better.

On clay in Istanbul, Nieminen just can’t whale away with his fine first serves and dictate when he cracks his wicked forehands into Federer’s one-handed backhand and push him into the stands. The only way to come close to winning the match – or really grabbing one set – is to dig in and play numerous rallies. He has to swing away and try his shots very deep and hope it goes in. Federer says that he has been practicing a lot and getting used to sliding and hitting around. Two weeks ago in Monte Carlo on clay, Federer wasn’t ready yet, but he should be ready now. Let’s say that Nieminen goes berserk but loses 7-5, 6-2.

OTHER NOTES

Your have to give Angelique Kerber a huge amount of credit by winning Stuttgart. She couldn’t have given up against Caroline Wozniacki and was down 5-3 in the third set but she fought super hard and the Dane stopped moving forward. Kerber really knew that in Germany, she could triumph and she did, smoking some excellent backhands down the line and racing to scoop up her drop shots and put them away.

Now she has won Charleston and Stuttgart on green and red clay and has won two Premiers. But what she has not done is to win a Premier 5, which is coming soon at Madrid. She will have a real chance but here comes Serena Williams, who has not lost this year in singles [she pulled out of her semifinal against Simona Halep in the semis at Indian Wells and lost against the Italians in Fed Cup in the doubles]. Can Kerber actually beat Serena on a high altitude on Madrid? That is doubtful as Serena can torch ace after ace, but if the lefty-hander Kerber get into rallies and yanks her around, at least she has a small chance.

And if Kerber wins Madrid and has won three straight events then she will be one of the favorites at Roland Garros.

Wozniacki played much better last week than she has at the beginning of the year. However, her father and coach Piotr has to talk to her at the end of the set rather than always coming out after the third game every second. When she splits the set, instead of going to talk to her after the beginning, it is better to wait until the last moment, go up to her and say ‘You are playing great but make sure that you will continue to attack and don’t back up.’ She backed-up at the end against Kerber and she went away.

Credit to Kei Nishikori by winning Barcelona, beating Pablo Andujar in the final. The No. 5 is very close to passing Rafa Nadal at No. 4, but he will have to go to Madrid, when he reached the final in 2014 and lost to whom else – Nadal. He has never beaten the Spaniard and while Nadal is shaky and Nishikori is riding high, but he has to prove that.

There are five smaller tournaments this week, which a number of the top players are resting, but every event has a story or two.

In Munich Andy Murray is the top seed and he is back after having a wedding date with Kim Sears. His new coach, Jonas Bjorkman, is there this week. Murray has never been fantastic on clay but he’s been pretty good and could win the tournament. Here was a big win on Tuesday when the just came back Janko Tipsarevic bested the fixed-tooth Bernard Tomic 5-7 6-1 7-6 (3).

Estoril, which has been very popular over the years, saw another man who feels better when Richard Gasquet — who had a back injury – beat Marinko Matosevic. The Australian Nick Kyrgios, who threw a racket over the stadium, overcame Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3) and almost got tossed.

In Istanbul, Nieminen beat Marsel Ilhan 6-3, 6-4 and as we mentioned, will face Federer.

In Prague the top seed Karolina Pliskova won Annika Beck 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 on a rainy and cold day. Pliskova has been quite good this year but it is time for her to start winning tournaments now.

The same goes in Marrakech where the top Garbine Muguruza who is close but no cigar. She is very good on clay and she should be pushing deep in Madrid, Rome and Paris.

 

 

The Pick, Stuttgart, April 25: Halep vs Wozniacki, is Caro finally ready to grind again?

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Maria Sharapova went down early against Angie Kerber, Petra Kvitova lost to Madison Brengle and all of a sudden, Caroline Wozniacki had hope, not that she would win instantaneously, but everyone was vulnerable and if she was willing to grind it, she might be able to exhaust anyone. She looked terrific to beat Carlos Suarez on Friday, which was not easy at all considering that the Spaniard loves clay and she has admittedly that the dirt has given her the most trouble.

But at least this week, she has not been emotionally bankrupt and feeling spry. However while all the players out there were vulnerable, one did not: Simona Halep, who she has to face in the semifinal. The Romanian has been almost untouchable since February, winning just about everything, and nearly besting the great Serena Williams in Miami (although the last game was spotty at best). Here in Stuttgart she had to play Garbine Muguruza, who had beat Halep on the Fed Cup in Romania. But this time, on clay, she kept hitting the corners and won in three sets. That was gigantic because the Spaniard was willing to strike. Halep was ready, she didn’t just be reactive, but who saw her game beautifully.

That is what she occurred in Dubai in February, when she beat Wozniacki 2-6 6-1 6-1 in Dubai. She challenged the Dane’s sporadic forehand and charged. She faked her backhands when it looked like that her crosscourt would stay their forever but she went down the line very early and Wozniacki was confused. Yes, Caro was hurting during the third match, but she was healthy enough and simply lost because she didn’t know where to go.

What now on Saturday? The only way that Wozniacki can win over Halep is if she can stroke her forehands and backhands deep. Yes, she will also have to throw in some drop shots, but both of them are super fast so Caro can’t allow them to run up and go anywhere she wants. She has to fool her and then go for her much improved spinning lobs over her head. Her backhand is by far her best shot so she had to swing away early and often because Halep is pretty darn good, too.

Wozniacki has struggled this year but at least she’s trying. Maybe she has a real chance to win a big tournament again but not yet, and certainly not on clay. Halep will fight for hours, but won’t need to and will win in two entertaining sets.

The Pick, WTA at Stuttgart, April 23: Kvitova is ready for clay vs. Brengle; Wozniacki and Safarova face off

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Petra Kvitova looked just fine at Fed Cup last weekend, winning two contests over the French. Now the Czech has to play the American Madison Brengle, the only US in the draw at Stuttgart. Kvitova has been up and down forever, looking like she could wipe out everyone at Wimbledon, and then fading at the US Open. She has been awful at times on clay, but she has been very good at times, reaching the semifinal at Roland Garros three years ago.

Is she ready to dance this year? Who knows, but she is refreshed now after resting during March and now she is happy. Brengle has improved a tremendous amount over the past year and not only can she grind it from the baseline, but she can also attack the ball. She will threaten Kvitova, but Petra’s left-handed serve can be deadly and she will win in two tight sets.

Carolina Wozniacki has been working with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the former No. 1 who has rarely watched with the kids, but maybe she has changed now and she understands exactly how the Dane is played. Maybe on clay, Wozniacki will just grind as long her foes grow exhausted and then she can attack. That’s what the three-time RG champ Sanchez did, who was never tired. However, these days almost all the women can crush their forehands –where Sanchez could not — so if Caro just pushes the ball against Lucie Safarova, she will be gone pretty quickly.

The other Czech, Safarova, also played very well at the Fed Cup, so the lefty is happy and ready to move forward and crush her strokes down the line. These two know each other well and Caro can out-run her, but she hasn’t played well much of the year and she has to prove that she feels fine again. Safarova is and will win in three sets.

I am not going to pick with Maria Sharapova against Angie Kerber because even though Maria has been lights out at Stuttgart as she has won the last three years, she is coming off an injury on her leg and she’s vulnerable. Kerber was out of it all year up until Charleston, but then she rose, played beautifully and won the title on green clay. Last Sunday against Russia, she blitzed her foe on red clay, although Germany ended up losing. But the lefty is back, at home and is ready to battle for three hours against Sharapova. Can Angie win? Possibly but she better yank her around quickly and not hope that Sharapova is totally off. This will go three sets, but who will win on Wednesday? It’s a toss-up.

 

The Pick, Barcelona, April 22: Cilic vs Burgos, is Marin ready to play well again?

Marin still has potential, but will he show it in '12?

The US Open champion is trying to play well again.

Marin Cilic vs Victor Estrella Burgos, Barcelona, April 22

It is pretty incredible that Burgos is now 34 years old and he is still out there, currently ranked No. 52, which is pretty darn good considering that the Dominican Republic has very few players who have even made it on the ATP World Tour. Baseball, anyone? Regardless, Burgos has hung in there at the singles. He is fast, but small at 5-foot-8 and isn’t powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with lots of players. But on clay, that’s an entire matter all together. He won Ecuador in February, upsetting Feliciano Lopez in the final. He then won a Challenger in Morelos, Mexico.

Last week in Monte Carlo, he bested Simon Bolelli in the first round and then he retired against David Ferrer. So while he was been playing well, and he thinks he has a real chance against Cilic, who might be a little hurt. If he isn’t running up and down everywhere than he will have no chance.

Is the US Open champion Cilic is ready to go now? It’s hard to say. He did return at Miami and he lost in the first round. But last week, he won two contests over Mayer and Tsonga, which was terrific, but then he was blasted by Djokovic.

It will take the tall man a while to be completely ready. He has never loved clay, but when his forehands are blasting two and fro and he attacks on his foes’ second serve then he can be threatening. At the 2014 US Open, he could do anything he wanted to. But now he has to have tremendous patience. Let’s assume that the huge server Cilic will believe in himself again and win it over Burgos in third set.

Fed Cup, Winners & Losers, April 19: Czechs & Russia reach final. Kvitova returns, Vesnina helps team, Germany falls

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The World Group

Czech Republic d France 3-0

WINNERS: The Czech Republic is unstoppable, once again. On Saturday, Petra Kvitova swept aside Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-4. Then Lucie Safarova — who has been so impressive over the past two and half years and rarely panics at the Fed Cup — overcame Caroline Garcia 4-6 7-6(1) 6-1. Kvitova, who hasn’t played since February, beat Garcia 6-4, 6-4 to win the tie 3-0 over France on Sunday.

The Czechs beat Germany in the final at Prague last year over Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic; they beat Serbia in Prague in 2011 over Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic; they beat Russia 3-2 in the final 2010 in Moscow over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Kirilenko, among others. Now the Czechs will play the final again, this time against Russia once again and presumably, in Prague. Do Kvitova and Safarova want a piece against Maria Sharapova? You bet they do.

LOSERS: Caroline Garcia has improved quite a bit this year but she has to be more patient and not go for winners immediately. She will in time.

Russia d Germany 3-2

The Germans thought it a had a real chance to take down the Russians after Sharapova pulled out, but they couldn’t do it when. in the fifth rubber, the excellent doubles player Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wiped out Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Captain Barbara Rittner had so many different choices. She said that Kerber, who had won Charleston last week, was too tired and didn’t arrive until Wednesday so she needed to rest. Petkovic, who made it into the semifinals, was also tired and hurt. But they had five days before Saturday, so if they were OK, why not just put them on Saturday? At the Grand Slams, you have one day off, and then you are ready to play again. Unless you are injured, that’s fine, but if they are OK, then go with it. That is why they are the main competitors.

However, Rittner felt that Julia Goerges has been good at times on the clay and Lisicki had been played well at Indian Wells and Miami. But they both lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and then Germany was in serious trouble. But whoops, Petkovic and Kerber were ready on Sunday, they destroyed Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and they were ready to grab the tie. But hold on.

Rittner decided to use Petkovic and Lisicki instead of trying Goerges, but Lisicki grew nervous and wasn’t listening, while Petkovic began to get frustrated. Vesnina knew exactly where she should be and what she would do and Russia won it. Props for the captain Anastasia Myskina, who talked to the team and calmed them down at 2-2. You can guarantee that she will want Sharapova to be the leader in the final.

LOSERS: Rittner paid and they lost and that was painful. But her team has stuck in there and they have to give her another chance in 2016.

WORLD GROUP PLAYOFF

Italy d USA 3-2

Serena Williams did not play spectacular in singles by beating Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani, but in the fifth rubber, she and Alison Riske lost 6-0 6-3 to Errani and Flavia Pennetta. Props to Errani and Pennetta who really know how to mix in their shots, but Serena and Riske weren’t very enthusiastic.

LOSERS: The younger girls still have a lot to learn, including Riske, Lauren Davis and Christina McHale who lost very quickly and quietly.

Switzerland d Poland 3-2

Crazy days, that is for sure. Aga Radwanska comes out firing and beats Martina Hingis 6-4 6-0, her best match all year, even though the former No. 1 hasn’t played singles in eight years. The Swiss Timea Bacsinszky has played very well over the past two months, and she whacked Urszula Radwanska 6-2 6-1. But then Bacsinszky smoked Radwanska 6-1 6-1. That was stunning. Hingis surpisingly fell to Urszula 4-6 7-5 6-1. Back in the day, Hingis would play for hours and never looked tired. Now at the age of 34, she looks terrific moving around in the doubles, but on singles, she is not as fast. But getting tired after a couple of hours? She must have been super nervous inside, because there is no reason that her legs were heavy.

Whatever the case, Hingis didn’t play the doubles because she couldn’t run anymore, but Bacsinszky was gutsy again, playing with Viktorija Golubic and they beat Aga and Alicja Rosolska 2-6 6-4 9-7.

LOSES: Without question, Aga Radwanska has been reeling, losing to everyone and everything this year. Losing easily at home against Bacsinszky — who has played lights out – by the once former Wimbledon final shows that she is very confused.

Romania d Canada 3-0

Good for Genie Bouchard who changed her mind and came to Montreal. However, she is really slumping, losing both matches to Alexandra Dulgheru and Andreea Mitu, a real unknown. But, the tennis world knows her now. The top Romanian’s Irina-Camelia Begu couldn’t even play on Sunday because she was hurt (she beat Francoise Abanda on Saturday). Credit to all the players who won as there No. 2 Simona Halep couldn’t make it.

LOSSES: Bouchard has lost her rhythm, but she took a big hit by not shaking hands with Dulgheru at the tie. People will talk about it all year long, or until she retires.

Netherlands d Australia 3-1

It looked like Australia would win easily, but Sam Stosur was hurt and couldn’t play. The Netherlands played as well as they could, with Kiki Bertens winning two matches, beating Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua, while Arantxa Rus grabbed one over Gajdosova 0-6 7-5 7-5 to end it. Props to the captain, the former ATP pro Paul Haarhuis, who gave them self belief.

LOSSES: Gajdosova should have been able to best Rus, who is ranked at No. 217.

The Pick, April 14: Dimitrov vs. Verdasco, is Grigor ready to turn around and win matches again?

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9-Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fernando Verdasco

Without question, Dimitrov has been struggling big time. He has so much potential that if he can right his ship, than slowly he can come back to form. He has a terrific variety, can mix up his one-handed backhand, and he can take over the net. However, this year he is changing where he is going and what he is trying to do. Whether or not he is trying to be more basic, or he is using every shot to mankind, he has to find something that works soon.

Now they are on clay, playing in the famous, idyllic Monte Carlo. Dimitrov lost to David Ferrer in the fourth round last year, but after that, he was fairly decent on clay, winning Bucharest and reached the semifinal in Rome, where he lost to Rafa Nadal. Of course, Ivo Karlovic shocked him in the first round at Roland Garros, but the Croat can bomb away, any time, anywhere.

Fernando Verdasco loves the clay, but he has had a so-so this year, losing in the semifinals at Houston when he lost to Sam Querrey. Two days later, he had to fly across the ocean so he could have been exhausted in the late afternoon. The lefty has a tremendous forehand, a pretty good first serve and, when he is feeling right, he will go for his backhand down the line. But after his long trip he will be spaced out and Dimitrov knows that he has to start winning now. He will win in three sets.

Jack Sock is coming alive, wins Houston title

Jack Sock won his first big Challenger title.

Jack Sock won his first ATP title.

The young American males haven’t won a title in quite some time. But the 22-year-old Jack Sock is moving very fast, making progress in Indian Wells, Miami and now winning the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, beating Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2).

Not only were many fans were surprised how good he was on the hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami To see the 22-year-old running back and forth on the clay, they were definitely surprised.

Some of the players can’t handle sliding all day, but he actually likes it.

“It feels incredible,” said Sock. “Clay is my favorite surface. It feels surreal. It feels incredible, and to have friends and family here to share it with me feels even better.”

The 22-year-old played OK last season, reaching the Challenger final in Savannah and he qualified at Nice, where he lost to John Isner. He did reach the third round at Roland Garros, going down to Dusan Lajovic.

He wasn’t perfect and, as he admitted recently, he should have been in better shape. However, he kept plugging away, reaching the semifinal at Newport and Atlanta, before he skidded a bit, losing in the first round of the US Open. But he played well in the fall, upsetting Kei Nishikori in the Masters 1000 Shanghai and qualifying at the Masters 1000 Paris, where he almost beat Milos Raonic.

This season, he missed the first two months due to an injury but when he came back at Indian Wells, he felt like he was faster and  concentrating more. He reached the fourth round before falling to Roger Federer, and in Miami, he upset the No. 22 Fabio Fognini before going down in the third round.

“This is the best I’ve felt physically by far off the court and on the court,” Sock said.

In the doubles, he shined, when he and his Canadian Vasek Pospisil won Indian Wells over the legendary Bob and Mike Bryan and in Miami, they reached the final, and barely lost to the Bryan Brothers

He has a massive serve and a big forehand. He’s a fine volley but he knew in Houston that he had to be patient because on the clay courts, it takes time to set it up and then go for his shots.

That is what he exactly did in U.S. Men’s Clay Court. He beat No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 32 Santiago Giraldo and No. 16 Kevin Anderson before besting his fellow American Querrey.

He beat a series of solid players and he never looked nervous at all. Sock has climbed to a career-high 36th and he is now the No. 2 American, behind Isner. Very likely, he will continue with rapid rate.

“I put in a lot of hard work before I came back,” said Sock. “I had almost nine weeks in a row off the court in the gym getting my body ready to come back. To come here and win is a very incredible feeling and I’m going to savor it for a while.”

The First Quarter, the men on the top 20: Djokovic an A plus, but Gulbis an F?

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Novak Djokovic A+

OK Djokovic lost to Karlovic in Doha and to Federer in Dubai, but when he was ready to rock and roll again in the three biggest tournaments – the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami – he was faster and nearly perfect inside the baseline. On hard courts he is phenomenal.

Roger Federer A- 
The great Swiss fought hard to win Brisbane, he was stunned by Seppi in the third round at the Australian Open, he was super consistent at winning Dubai over Djokovic, and reached the final at Indian Wells, when he lost to Novak in three entertaining sets. OK, he is not perfect by any means, but he is 33 years old and if he is close versus the 27-year-old Djokovic then you have to clap your hands and say ‘The old guy still has a real Slam left in him.’

Andy Murray B+
The Britain has been pretty consistent this year, reaching the final of the Aussie Open, the semis of Indian Wells and the final of Miami. He is whipping his backhand, his forehand is stronger and he is willing to charge the net. However, he fell to Djokovic in all three big matches, and lost 6-0 at the end of the Aussie and IW encounters. He looks better
than he was in 2014, but he hasn’t figured out exactly how he can bother Novak when it’s crunch time.

David Ferrer B+
Just when you thought that the 33-year-old would start to sink he is right back in there. He won Doha, Rio and Acapulco. He wasn’t great at the Aussie Open, IW and Miami, but he is hacking away, every time out.

 
Kei Nishikori B
If this was last year, maybe he would be given an B+, but during the last few months, the Japanese 25-year-old was OK, but not great. When you are ranked No. 4, it means being ready to win some big titles, but he hasn’t been able to challenge the big boys, losing to Wawrinka, Ferrer, Lopez, Isner and splitting with Raonic. Yes he won at Memphis against Anderson, yes he was ambitious at the Davis Cup but at the Aussie Open, IW and Miami, he was so-so.

Rafa Nadal B 
In the second half in 2014, the Spaniard had a very tough season. He was very hurt and he knew when he would come back he wasn’t going to be 100 percent in 2015. In the past three months, he has been OK, but as he said, he is a little scared. He is not swinging away with his backhand, his forehand is up and down and he needs to be more aggressive.He lost to Berdych at the Aussie Open, he lost to Raonic at the IW and to Fernando Verdasco at Miami. Unusual, but the former No. 1 is trying hard.

Milos Raonic B 
The Canadian was oh-so-close, winning some fine players, and barely losing to the top competitors. He lost against Federer twice at Brisbane and Indian Wells, Djokovic had his number at the Aussie Open, and he was right there against Wawrinka at Rotterdam. But he split with Nishikori and upended Nadal at Indian Wells. Raonic and Isner played a terrific match at Miami where the big boys went at it all night. If the Canadian improves a little bit, he could be besting the Big 4 frequently.

Tomas Berdych B
The 29-year-old Czech has been pretty consistent, only losing to the top 10ers:   Ferrer, Murray (twice), Wawrinka, Djokovic and Federer. None of the guys outside of  top 10 were able to twist Tomas, but he was only able to stun one of the majors, shocking Rafa at the Australian. Pretty good, but not spectacular.

Stanislas Wawrinka B 
The bazooka backhand came outof the gates in January, winning Chennai, reaching the Aussie semis (although he disappeared in the fifth set against Novak) and then he won Rotterdam. But he flamed out during Marseille, IW and Miami. He can be terrific, but he overplays.

John Isner B 
The American had lost a lot of confidence after Davis Cup against Britain, but he vowed that he was coming
together and he was, beating Anderson at IW and at Miami, he bested Dimitrov, Nishikori and Raonic before falling to Djokovic. That saved his season.

Feliciano Lopez C+
‘Feli’ is 33 years old and he is so much more intelligent on court. However while he did reach the final of Ecuador on
clay and he upset Nishikori at IW, he’s lost fairly early overall.

Gilles Simon C+

The French veteran started very slowly, but he did win Marseille in a terrific final over Monfils. But other than that, you tell me.

Kevin Anderson C
The tall hard hitter rarely loses to the unknown players, but he only won one against of the top 30 – Richard Gasquet – and you know he has to play better if he ever is going to knock down the big boys.

Gael Monfils C- 
OK, Gael was hurt again (stunner) and he did reach the final of Marseille. He also won a big match over Kohlschreiber in the Davis Cup, but he was in and out all the time.

Roberto Bautista Agut   D+ 
The 26-year-old Spaniard had a   terrific year in 2014, but he has done very little in the first three months, not playing on clay in South America.   He didn’t win a notable contest on the hard courts either.

 
Grigor Dimitrov D+ 
Admittedly , the Bulgarian is changing his strokes and that takes time. At least he is being honest, so you can’t expect him to be winning tournaments. However, he gets frustrated and he has done nothing during the first three months. At all.

Tommy Robredo D
The 32-year-old Spaniard went 4-6, beating three guys outside of the top 90 and one top 11 in the slumping Dimitrov.   He is slumping, too.

 
Ernests Gulbis F  
He is 1-7 this year and he lost to anywhere, anytime. He has to go back to square one.

Marin Cilic – Incomplete
After the Croat had a shoulder injury, the US Open champion just came back in IW, losing in the first round.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Incomplete
The Frenchman is also just coming back from injury, returning in Miami, where he lost in the second round. He is very good, but he is always hurt.

The First Quarter, the women: Serena snaps an A+, but Aga was at a D. Who else and why?

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Serena Williams A+

She won everything except when she was hurt, she came back to Indian Wells when she didn’t have to ever again but she did anyway, and now, she is so steady and smart that she doesn’t even have to dominate her first serves and she still win. Wow.

Simona Halep A

Yes, Halep froze in Australia, but outside of that she has been so consistent and never backs off. She won Dubai and Indian Wells and came very close to beat Serena in Miami. If she continues to believe in herself, she will win a Slam this year.

Carla Suarez Navarro A-

While the Spaniard did not win a tournament this year, since February she has gone deep everywhere. In Miami she upended Radwanska and Venus Williams in two tremendous three setters. Yes she was scared against Serena in the final, but the smaller Carla moves forward all the time now.

Maria Sharapova B+

The veteran Maria started off the year with a bang, winning Brisbane, reaching the Aussie final where this time she was close against Serena and she looked tremendous in Fed Cup to beat Poland. While she did not play at Indian Wells or Miami, she was almost perfect in Australia.

Sabine Lisicki B+

The German was out of it until Indian Wells and Miami, and then she appeared again and looked much better, snaring wins over Errani, Garcia, Pennetta and Ivanovic. She was close against  Serena when she fell in three sets. She is crushing the ball – inside the court.

Garbine Muguruza B

The young Spaniard has been very good for the most part, but as powerful as she is, she can become wild. However, she did win both matches at Fed Cup in Romania and beating Halep there, which is good enough.

Madison Keys B

Clearly Keys put together a tremendous tournament at the Australian Open, reaching the semis by beating Kvitova and Venus before losing to Serena. However, she has been hurt and is now struggling, and did not play well in Indian Wells or Miami. But when you are 20 years old and reach a Slam semi, you earn it at least a B.

Ekaterina Makarova B

Speaking of which, the Russian reached the Aussie semifinal, which was eye-popping. Beyond that though she has not played her singles very well at all, but her doubles has been excellent overall.

Karolina Pliskova B

Every week, the younger Czech was about to rise and grab a big tournament, because she has one of the biggest serves out there and can also crush her forehands and backhands. However, she is not quite there yet mentally, but she’s close.

Lucie Safarova B

It was nice to see the veteran winning a big tourney by grabbing Doha. She may not ever reach the top 10, but she will continue to try as had as she can before she retires.

Jelena Jankovic B

The famous “JJ” was nowhere and then all of a sudden she rose and reached the Indian Wells final. She then fell apart quickly in Miami, but at least she seems enthusiastic again.

 Andrea Petkovic B

She did nothing in January, but she won two marathons at Fed Cup against Australia, she won Antwerp and reached the semifinal at Miami. She loves the media and is well liked with the players, but she can lose her temper on court.

Venus Williams B-

Here is the reality for Venus: she is intelligent and always tries, but she is 34 years old and she is not as fast as she used to be. Yes, she can reach into the quarters and semis at the big tournaments, but against the better players (this year she has lost to Keys, Safarova, Azarenka and Suarez) she will continue to struggle. Good, but not great.

Petra Kvitova C

The Czech looked terrific by winning Sydney, but she folded after that, largely because she has been injured or ill once again. That’s too bad because if she can’t stay healthy there is no way that she will ever be able to reach No. 1.

Sara Errani C-

OK Errani won Rio, which is fine, but she didn’t have to face anyone in the top 65. She did beat Muguruza, but that is it.

 Ana Ivanovic C –

She looked great after reaching the final in Brisbane and she was ready to rock again, but she has done almost nothing since then and appears shaky. She is a great person, but she has to calm down on court.

Genie Bouchard C-

If Bouchard hasn’t reached to the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, she would have totally bombed. She looks very nervous and she is all over the place. Genie doesn’t have all the tools yet, but she’s very close – if she listens to her coach.

Carolina Wozniacki C –

“Caro” did very little after reaching the Auckland finals, losing to Vika Azarenka twice and falling fast at Indian Wells and Miami. OK she won Malaysia, but she didn’t have to beat anyone in the top-80. Where does she go from here? Nobody knows.

Agnieszka Radwanska D

This is the toughest and worst three months ever. She is so good, but apparently she is changing her tactics and/or her strokes, so she hasn’t looked confident at all. She is intelligent and can mix it up, but she is not sure when and where she is going. Maybe soon, but she didn’t show up at any tournament during the last three months. She is better than this.

Angelique Kerber D

The lefty German looked OK but not fantastic during Brisbane and Sydney, but then she plunged. She has been absolutely wild, which is surprising given that she used to be super steady. It’s all about where her head is.