Island U Progress Report: The (Davis) Cup of Life
Welcome back to Island U, TTI’s new weekly round-up. After another week of intense play across the globe, Nicholas Nemeroff returns to grade the best, worst, and welcome two new names onto the Dean’s List, where players who earn three or more grades are filed into an easy-to-follow GPA system.
An otherwise uneventful week took an exciting turn as the tennis world became enraptured by a familiar institution. The first round of Davis Cup saw a plethora of entertaining matches, surprising upsets, and a mix of familiar faces and battle-worn veterans eager for their day in the sun. Over on the women’s side, some continued their winning ways, while others became bigger head-scratchers as the game moves closer to the desert of Indian Wells.
Novak Djokovic: A+
The Serbs may well have won their opening tie against Croatia without the World No. 1 – who may have preferred the rest after losing the final of Dubai. But Djokovic played anyway, ensuring the home team a fairly seamless 3-0 clinch by capturing two rubbers in singles and doubles (partnering doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic). An altogether admirable and likely confidence-building weekend for Djokovic, who comes to Indian Wells and Miami the heavy favorite to defend both titles.
David Goffin: A
Goffin, who has already pulled out of Indian Wells due to a rib injury, stepped up in a big way on Sunday, sealing Belgium’s first round Davis Cup win over defending champion, Switzerland. The rising Belgian hadn’t played all weekend, but delivered a huge win for the Belgians by capturing the decisive rubber.
Belgium will next face Canada in the quarterfinals.
John Isner: D
John Isner took a two sets to love lead against James Ward Friday in Glasgow before losing 15-13 in the fifth set. It was a must win match for the Americans, knowing a win over Andy Murray was extremely unlikely.
Leonardo Mayer: A++
Leonardo Mayer entered his Sunday rubber against Brazil’s Joao Souza knowing he needed a victory, or his country would be eliminated from the competition. After winning the first two sets and failing to convert on his first 10(!!) match points, Mayer defeated Souza 15-13 in the fifth set – the longest Davis Cup singles match ever.
Argentina would use the momentum of Mayer’s victory Monday as Federico Delbonis beat Thomaz Bellucci to seal the tie.
Joao Souza: B+
Let’s give some credit where credit is due. After playing a five set singles match on Friday, Joao Souza recovered and played his part in one of the most historic singles matches ever against Leonardo Mayer. It’s a heartbreaker for the Brazilian but he should be more than proud of his efforts.
Aleksandr Nedovyesov: A
Aleksandr Nedovyesov had not played an ATP World Tour level match the entire year, so when he stepped onto the court against Fabio Fognini for Kazakhstan’s fifth rubber against Italy, not many were expecting him to win. The Kazak rallied from two sets to one to lay the dagger into the Italians, defeating Fognini 7-5 in the fifth set.
Bernard Tomic: A+
The young Aussie continued to show a critical combination of raw talent and mental maturity during his two wins over the always dangerous (but admittedly undermanned) Czech team. Tomic didn’t drop a set as he came out to clinch the tie after Australia dropped the doubles rubber. Look for the 22-year-old to make a splash at either of the two mini-majors to come.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: A
It may perhaps be easier to turn in top marks when Davis Cup requires three matches at most, but that doesn’t mean the players aren’t working hard all the same. Young Kokkinakis turned heads towards Tennis Australia, setting the tone with a decisive five-set win over the big-hitting Lucas Rosol. The teenager fought off a two-set deficit to clinch the match 6-3 in the fifth, making him one to watch in Indian Wells, where he earned a main draw wild card.
Vasek Pospisil: A
After Kei Nishikori beat Milos Raonic in the fourth rubber of the tie between Japan and Canada, the fate of the tie was in Vasek Pospisil’s hands as he was slated to face Japan’s Go Soeda, a player he was favored to beat.
Pospisil had no trouble taking care of business, beating Soeda in straight sets.
Milos Raonic: B
Pospisil’s compatriot can’t feel too disappointed, as his comprehensive opening rubber victory put Canada in good stead for the rest of the weekend. But as a Top 10 player, Raonic likely wanted a second straight win over nemesis, Kei Nishikori, even more. Recovering from a two-sets-to-one deficit, the Canadian star couldn’t seal the deal in front of a home country crowd, fading in the final set. For fans, however, Raonic/Nishikori is quickly becoming a compelling rivalry for those looking for fresh blood.
Kei Nishikori: A-
Though his country ultimately lost the tie, Nishikori did everything he could to keep Team Japan in the game. After a straight sets win over Pospisil, he conquered Raonic for the fifth time in seven meetings – but only the first in 2015. The rising star is showing encouraging durability and confidence when forced to go the extra mile; the Nishikori of a few years ago might not have lasted a full five sets against the big-serving Canadian. Certainly one to watch heading into the month of mini-majors.
James Ward: A+
James Ward essentially won the tie for Great Britain. Andy Murray had already beaten Donald Young on Friday, and it was very unlikely that Isner would be able to beat Murray on a slow indoor hard court if Ward was able to pull off the upset, which, of course he did.
In front of a boisterous crowd, Ward pulled off a dramatic upset, maintaining his serve and is resolve before Isner finally cracked.
Timea Bacsinszky: A+++
Timea Bacsinszky won in Acapulco, beating the already-impressive Caroline Garcia in the final. She then went to Monterrey and repeated the feat – winning four three set matches, and rallied from a set down in the final to win her second title in as many weeks. Oh, and Bacsinszky was a set down when rain came, and the match didn’t finish until after midnight.
Heck of an effort from the Swiss. Hats off.
Caroline Garcia: A-
Gotta feel for Caroline Garcia. The Frenchwoman has only lost four sets in the last two weeks and all four came to Bacsinszky – in the finals of Acapulco and Monterrey. Still, two very impressive weeks for the youngster.
Ana Ivanovic: C+
Ana Ivanovic’s week in Monterrey did end as planned as she fell to Caroline Garcia in the semifinals. Ivanovic, the top seed, was only able to win five games in the match, and hasn’t looked entirely sharp since losing in a tough three-set final to Maria Sharapova in Brisbane.
Nicole Vaidisova: B+
The former World No. 7 hasn’t had the fastest of comebacks, making her first WTA main draw appearance in just over five years this week, but a successful run to the semifinals of an ITF event in Midland set her up well in Monterrey. The Czech qualified and played her first round match on the same day, the latter against archnemesis, Ana Ivanovic. Vaidisova acquitted herself well in the second set, pushing the volatile Serb deep into a tiebreak; that confidence-based game looks to be clicking in time for Miami, where she earned a wild card.
Caroline Wozniacki: A-
The Dane was expected to win in Kuala Lumpur. She did. As the only Top 25 player even in the draw, Wozniacki breezed through the tournament, dropping just one set. This was Wozniacki’s first title since Istanbul, last summer. Some of her losses have garnered bigger headlines, but let’s be clear: the former No. 1 is still playing solid tennis, and remains a tough out for the vast majority of the field at large.
Sabine Lisicki: D+
Sabine Lisicki has won just one match in 2015. Her struggles continued in Kuala Lumpur where she lost to Alexandra Dulgheru in the first round as the No. 2 seed. The Romanian went on to reach the final, but it was hardly an encouraging effort from the German, who has only looked close to her best at Wimbledon, of late.
Casey Dellacqua: C-
Third seed Casey Dellacqua was sent home by wild card Su-Wei Hsieh in the first round in Kuala Lumpur. As highly ranked/highly seeded player in an international event, these types of losses never feel good.
How would you have marked the field? Sound off in the comments!
No grade for Dulgheru who ousted seeds 2, 4 and 8 in Kuala Lumpur? OK.
Kokkinakis got a wild card for Indian Wells (not Miami).
Article has been updated to reflect the mix-up. Thank you for reading!