Early Season Tennis Grades

We are about a month into the tennis season. Since I could not post Australian Open grades due to illness, I thought now would be a good time to see how the best in the world are stacking up thus far.

Novak Djokovic- Well there really is not much to say here. The Serb is now the unquestioned dominant force in the men’s game. He really has no weakness. Two events played, two titles, including his 11th major and 6th Aussie Open title. He returns to the tour this week in Dubai. Grade: A+

Serena Williams- This is a tough one. She had no official match play going into Australia. In fact, her last match before the new year was her shocking U.S. open semifinal defeat. She showed no signs of rust racing through the field on her way to the final. However, heavy underdog German Angelique Kerber left Serena confused, frustrated, and holding the runner up trophy. A great two weeks for most folks, but when you are Serena Williams and you are trying to tie Steffi Graf’s record of 22 majors, it is a major disappointment. She has withdrawn from the ongoing Middle Eastern swing and plans to return to the tour in Indian Wells, CA March 9th. Grade: C

Angelique Kerber- Speaking of Kerber, she was down match point in the first round of the Aussie Open, and won the whole ball of wax. That had never happened before. She is just a grinder who never beats herself. The gritty lefty returns to the tour this week in Doha with her first major under her belt and a career high ranking of number two in the world. Grade A+

Roger Federer- At 34 years old, Roger Federer remains a real threat to win each and every event he enters. With the physical nature of the game today, that may be his greatest accomplishment of all. That is saying something. A semi at the Open and a final at the tune up event in Brisbane is not bad at all. However, with Djokovic so far ahead of the pack right now, it will only get harder for him to win titles. Federer is taking a few weeks off to rest a bum knee. He is slated to return at Indian Wells. Grade: B-

Maria Sharapova- Always a tough player for me to access because she is my favorite, it is really tough when things are not going well, and they are not. A quarterfinal appearance at the Open does not sound all that bad, but she has struggled to stay healthy since the summer, playing just three events. Most concerning was a withdraw from Brisbane to start the year. She was the defending champion. No one really knows what is going on with Sharapova. The only things we know are that she has been dealing with leg and forearm injuries since July. Frankly, I am not so sure the injuries are that serious. Maria is a tough gal who has played through injuries before. Many people have written her off more than once after multiple shoulder injuries, but never me… until now. It is not the current batch of injuries that concerns me. She just does not seem to have that look in her eye anymore or that trademark grit that has made her who she is. She has had a great career and seems satisfied. She has withdrawn from Doha this week. She will return at Indian Wells… hopefully. Prove me wrong Maria. Until then, if you still want it, get to work. Grade: D+

Rafa Nadal- What has happened to this once great champion? He seemed to find a sliver of his former self, reaching the final of his first event of the year. However, he was bounced in round one in Australia. Then, lost in the semis of two smaller clay court event he took wildcards into, unheard of for the “King of Clay.” He is spending way too much getting pushed around the back of the court. The 14 time major winner still seems fully committed and is hitting the ball better than he was late last year, but this is a results based business, and those have not come back yet. We will see what kind of form he brings to Indian Wells. Grade: C-

Simona Halep- The Romanian world number four hired Aussie Darren Cahill as her full time coach this year. I think he is the best coach in the world. Despite that, Halep’s results this year are as follows. Sydney: QF, Aussie Open: 1r, Dubai: 2r (first round bye), Doha: 2r (this week, first round bye). Her lack of energy on court this year has been odd. I hope she sticks with Cahill, he will help her in time. Right now though, the results speak for themselves. Grade: D-

Andy Murray- Only one event this year for the Brit, and it was a run to the finals at the Aussie Open. A major final is always a great result, but he was thrashed by Djokovic when he got there. They play similar styles, but Djokovic just does it better. Murray will be back on the tour in Indian Wells after playing the British national team this weekend. Like the rest of his peers, Murray will have to find a way past Djokovic… Good luck to him. Grade: B

Milos Raonic- In an era where you have all-time greats like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray playing, it is getting increasingly tough for guys to breakthrough, but Raonic is getting real close. A title in Brisbane highlighted by beating Federer in the final and a semifinal run at the Aussie Open where he had Murray on the ropes, pretty darn good. It is becoming a matter of “when” not “if” the Canadian missile will win a major. He will be back at Indian Wells. Grade: A-

Agnieszka Radwanska- The Polish ninja has had a very solid start in 2016. A win in China to start the year and a run to the semis of the Aussie Open. Her problem is as brilliant as she is, she lacks any kind of real power, she gets by with it against most players, but not Serena, as proven yet again in Australia. That being said, with Sharapova in disarray, Radwanska will be in prime positon to win her first major this year, should Serena stumble. Radwanska is amongst the favorites this week in Doha. Grade: B+

Johanna Konta- The pleasant surprise of the year award goes to this Brit… at least so far. No one really knew much about her prior to the Aussie Open, Unseeded, she upset a fading Venus Williams in the first round and backed it up, reaching the semis. She has all the goods and a new career high ranking of 26, but how will she handle the new found pressure that comes with a Cinderella run? We will start finding out this week at the Mexican Open in Acapulco. Grade: A-

Victoria Azarenka- Just when you think the Belarussian two time major winner is back at her best, she loses a match when she has no business doing so. This time it was in the Aussie Open QFs to eventual champion Angelique Kerber. When you consider that she had never lost to Kerber before and that she dismantled her to win Brisbane a week and a half earlier, it has to sting all the more. However, she is healthy and her ranking is rising. She has wisely decided to play the Mexican Open this week before heading stateside for the big events in Indian Wells and Miami. Grade: B