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The As, Bs, and Cs: Miami Tournament Wrap

As the players pack their passports and clay-court shoes for the annual trip to Europe, we'll take a moment to commemorate the events of a captivating fortnight in Miami. Since our last tournament wrap used the Ad-in, Ad-out format once beloved of SI, we'll switch to the report card model for this edition. Not everyone is included, of course; we targeted those players who especially stood out and those who especially...stood out in a different way.

A:

Roddick: Securing his most significant title since 2006, the top-ranked American nearly completed the coveted Indian Wells-Miami sweep. His suffocating serving performance (just two breaks in 73 service games) proved that his Australian shoulder injury has subsided. Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of his tournament, however, was his ability to adapt and improvise in order to reverse the momentum of his semifinal match against Nadal; often considered a programmatic, unimaginative player, Roddick demonstrated otherwise on Friday afternoon. If he stays healthy during the clay season, he'll undoubtedly find himself among the top contenders at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the other top summer events. (Roddick also deserves praise for honoring his commitment to participate in the Champions for Chile earthquake relief exhibition on the afternoon before the final.)

Clijsters: Mom was merciless in Miami, surrendering four or fewer games in four of her six matches here. As remarkable as that statistic was, she'll have gained the most momentum from her nail-biting, stomach-churning semifinal against Henin. Long overshadowed by her flashier compatriot, Clijsters progressed a considerable distance towards laying painful memories to rest. Less importantly, she laid painful recent memories to rest by rebounding from untimely exits in Melbourne and Indian Wells. We enjoyed watching Kim's new style, which relies on more aggressive court positioning while leaving the splits to bananas and Jankovic.

Berdych: His tournament looked all but over when he leaned on the net during the third-set tiebreak against Federer, peering wide-eyed at a forehand mark millimeters from the sideline. Two days later, his tournament looked all but over again when he trailed an energetic Verdasco by a set and 3-1, serving at 0-30. His gritty comebacks from both of those perilous positions may have signaled the birth of a new Tomas, who blends bullet-like ball-striking with stubborn tenacity. A single win over a top player at a major tournament can transform any talented player's career (just ask Soderling). If Berdych has indeed turned a psychological corner, he'll threaten anyone on any surface but clay.

Henin: She may have fallen to her compatriot by the identically microscopic margin as Brisbane, but she demonstrated that her Melbourne run was no accident, permitted by the vagaries of an upset-filled draw. After efficiently dispatching Dementieva and Zvonareva, Henin confronted world #2 in a quarterfinal that became the best women's match of the tournament. One might have thought that the Dane's extreme consistency would be a nightmare for a still-rusty Henin (although we didn't), yet she responded to losing a marathon first set by holding her nerve (and her serve) until she found a rare chink in Wozniacki's Viking-like armor. Outside Serena and Maria, Justine may be the most relentless competitor in the WTA.

A-:

Venus: She delivered only one performance of vintage brilliance en route to the final (against Radwanska) but found ways to win over a few potentially tricky opponents. Spraying balls to all seven continents in the Hantuchova match, she somehow delivered her best tennis at the most critical moments--the mark of a champion. As her career and consistency wane, she'll find those survival skills increasingly useful. We dropped her a notch for failing to stay on court for an hour against Clijsters on Saturday; one expects more from a five-time Wimbledon titlist, even bandaged on both legs.

Nadal: The good news was that Nadal reached his second straight Masters Series semifinal with wins over former nemeses Nalbandian and Tsonga, and that his knees created no headlines. The bad news was that essentially the same sequence of events happened in both semifinals. Once again, Rafa took a comfortable lead, moved seamlessly around the court, and controlled the overwhelming majority of the rallies. Once again, he stumbled (metaphorically) late in the second set and never regained his equilibrium. As discussed above, Roddick deserves considerable credit for taking the match into his own hands, but Nadal gave him the opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, the Spaniard's performance at the North American hard-court events exceeded our expectations, and we feel more confident about his clay season than we did a month ago. The unforced errors are declining as rapidly as the explosive shotmaking is returning.

Soderling: After a dismal Australian Open, the Swede promptly righted the ship with the Rotterdam title and consecutive semifinals at Indian Wells and Miami. Whether you like him or not (we do), this polarizing figure is emphatically here to stay. At the core of Soderling's his meteoric rise since last year's French Open is his vastly improved mentality; whereas momentary lapses in matches once derailed him completely, now they infuse him with even greater conviction. His lackluster losses in both events suggested that he may need a little more experience, though, before claiming his first Masters shield.

B+:

Wickmayer: While more volatile peers rise and fall more swiftly than the stock market, the disciplined, motivated Wickmayer keeps taking care of business quietly and efficiently. After a shabby start to her quarterfinal against Bartoli, she kept her concentration and made the match competitive. She may be just the third-best player from a tiny country, but she's got the physical talent and mental attitude to eventually climb into the top 10 and contend for the biggest prizes.

Wozniacki: The Indian Wells runner-up faded late in her quarterfinal match against Henin after having endured grueling marathons against Kirilenko and Pironkova. In order to consistently progress deep into draws, she needs to learn how to dispose of undemanding opponents in a less exhausting manner. Nevertheless, she displayed tremendous competitive vigor and confidence when she confronted a seven-time Grand Slam champion, an immensely encouraging sign for her future. It's only a matter of time before she starts narrowly winning instead of narrowly losing these tense encounters with fabled foes.

Fish: The ever-dangerous American not only notched the second-biggest win of his career against Murray but followed it up impressively by upsetting Feliciano Lopez. If his sciatic nerve hadn't intervened in the Youzhny match, his run could have lasted a little longer.

B:

Tsonga: No traces of a lingering stomach injury surfaced in the Frenchman's exuberant early-round bludgeonings, during which one almost forgot about the existence of his cowering opponents. Unfortunately, he couldn't muster even his B-level against Nadal, removing all drama from what should have been a crackling quarterfinal.

Nalbandian: Few third-round losers will score a B in our grading system, but the Argentine earned our applause by returning from hip surgery to defeat Troicki and take a set from Nadal. Had he converted one of his two break points early in the second set, he might well have reached the semifinals.

Verdasco: The other Spanish lefty outdueled Cilic from the baseline and showed impressive tenacity by surviving an early barrage from the mercurial Melzer. He squandered a major opportunity against the initially weary-looking Berdych, however, by playing a hideous second-set tiebreak.

Hantuchova: When the elegant Slovak led Venus by a set and 2-0, we wondered whether Miami would be her new Indian Wells. About an hour and a half later, we learned that Miami was her new Australian Open, where she let the same lead unravel against Ivanovic in a 2008 semifinal.

Ivanovic: Another third-round loser scores in this respectable category, largely because we grade on improvement. Ana recorded her first victory since the Australian Open and then extended Radwanska deep into both sets before the Pole vaulted over her. While the serve still wobbles, she demonstrated an improved psychological condition by remaining competitive and focused even in her most erratic moments. Also, she earns extra credit by overriding a line judge and awarding Radwanska a winner on a potentially crucial point.

B-:

Federer: He lost after holding a match point on his serve against a player whom he has beaten on eight consecutive occasions. The GOAT needs to sharpen his horns before digging them into the clay.

Azarenka: After a highly competitive and indeed engaging first set against Clijsters, the defending champion had little excuse for capitulating so abjectly in the second set. After a strong start to 2010, her momentum has evaporated over the last month, while her rival Wozniacki continues to accelerate.

Querrey / Isner: The toast of American tennis fans after Memphis and Davis Cup (as well as Indian Wells, to a lesser extent), the two giants were just ordinary toast in Miami. They're still very far from filling Roddick's sizeable shoes.

Dementieva: She mastered her nerves in Melbourne to severely test Henin, so we were excited when the draw here promised a rematch and disappointed when it wasn't televised. As it turned out, we didn't miss anything.

C:

Murray: Watching his match against Fish, one sensed that he will become an excellent commentator someday; the Scot soaked his box in a flood of verbiage after every feeble miscue. The deep mental scar left by the Australian final is remarkable, especially considering the outstanding tournament that he enjoyed until that match--rather a breakthrough, it seemed at the time. Never the sunniest personality, Murray needs to recognize the positives as well as the negatives from each tournament in order to move forward and realize his vast potential.

Djokovic: We'll let the world #2 sum up his own performance:

***

We'll be back tomorrow with a brief rankings update before moving on to a player profile or two during a rare ebb in the tennis calendar. (Not that we'll ignore Marbella and Ponte Vedra Beach entirely.) As we wave goodbye to Miami, though, let's take one last trip past the Crandon Park golf course...

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Comment by Mark / The Mayor on April 5, 2010 at 8:18am
New blog: "The As, Bs, and Cs: Miami Tournament Wrap" Check out @sharapovonovic's wrap-up of the @SEOpen: http://ning.it/bIU0Hy

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