French Open 2013: Final Report Card for the Top Stars at Roland Garros
The trophies have been handed out and the dust has settled after a fascinating two weeks in Paris for the French Open.
Now that we've heard the winners' speeches, re-watched the highlights and read enough tennis columns to last a lifetime, it's time to make heads and tails of all the performances.
We know who the winners and losers are, but how did the top stars in the tennis world handle the fortnight? Keep reading to find out.
Pre-French Expectations: Serena came into the French Open on a four-tournament win streak and as the overwhelming favorite to win her first French Open in 11 years
The Reality: Serena played some of the best tennis of her career and finally ended the title drought that's been plaguing her. She only dropped one set all tournament, to 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
Defining Moment: Her dismantling of Sara Errani, the No. 5 player in the world, in the semifinals was just extraordinary. She only dropped one game and hit 40 winners in a match that lasted just 46 minutes. It was a master class.
Pre-French Expectations: Going into the tournament, Rafael Nadal was the favorite to win the title. He was coming into Roland Garros on a 15-match winning streak after wins in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.
The Reality: Nadal not only won his record-setting eighth French Open trophy, he did it in style. After struggling a bit in his first couple of matches and dropping a set to both Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, he continued to play better and better each round. By the time he reached the final against David Ferrer, he was unstoppable.
Defining Moment: His 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7 win over Novak Djokovic in the semifinals will be remembered for a lot longer than his victory in the final. He was broken serving for the match in the fourth set, but came back from a break down in the fifth set to capture the victory. It was another dramatic match in a rivalry that continues to produce greatness.
Pre-French Expectations: Maria Sharapova was expected to get back to the French Open final, but nobody expected her to take out Serena Williams to win the title. Her only hope for a title defense seemed to be if Serena was eliminated early.
The Reality: Sharapova lived up to her end of the deal and nothing more. She played some great tennis and showed her mental strength in surviving a spirited rally from Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. But as accomplished as Sharapova is, it seems condescending to hand out moral victories. Though she played great tennis in the final, she's such a great competitor and player that it's tough to see her fall to Serena time and time again.
Defining Moment: Her icy-cool recovery after getting bageled in the first set of her quarterfinal match against Jelena Jankovic was just vintage Sharapova. Nobody has a shorter memory than Maria, and that's a great thing in tennis.
Pre-French Expectations: The World No. 1 came into the French Open struggling a bit, with clay-season losses to Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych. Still, his victory over Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo final had some declaring him the co-favorite.
The Reality: Djokovic didn't get any help with the draw since he had to face Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. But Djokovic looked great getting there and pushed Nadal to the brink in their clash. He's not ready to dethrone Nadal yet, but he's getting closer.
Defining Moment: When Djokovic broke Nadal as Nadal was serving for the match in the fourth set and then proceeded to force a fifth set by taking the tie-break, it signaled that he was ready to take his French Open future into his own hands. It's only a matter of time until he finally gets his career Slam.
Pre-French Expectations: Victoria Azarenka has been very under-the-radar since an ankle injury forced her off tour for a couple of months and she dropped to No. 3 in the world. Combine that with the fact that she'd never made it past the quarterfinals of the French Open, and expectations were low.
The Reality: Azarenka really impressed during her maiden run to the semifinals at Roland Garros. She pushed defending champion Maria Sharapova to the brink and proved that she's going to be a force to be reckoned with on clay in the next few years.
Defining Moment: In the fourth round she shocked people by completely dismissing 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-0. Bageling Schiavone on clay is no small feat.
Pre-French Expectations: David Ferrer was very overlooked heading into the French Open. When the draw was made, many thought he would lose to Federer in the semifinals, if not earlier.
The Reality: Ferrer had the best Grand Slam of his career, finally making his first major final. He got help by not having to face a member of the Big Four along the way. Ferrer didn't have enough firepower to challenge Nadal in the final, but that shouldn't take away from what he accomplished.
Defining Moment: Ferrer's play against Tsonga in the semifinals was splendid, and his outpouring of emotion after the win showed how much this run meant to him.
Pre-French Expectations: Sara Errani made a shocking run to the final of the French Open in 2012, and has since established herself as a legitimate threat to players outside the Top Five on all surfaces. When the draw came out and she was in the quarter with Agnieszka Radwanska, most expected the No. 5 seed to make the semifinals.
The Reality: Sara Errani notched the first Top-Five win of her career in a sensational match over Radwanska in the quarterfinals, where she showed off all the charms of her cat-and-mouse game. But then she hit a bulldozer named Serena Williams in the semifinals.
Defining Moment: Unfortunately for Errani, that lopsided semifinal loss to Serena is what people are going to remember. Serena was sensational, but Errani didn't have a single answer and looked like a player from a lower league.
Pre-French Expectations: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had never made it past the quarterfinals at his home Slam, and with his uninspiring results over the past couple of months, nobody expected him to make it past Federer in the quarterfinals–– if he even got that far.
The Reality: Tsonga was simply dazzling in a run up to the semifinals, taking out Roger Federer in authoritative fashion in the quarterfinals. But he completely laid an egg against David Ferrer, and left his hometown crowd scratching their heads and wondering what happened.
Defining Moment: He'll be more remembered for failing to show up in the semifinals than he will be for his magical work before that. Opportunities to make a Grand Slam final without facing Nadal, Murray or Djokovic just don't come around that frequently.
Pre-French Expectations: Sporting a new blonde hairdo, 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska came into the French Open as an afterthought. She had never made the quarterfinals of the French Open before, and she was struggling with a shoulder injury throughout the clay season.
The Reality: Radwanska made her first French Open quarterfinal in style before losing a close but disappointing match to Sara Errani. It's promising that she's finding her footing on clay though, since her improvisational game suits the surface well.
Defining Moment: She easily handled 2008 Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-4 thanks to phenomenal shots like this.
Pre-French Expectations: Federer had mixed results this clay season, losing to Kei Nishikori early in Madrid and making the final in Rome (after a very favorable draw). Still, when the draw came out and Djokovic and Nadal were both on the other half, most expected Federer to make the final.
The Reality: Federer cruised through his first three rounds, but was pushed to five sets by Gilles Simon in the fourth round. Then he was crushed by Tsonga in the quarterfinals. It was great that he kept his phenomenal streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals alive, but his tennis left a lot to be desired.
Defining Moment: His around-the-post shot during his five-setter against Gilles Simon proved that he still has the arsenal to impress, even if it is less frequent.