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French Open 2014: Final Grades for Top Stars at Roland Garros

Jake CurtisFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2014

French Open 2014: Final Grades for Top Stars at Roland Garros

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    Bjorn Borg, who won six French Open titles, hands the winner's trophy to Rafael Nadal, who won his ninth.
    Bjorn Borg, who won six French Open titles, hands the winner's trophy to Rafael Nadal, who won his ninth.Associated Press

    Does Rafael Nadal's ninth French Open title merit a grade of A? Or A+? Does he deserve a higher grade than Maria Sharapova, who won her second French Open title in three years? What grades should Serena Williams and Stanislas Wawrinka receive after their early exits at Roland Garros? How do you rate the unexpected success in Paris of Ernests Gulbis and Eugenie Bouchard?

    We graded 10 women and 10 men on their 2014 French Open performances based on four elements: how far they advanced, the quality of opposition they faced, how they fared relative to expectations and their ranking, and mitigating factors.

    The four semifinalists as well as the most prominent other players were subject to the grades issued. The players are listed in inverse order of the grade they received, with the last player listed getting the highest grade.

Li Na

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Li Na had won the first major of the year by taking the Australian Open, although she did not have to beat anyone ranked higher than No. 20 to do it. She had just moderate success in the 2104 clay-court season, losing in the quarterfinals of both of her warm-up tournaments on that surface.

    But as the No. 2-ranked player in the world with a 2011 French Open title on her resume, Li was expected to be a significant factor in the 2014 French Open after winning the year's first Grand Slam event.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    There is no way to sugarcoat this. Li's 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 first-round loss to Kristina Mladenovic, who was ranked No. 103, was a bad, bad defeat.

    "In my mind, I didn’t have any idea how to play the match,” Li said, according to Sports Illustrated.

    It is the second straight year Li flamed out at Roland Garros after losing in the second round last year. Li is 32 years old, and it's difficult to predict her chances of success going forward after two such disparate results in the first two Grand Slam events of 2014.

     

    Final Grade: D

Stanislas Wawrinka

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    No one knew quite what to expect from Wawrinka at the French Open.

    He had rocketed to No. 3 in the world with the best performance of his career in the year's first Grand Slam event, beating both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to win the Australian Open. But the 29-year-old Wawrinka had not handled his success very well in the subsequent tournaments. He showed signs of coming out of it by beating David Ferrer and Roger Federer to win the clay-court event at Monte Carlo, then lost in the first and second rounds of his next two clay-court events before the French Open.

    Still, after being a semifinalist and champion of the last two Grand Slam events and a quarterfinalist at the 2013 French Open, Wawrinka was considered a contender at Roland Garros in 2014.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Wawrinka fell flat on his face, losing in the first round to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, a pretty good clay-court player. Not only did Wawrinka lose to a player ranked No. 41 for his first opening-round loss at the French Open since 2006, but Wawrinka got manhandled in the final two sets of a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0 loss.

    Wawrinka said afterward, according to The Guardian:

    Now it’s a different picture for my career. I need to put the puzzle back together, but differently than in the past. Now, after winning a grand slam, Masters 1000, being No. 3 in the world, everything is different. It’s a tough loss. I can’t give you the answer. But I have a good team around me and I think I will be fine.

    Although Wawrinka claimed the back problem that had plagued him at the Italian Open was not a factor, you have to wonder whether Wawrinka was completely healthy. A bigger concern now is that Wawrinka must right himself before the next Grand Slam event, Wimbledon, where he has lost in the first round three of the past four years.

     

    Final Grade: C-

Kei Nishikori

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Kei Nishikori was playing well during the clay-court season, and he looked like he would be a threat in the French Open until a back injury put that in jeopardy. Heading into the finals of the clay tournament in Madrid in early May, Nishikori had been unbeaten on the court in his three clay-court tournaments this spring. That included wins over Federer, Ferrer and Milos Raonic.

    Nishikori then won the first set against Nadal in the finals in Madrid and led in the second before his back problems arose. The injury forced him to retire from the match, trailing 3-0 in the third. He was ranked No. 10 heading into the French Open, after being out of the top 20 just two months earlier.

    After reaching the round of 16 at Roland Garros in 2013, he seemed to be in position to advance deep into the tournament this year if his back held out.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Unfortunately, Nishikori, the No. 9 seed, did not seem to be himself in a humbling 7-6, 6-1, 6-2, first-round loss to 59th-ranked Martin Klizan.

    “I’m actually happy to finish the match,” Nishikori said, according to SI.com. “I was really disappointed that my performance was ‑‑ I mean, not very bad, but it wasn’t a perfect match for me. And I didn’t have much practice. So I knew this is going to be happen.” 

    Klizan had some good wins during the 2014 clay-court season, beating Tommy Haas and Fabio Fognini in April, and he took a set from Nadal at last year's French Open. With that in mind, Nishikori's defeat was not as bad as it might appear. But getting whipped as soundly as Nishikori did in the last two sets left a bad taste.

    A poor grade is required for Nishikori, although the mitigating health issue prevents it from being even worse. The question now is whether the 24-year-old Nishikori can rebound for Wimbledon.

     

    Final Grade: C-

Serena Williams

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Williams, the 2013 French Open champion and the world's No. 1 player, was the clear favorite to win her third French Open title. Her third-round loss to Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open was disappointing, as was her loss to Jana Cepelova in her first clay-court tournament of the year in Charleston, South Carolina. However, she had won the Italian Open in her last clay-court event before the French Open and seemed to be in top form.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Williams continued her habit of being the victim of a major upset at Grand Slam events. Not only did Williams lose her second-round match to Garbine Muguruza, but she was crushed by the No. 35-ranked woman 6-2, 6-2. The fact that Muguruza subsequently advanced to the quarterfinals, where she took a set from Sharapova, only slightly mitigates the impact of Williams' loss.

    Williams seems to be able to beat anyone at a major event when she is fully focused, but she has had letdowns against players she should beat. Since the start of 2009, Williams is 13-0 in Grand Slam events against players ranked in the top six. However, she has lost to 11 players ranked outside the top six in that span. In five of her last eight Grand Slam events, Williams lost to players ranked outside the top 20, and three of those losses were to players outside the top 30.

    The 32-year-old Williams will continue to be ranked No. 1, but her inability to play her best against weaker opponents remains an issue.

     

    Final Grade: C-

Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Agnieszka Radwanska had shown slow progress in recent years, getting to the semifinals of the Australian Open this year and the semifinals and quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the French Open, respectively, last year. That improvement and her No. 3 ranking indicated she should have been a contender at this year's French Open. But she had not done enough in her three clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open to suggest she could claim her first major title.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Radwanska's presumed progress in Grand Slam events was stunted by her third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic. Losing in straight sets (6-4, 6-4) to a player who was ranked No. 72 and had lost in the first round of qualifying in all four of her previous entries into the French Open was a major disappointment for Radwanska.

     

    Final Grade: C

David Ferrer

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    After reaching his first Grand Slam final at the 2013 French Open, Ferrer had to be considered a factor in the 2014 event, especially after he knocked off Nadal in a clay-court event in Monte Carlo in April. However, Ferrer has a habit of living up to his seed, which was No. 5 at the French Open, but seldom beating players ranked ahead of him.

    He gets by on grit and persistence, and he does not have the weapons to beat the elite players in major events, even on clay, his best surface. Ferrer has never won a Grand Slam title, and there was nothing in his results since last year's French Open to suggest that would change at the 2014 French Open.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    As expected, Ferrer lived up to his seeding and nothing more. Getting to the French Open quarterfinals and losing to Nadal in four sets would be a laudable showing for Ferrer were it not for an admission he made after his 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 loss. 

    "Rafael started playing a lot better, making fewer mistakes, and then it's like I threw in the towel," said Ferrer, according a Reuters report (h/t Yahoo Sports). "I don't usually do this, but I thought, I'm not going to be able to come back into the match. I thought, 'No, no, not against Rafa. He's such good a player.'"

    Declaring he virtually gave up must affect the grade given to Ferrer, especially for someone whose game is based on determination and guts. You wonder whether speaking in English, rather than his native tongue, distorted what the Spaniard meant. But it sure looks bad in print, particularly after Ferrer offered little resistance in the final two sets.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Roger Federer

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Entering the 2014 French Open, Federer had gone six straight Grand Slam events without reaching a finals. He clearly was not the player he had been four or five years ago, and his only title at the French Open came back in 2009.

    However, he had made a resurgence in 2014, thanks to better health and a switch to a racket with a bigger head. Federer was back up to No. 4 in the rankings after slipping to No. 8 earlier in the year and had reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. His victory over Djokovic on the clay in Monte Carlo suggested he might make a run at the French Open.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Federer was gallant in his fourth-round match against Gulbis, but losing 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to a player ranked No. 17 at the time is a disappointing result for Federer. It was his earliest exit from the French Open since losing to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round 10 years ago.

    Gulbis advanced to the semifinals, which made Federer's loss look less embarrassing, and Federer had played well in his first three matches of the tournament. But Federer's 2014 resurgence took a downward turn with this loss, reminding us that he will turn 33 in two months.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Tomas Berdych

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Although Tomas Berdych had beaten Andy Murray on his way to a semifinal berth in the 2010 French Open, he had lost in the first round of the event three of the past five years. His undistinguished results during the 2014 clay-court season did not suggest a strong showing at Roland Garros this year.

    Berdych was the No. 6 seed at the French Open and had reached the semifinals of the first Grand Slam event of the year. But that Australian Open success was on hard courts, not on clay, which blunts the effects of his big game. Berdych has never won a Grand Slam event, and his only Grand Slam final was on the grass at Wimbledon in 2010.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Berdych got to the quarterfinals, which is a good result for him at a major clay-court event. He was impressive in his straight-sets fourth-round victory over hard-serving John Isner, the No. 10 seed. The fourth-round elimination of Federer gave Berdych an opportunity to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the fifth time in his career. But Berdych was overwhelmed 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals by Gulbis, the No. 18 seed who had taken out Federer.

    "It was not my best day," said Berdych, via ATPWorldTour.com.

    Berdych had beaten Gulbis in their last two meetings, and he had defeated Gulbis in their only previous encounter on clay in Nice in 2011. This was a missed opportunity.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Petra Kvitova

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    Michel Spingler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Petra Kvitova had been stunned by Luksika Kumkhum in the first round of the Australian Open, and she had lost her opening match in two of her three clay-court events heading into the French Open. It left little hope that Kvitova could challenge for the 2014 French Open title despite being seeded No. 5.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Although Kvitona's 6-7, 6-1, 9-7 loss to No. 27 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round was an upset based on the seedings, there was no shame for Kvitova in that defeat. Kuznetsova is a proven clay-court player who won the French Open in 2009 and got to at least the quarterfinals at Roland Garros five other times (six, if you include this year). Kvitova fought through a leg injury and served for the match several times in the third set against Kuznetsova, but could not finish it off.

    It was not the result Kvitova wanted, but it probably was an encouraging performance, given her struggles this season.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Dominika Cibulkova

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    Michel Spingler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    After Dominika Cibulkova made a major breakthrough by reaching the finals of the 2014 Australian Open, expectations for her rose significantly at the French Open. She had beaten Sharapova in three sets before dominating Simona Halep and Radwanska in the next two rounds in Australia. Two years ago, Cibulkova had beaten then-No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka at the French Open, and her ranking had risen to No. 10 this year.

    However, she had lost in the first round in her final two clay-court events before this year's French Open, making some wonder whether she could compete at the highest level at Roland Garros in 2014.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Cibulkova could not match her Australian Open performance, losing in the third round to Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4. It prevented what would have been an interesting rematch against Sharapova in the fourth round.

    Cibulkova's loss to Stosur was not a particularly surprising result, since Stosur had won all four of their previous meetings, all in straight sets. However, it slowed the rise of the 25-year-old Cibulkova, who must now contend with two other ascending players, Halep and Bouchard.

     

    Final Grade: B

Sloane Stephens

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Sloane Stephens had not played well leading up to the French Open, and her ranking had slipped to No. 19 by the time she played her first match at Roland Garros this year. She had lost to a qualifier ranked No. 108 in the first round of her final clay-court tuneup in Strasbourg, France.

    However, Stephens has displayed an ability to raise her level of play at Grand Slam events, reaching at least the fourth round of the last five majors. It left the suspicion that maybe the 21-year-old Stephens could summon some of that major magic at the French Open.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Stephens did what was expected of her at the French Open, no more, no less. Given her relatively disappointing results since reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open, Stephens' berth into the fourth round of the French Open had to be encouraging.

    However, her rather routine, 6-4, 6-3 loss to Halep in the round of 16 reinforced the notion that the 22-year-old Halep has caught and passed Stephens in their race to the top.

     

    Final Grade: B

Milos Raonic

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Raonic's game does not seem suited to clay, and his results heading into the French Open seemed to bear that out. He did not advance past the third round in his three previous visits to Roland Garros, and he did nothing to elicit optimism in the clay-court tournaments leading up to this year's French Open.

    The 23-year-old Raonic is a player on the rise, though. His No. 9 ranking entering the French Open was the highest in his career.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Raonic took advantage of a favorable draw to reach the quarterfinals, his best result ever in a major. He did not have to face a player ranked among the top 25 before playing Djokovic, although rallying to beat Frenchman Gilles Simon (4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5) in front of the French fans in the third round was an impressive win. Raonic lost to Djokovic in straight sets in the quarterfinals, but he was competitive in that 7-5, 7-6, 6-4 loss.

    Raonic showed that he can be a factor at a major clay-court event.

     

    Final Grade: B+

Andy Murray

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Murray entered the French Open still trying to right himself from the letdown he suffered after winning Wimbledon last year.

    His ranking slipped from the No. 2 spot he occupied last summer to the No. 8 slot he held entering the French Open. He had failed to get past the quarterfinals in either Grand Slam event since Wimbledon, and his mediocre results in the clay-court tuneups did not bode well for success at the French Open, the only Grand Slam event in which he had never reached the finals.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Grading Murray's performance at this year's French Open is problematic.

    On one hand, he got to the semifinals, which was his best result in a major since last year's Wimbledon victory and matched his best showing ever at the French Open. His five-set wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Gael Monfils on Murray's least favorite surface had to be encouraging.

    However, Murray's one-sided 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 loss to Nadal in the semifinals represented his worst loss ever in a Grand Slam event. "It was a bad, bad day,” Murray said afterward, according to The Guardian. Not being competitive against Nadal in that one-hour, 40-minute rout had to be discouraging for Murray, who had beaten Nadal in their previous two meetings, albeit on hard courts.

     

    Final Grade: B+

Andrea Petkovic

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Andrea Petkovic was impressive while winning the clay-court tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, beating Sabine Lisicki and Bouchard in the process.

    But she had done nothing in her four subsequent tournaments on clay to suggest she would be a major factor at the French Open. She had a good year in 2011, getting to the quarterfinals of three Grand Slam events, but knee and back injuries hampered her over the next several seasons. She slipped out of the spotlight and considered retiring.

    She had lost in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open and was ranked No. 27 heading into the French Open after being ranked as high as No. 9 three years ago.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Getting to the French Open semifinals this year represented the best Grand Slam showing of her career. It was the first time in three years that the 26-year-old Petkovic had advanced past the second round of a major event, indicating that she had recovered sufficiently from her injuries to be a factor in majors again.

    She had to go three sets three times to beat unseeded players in the early rounds, but her 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 10 seed Sara Errani in the quarterfinals was the best result of her career. She gave No. 4-ranked Halep a legitimate challenge in the semifinals before falling 6-2, 7-6.

    Petkovic's performance in Paris highlighted a major comeback from injury problems. Her ranking had slipped to No. 177 last year, and she was ranked No. 136 when she lost in the second round of qualifying at the 2013 French Open. Now she headed back toward the top 10.

     

    Final Grade: B+

Eugenie Bouchard

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Bouchard remained an intriguing but uncertain commodity heading into the French Open.

    She had burst on to the world scene by getting to the semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open and had reached a No. 16 ranking by the time the French Open began after being No. 77 at this time a year ago. But the 20-year-old Canadian had not fared particularly well in the clay-court season. She won her last clay-court tuneup in Germany but beat no one in the top 50 to do it.

    She had lost in the first round of her two previous clay-court events.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Bouchard showed all the signs of a future champion while reaching the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the second time in a row.

    She overwhelmed No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round, then won a three-set match in the quarterfinals against No. 14 seed Carla Suarez Navarro, who had been playing well on clay this spring. In the semifinals, Bouchard took a set from Sharapova, who had beaten her convincingly in straight sets in their two previous encounters.

    Other than Halep, Bouchard seems to have the best chance of becoming the next star of women's tennis. Bouchard is expected to move up to No. 12 when the next rankings are released on Monday.

     

    Final Grade: A-

Ernests Gulbis

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Although he has the weapons to beat top players, Gulbis' results did not suggest he would be a major factor in the 2014 French Open.

    He had gone past the third round of a major event only once. That was back in 2008 at the French Open, when he got to the quarterfinals, and he never got beyond the second round in his six other tries at Roland Garros. Gulbis had won the clay-court tournament in Nice against a mediocre field the week before the French Open, but he had done little in the more significant clay events that preceded it.

    The one encouraging factor was that Gulbis, at age 25, entered the French Open with a career-high ranking of No. 17.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Gulbis had by far the best tournament of his career, getting to the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time. His big first serve and consistent, accurate backhand carried him to two significant victories: a five-set upset of No. 4 seed Federer in the fourth round and a dominant straight-sets triumph over No. 6 seed Berdych in the quarterfinals.

    Gulbis did not embarrass himself against Djokovic in the semifinals either. Although Djokoivc never seemed to be in danger of losing the match, Gulbis pushed the No. 2 seed to a fourth set before falling 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

    Gulbis had been known more for underachieving and his volatile behavior than for his tennis accomplishments to this point. But his berth in the French Open semifinals will lift him into the top 10 for the first time when the rankings are released on Monday. It remains to be seen whether this performance indicates a climb toward the top five or a blip on the radar screen.

     

    Final Grade: A-

Simona Halep

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Halep's meteoric rise from a No. 52 ranking at this time last year to her No. 4 seed for the 2014 French Open suggested she was on the cusp of breaking through in a big way. However, she had not performed well in Grand Slam events, never getting beyond the quarterfinals, and she had just moderate success in the clay-court events leading up to the 2014 French Open.

    It was difficult to predict what she would do at the French Open.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Halep was aided by a favorable draw and did not have to face anyone ranked in the top 18 to reach the finals. However, she did not lose a set on her way to the title match, beating formidable foes such as Stephens and 2009 French Open champion Kuznetsova in lopsided matches.

    The 22-year-old Halep got to the finals of a Grand Slam event for the first time and gave Sharapova a major challenge in the title match. She rallied from 5-3 down in the second-set tiebreaker by winning four straight points to force a third set. However, she did not have enough to finish off Sharapova in a 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 loss.

    Despite the loss in the finals, Halep's performance represented another major step in her rise to stardom. She is expected to move up to No. 3 when the next rankings are released, and there are expectations of a Grand Slam title in her near future.

     

    Final Grade: A-

Novak Djokovic

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Anything less than a berth in the finals would rate as a failure for the No 2-ranked Djokovic. Anything less than a title in the only Grand Slam event he had yet to win would rank as a major disappointment for Djokovic.

    He appeared to be the only player capable of beating Nadal at Roland Garros. Although Djokovic had gone four straight Grand Slam events without a title and had lost in the quarterfinals of the year's first major tournament, he had beaten Nadal in their last four meetings, including a victory over Nadal on clay in the finals of the Italian Open a week before the French Open. He had never beaten Nadal in their five matches at the French Open, where the best-of-five format on the slow surface favored Nadal.

    But this seemed to be Djokovic's best chance.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    The achievement of getting to a Grand Slam final cannot be minimized, and Djokovic accomplished that at the French Open for only the second time in his career. But for Djokovic and his place in history, the 2014 French Open did not begin until the finals, when he faced Nadal.

    Djokovic did nothing spectacular in the first six rounds, as he faced no one ranked higher than No. 9 on his way to the finals. He avoided Federer, a potential semifinal foe who has given Djokovic problems but was ousted by Gulbis and blew through the competition presented to him without a serious challenge. 

    Djokovic's encouraging start in the finals provided hope that he might finally end Nadal's mastery over him at Roland Garros. However, it became evident midway through the match that Djokovic was ailing. The match never approached the level of last year's semifinal, which Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth set, and Nadal had control of the contest  from late in the second set.

    Djokovic seemed energized briefly in the fourth set when Nadal experienced back problems, helping Djokovic rally from a 4-2 deficit to tie the set 4-4. But Djokovic was not at his best physically and could not summon that something extra needed against Nadal, who won 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. 

    It left Djokovic 0-6 against Nadal at the French Open. Had he beaten Nadal in the finals, Djokovic would have regained the No. 1 ranking he ceded to Nadal last October. Instead, Djokovic will remain No. 2.

    Final Grade: A- 

Maria Sharapova

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    After reaching the French Open finals the past two years and winning two of her three clay-court events leading up to this year's French Open, Sharapova came to Roland Garros looking like a title contender despite her No. 7 seed and No. 8 world ranking. The shoulder injury that had hampered her in the closing stages of 2013 seemed to be a non-issue.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Sharapova benefited more than anyone from the second-round loss of nemesis Williams, who has beaten Sharapova 15 times in a row and is 4-0 on clay against Sharapova. Furthermore, Sharapova certainly did not dominate the field in winning this year's French Open, having to go three sets four times in seven matches.

    However, that lack of dominance is countered by the fact that she was mentally and physically strong enough to pull out all those close matches on the big stage. Her 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 victory over rising star Halep in the finals represented Sharapova's 20th consecutive victory in three-set matches on clay. Her last three-set loss on that slow surface came against Justine Henin in the finals of the 2010 French Open. Sharapova has won 11 straight three-set matches on all surfaces, a testament to her toughness.

    The bottom line is that Sharapova won the French Open for the second time in three years, ending a run in which seven different players had won the French Open the past seven years.

    Sharapova is expected to move up to No. 4 in the rankings but is still well behind No. 1 Williams.

     

    Final Grade: A

Rafael Nadal

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    2014 French Open Expectations

    Nadal had been almost unbeatable at Rolland Garros, making him the favorite to win a record ninth French Open title. He had lost only one match in his 60 career matches at the French Open.

    Nonetheless, there was a hint of vulnerability this time, as Nadal had not been as dominant as he had been in past years in the clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open. Nadal had lost to Wawrinka in the finals of the first Grand Slam event of the year in Australia. More significant was the fact that Nadal had lost his last four matches against his chief challenger, Djokovic, who had beaten Nadal on clay in the finals of the Italian Open a week before the French Open. A troublesome back was also a concern.

    However, Nadal had a combined 10-0 record against Djokovic and Federer at the French Open, and it would take a Herculean effort to beat Nadal in a best-of-five match in a major event on clay.

     

    2014 French Open Performance

    Nadal dispatched any notion that he had slipped by rolling to his ninth French Open championship, tying Martina Navratilova's nine Wimbledon crowns for the Open-era record for most titles in a given Grand Slam event.

    It was also Nadal's 14th major title, tying him with Pete Sampras and leaving him just three shy of Federer's record for Grand Slam singles titles by a male. The 28-year-old Nadal improved his record to 66-1 at Roland Garros while capturing his fifth straight French Open title, breaking a tie with Bjorn Borg, who also won four consecutive French crowns.

    Nadal did it with a convincing victory in the finals over the one player who seemed capable of beating him at Roland Garros, Djokovic. Djokovic was not at his best in the finals and seemed to be ailing, but Nadal was not completely healthy either, as his back problems arose late in the match. Nonetheless, Nadal controlled most of the contest in a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory that left him with a 6-0 record against the No. 2-ranked Djokovic at the French Open. Nadal is also 9-3 against Djokovic in Grand Slam events.

    Nadal's run to the finals was also impressive. He blew through his first four opponents without the loss of a set.

    In the quarterfinals, Nadal got past last year's French Open runner-up and the No. 5 seed, Ferrrer, in relatively easy fashion. Ferrer, who had beaten Nadal on the clay in Monte Carlo in April, won the first set, but Nadal completely dominated the last two sets. Nadal was even more dominant in the semifinals, handing Murray his worst loss ever in a Grand Slam event, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.

    Nadal will retain the No. 1 ranking he has held since wresting the top spot from Djokovic last October.

    When you add it all up, it's nearly impossible to give Nadal anything other than the highest possible grade.

     

    Final Grade: A+

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