2015 Australian Open: Final Report Cards for the Top Stars

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2015

2015 Australian Open: Final Report Cards for the Top Stars

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    Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    Serena Williams captured her 19th Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne, but was her overall performance in the Australian Open worthy of an "A+" or even an "A" grade? Does she deserve a higher grade than men's champion Novak Djokovic, who won the Australian Open for the fifth time?

    We graded 20 players (10 men and 10 women) on their performances in the Australian Open. The grades were based primarily on how far the player advanced and the quality of the opposition the player faced.

    The expectations of the player were also taken into account when assigning a grade. Therefore, pre-tournament favorites were subject to more critical grading than other players.

    The graded players are presented in ascending order, with the player who earned the highest grade listed last.

Roger Federer

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    Patrick Scala/Getty Images

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    This tournament looked like Roger Federer's best chance to capture a Grand Slam singles title since winning his last major title at the 2012 Wimbledon event. He had won his last two tournaments before the Australian Open, beating Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic on hard courts in the process.

    Federer's ranking was back up to No. 2, and he was brimming with confidence. In addition, his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, had played very little recently and was not playing his best tennis. At age 33, Federer was primed for a good result, and an 18th Grand Slam title did not seem out of the question.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Federer had one of the most disappointing performances of his career. The second-round loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon in 2013 may have been Federer's worst loss in a Grand Slam event, but this was close. Federer showed signs of vulnerability in his second-round match against Simone Belelli before gathering himself for a four-set victory.

    Federer figured to have an easy time with third-round foe Andreas Seppi, who was ranked No. 46 and had lost all 10 previous matches against Federer, most of them by lopsided scores. But Federer seemed out of sorts throughout his 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 loss to Seppi. Federer never got into a groove, and he played the big points poorly.

    Federer was at a loss to explain the defeat later. It makes you wonder how he will fare in the other majors this year.

    Final Grade: D

Petra Kvitova

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    Michael Dodge/Getty Images

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Petra Kvitova was not the favorite at the Australian Open, but she figured to be a factor for three reasons: 1. She was ranked No. 4. 2. She won her second Wimbledon title last summer, proving she could perform at major events. 3. She won the warm-up event in Sydney right before the Australian Open.

    However, she had not done well at the last two Australian Opens, losing in the second round in 2013 and the first round last year. Furthermore, she had lost to qualifier Aleksandra Krunic in the third round of the U.S. Open in her last Grand Slam event on hard courts. Obviously grass is her best surface, not hard courts.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Kvitova won her first two matches rather routinely, and her second-round victim, Mona Barthel, is a decent player. However, Kvitova was ousted in the third round by Madison Keys, an unseeded 19-year-old player ranked No. 35 who had never gone past the third round of a major.

    Kvitova had beaten Keys 6-2, 6-2 in their only previous meeting in 2013, so this looked like a bad loss at the time. However, when Keys advanced to the semifinals and made things difficult for Serena Williams, Kvitova's loss did not seem so devastating. Nonetheless, the fact is, she was seeded fourth and lost in the third round.

    Final Grade: C

Rafael Nadal

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Rafael Nadal said before the tournament that he did not consider himself a contender for the Australian Open title, and most observers tended to agree. Health issues, including the removal of his appendix and back problems, had limited him to just eight tournament matches since his fourth-round loss at Wimbledon.

    When he did play in that stretch, he did not play well, losing to three players ranked outside the top 100. Nonetheless, Nadal was still ranked No. 3 in the world and had won 14 Grand Slam titles, so you could never simply dismiss the gutty Spaniard in a major.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    It was a strange tournament for Nadal, but perhaps that should have been expected based on his lack of tournament play and his poor results recently. He barely got past 112th-ranked Tim Smyczek in five sets in the second round, noting afterward that he felt ill during the match. But then he raised hope with a decisive 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 victory over Dudi Sela.

    His quarterfinal opponent was Tomas Berdych, the No. 7 seed. He represented a formidable foe, but one Nadal had beaten in all 17 of their previous meetings. Not only did Nadal lose, he was never in the match. Berdych swept through the first two sets with virtually no opposition. Nadal was competitive in the third set, but never did it seem Nadal might win the match.

    Getting to the quarterfinals was an accomplishment of sorts for Nadal after his recent struggles, but his 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 loss to Berdych was a crushing disappointment for one of the greatest players in history.

    Final Grade: C+

Simona Halep

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    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Ever since Simona Halep zoomed from a No. 64 ranking in May of 2013 to No. 2 in August of 2014, people were expecting her to win a Grand Slam singles title.

    Last year, she got to the finals of the French Open and the semifinals at Wimbledon, suggesting a major title was just around the corner. But she was jolted in a third-round loss to qualifier Miriana Lucic-Baroni in the U.S. Open, and she had done nothing spectacular since then. Her ranking dropped to No. 3, but, at age 23, she still seemed capable of getting that first Grand Slam crown at any time.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Losing 6-4, 6-0 to Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals of a major is not a bad result for most players, but it represented another small step backward for Halep.

    The pressure of high expectations had descended on Halep quickly and at a young age, and there are questions whether she can handle that yet. She looked nervous while letting a 5-1 lead against Bethanie Mattek-Sands slip away before she recovered to win 6-4, 7-5.

    Halep had won her only previous match against quarterfinal foe Makarova, but Halep was never in the match against the No. 10 seed this time. Makarova took a 3-0 lead in just nine minutes and overwhelmed Halep. 

    Final Grade: C+

Grigor Dimitrov

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    Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    People keep waiting for Grigor Dimtrov and his beautiful all-court game to break through to the finals of a Grand Slam event. He showed signs last year that he was getting closer on fast surfaces, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and the semifinals at Wimbledon.

    At age 23, it seemed his breakthrough could come at any time, although he had done nothing since his fourth-round loss at the U.S. Open to suggest that breakthrough would come at Melbourne.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Dimitrov again showed his potential and again showed he is not ready to challenge the sport's elite players. He got by his first three opponents with relative ease but had to rally to get past mercurial Marcos Baghdatis 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

    That earned Dimitrov a fourth-round match against Andy Murray, a player Dimitrov had beaten in two of their three meetings in 2014. But Dimitrov crumbled at the end, blowing a 5-2 lead in the fourth set when he had a set point, losing 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5. Losing before the quarterfinals represents a disappointing result these days for Dimitrov, who is ranked No. 11.

    Final Grade: C+

Milos Raonic

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    Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Milos Raonic typically beats the players he is supposed to beat, but seldom upsets someone ranked ahead of him. His big serve makes him dangerous, but, at age 24, he has has not yet shown the complete game needed to compete against the very best.

    He did have wins over Roger Federer and Andy Murray in 2014, but neither was in a major. Raonic, the No. 8-ranked player in the world, could be expected to get into the second week of the Australian Open, but he had done nothing lately to suggest he is ready to win his first Grand Slam title.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Raonic performed exactly as expected while reaching the quarterfinals, demonstrating his consistency as well his limitations. He blew by his first three opponents in straight sets, then, as anticipated, had a difficult match against Feliciano Lopez, who is ranked just six spots behind Raonic at No. 14.

    Raonic won that match in five sets to earn a quarterfinal berth against Novak Djokovic, who had beaten Raonic in all three of their previous encounters. Raonic was soundly beaten by Djokovic again at Melbourne in a 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 loss.

    Final Grade: C+

Kei Nishikori

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    Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Kei Nishikori's consecutive victories over Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic while reaching the finals of last year's U.S. Open had opened some eyes. That run, and the fact that he had risen to No. 5 in the rankings, suggested he might be ready to take a Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

    The 25-year-old Nishikori was not the favorite at the Australian Open by any means, but he looked like a dark horse with the potential to make another leap forward.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Nishikori did about as expected, no better and no worse. He showed he is still not quite in the class of the top two or three, but also indicated he might get there someday.

    He had to go four sets to beat two of his first three Australian Open opponents, but he was dominant in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, fourth-round victory over No. 9-seeded David Ferrer, whose career seems to be on the decline.

    Nishikori's quarterfinal match against Wawrinka figured to provide an indicator of Nishikori's career status. Another victory over Wawrinka and a semifinal berth in a second straight major would suggest Nishikori had reached the elite level. Instead, his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 loss demonstrated some of his shortcomings, including a serve that is not yet a big enough weapon.

    Final Grade: B-

Victoria Azarenka

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    It was difficult to know what to expect from Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne. Foot and knee injuries had derailed her 2014 season, and she entered the Australian Open having played just three tournament matches since the U.S. Open, losing two of them.

    She had lost to Karolina Pliskovah in the first round of the tuneup event in Brisbane in her only match since September, and she was ranked No. 44 entering the Australian Open. However, she seemed to be healthy again, and she won her only two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open, in 2012 and 2013. She was No. 1 in the world just two years ago, and, at age 25, she seemed capable of regaining her 2013 form at any time.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Azarenka's showing indicated she is on her way back to elite status. It also indicated she is not there yet. Her straight-sets victory over No. 8-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the second round was impressive and represented her best win at a major since beating Li Na in the 2013 Australian Open finals.

    She followed that with another straight-sets win over 23rd-ranked Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round. With her experience and the way she was playing, Azarenka seemed to have a good shot at beating No. 11-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the round of 16. Azarenka was definitely in the match but could not finish it in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 loss.

    Final Grade: B-

Eugenie Bouchard

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Eugenie Bouchard's ability to elevate her game in Grand Slam events made her a factor in the Australian Open. 

    Last year, she reached the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the French Open, the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open. Her results outside the majors were sketchy, but her ranking had risen to No. 7 and she was still just 20 years old.

    The confidence, focus and high level of play she had displayed on the big stage made her someone to watch at the Australian Open.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Bouchard did not hurt her standing, but she didn't help it, either. She easily won her first three matches before being forced to a third set against Irina-Camelia Begu in her fourth-round victory.

    Bouchard did not beat any player ranked among the top 35 to reach the quarterfinals, but she had a chance to add to her impressive Grand Slam resume in her quarterfinal match against Maria Sharapova. But Bouchard made 30 errors in her one-sided 6-3, 6-2 loss to Sharapova, who is now 4-0 in matches against Bouchard.

    Final Grade: B-

Dominika Cibulkova

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Getting to the finals of last year's Australian Open made Dominika Cibulkova a person of interest in this year's event. However, she had failed to get past the third round in the six majors immediately before the 2014 Australian Open or in any of the three majors since.

    Her first-round loss in last year's U.S. Open and mediocre results since then made her berth in the finals last year seem like a fluke. Even though she maintained a No. 10 ranking, few expected her to get to the finals again.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Cibulkova again had a solid performance in Melbourne. She got past No. 19-seeded Alize Cornet in straight sets in the third round and recorded an impressive three-set, fourth-round victory over Victoria Azarenka, who was unseeded but was starting to resemble the No. 1 player she had been two years ago.

    Cibulkova has never beaten Serena Williams, and she succumbed to Williams rather meekly 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

    Final Grade: B-

Nick Kyrgios

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    The 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios looked like a star in the making when he reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year, beating Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal along the way.

    Since reaching the third round of the U.S. Open, he played only two tournament matches before the Australian Open, losing to Marinko Matosevic in September and losing to Jerzy Janowicz in the Australian Open tuneup event in Sydney.

    He entered the Australian Open with a No. 53 ranking. However, Kyrgios seems to play his best tennis on the big stage, and the young Aussie would be playing in front a supportive crowd in Melbourne.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Kyrgios again demonstrated his vast potential by reaching the quarterfinal of a major for the second time in less than a year. He also demonstrated a temper with some racket-smashing, although the outbursts never caused his game to unravel. 

    The draw opened up nicely for Kyrgios, and he was buoyed by the supportive crowd. Kyrgios had to go five sets to get past first-round opponent Federico Delbonis, but he knocked off No. 23-seeded Ivo Karlovic 7-6, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 for his best win of the tournament.

    Kyrgios caught a break when Roger Federer was eliminated by Andreas Seppi, a player Kyrgios eliminated in five sets in the fourth round. Despite having loud vocal support from the crowd in his quarterfinal against No. 6-seeded Andy Murray, Kyrgios was outclassed, losing in straight sets. Kyrgios got a little boost in his grade because less was expected of him.

    Final Grade: B

Venus Williams

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    Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    With seven Grand Slam titles on her resume, Venus Williams knows what it takes to win a major event. Even at age 34 she had shown recent signs of being the dominating player she had been before health issues struck.

    She had won the warm-up event in Auckland, and her ranking was back up to No. 18. However, she still was seldom able to maintain a high level of play throughout a match or throughout a tournament.

    Sjogren's syndrome limited her tournament play and seemed to limit how consistent she could be in a match or a tournament. She still seemed capable of a big win on occasion, but winning her first Grand Slam title since 2008 seemed out of the question.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Williams played well and showed considerable stamina and consistency while playing three three-set matches in a row. After easily beating her first two opponents, Williams was forced to a third set by 33rd-ranked Camila Giorgi. But Williams won the third set convincingly 6-1.

    Williams then beat No. 6-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska for her biggest win in a major since knocking off No. 1 Dinara Safina in the 2009 Wimbledon event. Again Williams was dominant at the end, winning the third set 6-1. Williams could not do it a third time, however, losing to unseeded Madison Keys 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. It was the first time since the 2010 U.S. Open that Williams got to the quarterfinals of a major.  

    Final Grade: B

Tomas Berdych

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    There were hints that 29-year-old Tomas Berdych might make a breakthrough at some Grand Slam event in 2015 based on his slow, but steady, progress in majors. He had reached at least the quarterfinals in three of the four majors in 2014.

    His best results had come at the Australian Open, reaching at least the quarterfinals there each of the past four years, including a semifinal berth last year. But he had never won a major and got to the finals of only one, the 2010 Wimbledon tournament. He had done nothing since the U.S. Open to suggest he would get that first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Although Berdych again failed to reach the finals of a major, he played well throughout the tournament, and his victory over Rafael Nadal was a significant breakthrough. Berdych blew by his first three opponents without the loss of a set before a quarterfinal matchup with Nadal, who had a 17-0 record against Berdych.

    Although Nadal was not tournament-tough and was not at his best, Berdych's one-sided 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 victory over Nadal was impressive. Taking a set at love from Nadal is almost unthinkable. Berdych seemed to have a shot in the semifinals against Andy Murray, a player Berdych had beaten in their last two meetings. But after Berdych won the first set in a tiebreaker, Murray displayed superiority in a 6-7, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

    Berdych had missed an opportunity to reach the finals of a major for the second time. However, he had advanced at least to the quarterfinal of a major for the fourth time in his last five tries, and got to the Australian Open semifinal for the second straight year.

    Final Grade: B+

Stan Wawrinka

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    Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Based on his performance in the previous two Australian Opens, Stan Wawarinka looked like a title contender in Melbourne. He had made a major breakthrough with his riveting, five-set, fourth-round loss to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 Australian Open, then took the next step by beating Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal in succession to win his first Grand Slam title at last year's Australian Open.

    His ranking had climbed as high as No. 3 last summer, and he entered the Australian Open at No. 4. He had won his warm-up event in India against mediocre competition, and he just carried the look of a winner.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Wawrinka again showed he deserves to be considered among the very best players in the world, although he is still not ready to be No. 1. He blew by his first three opponents in the Australian Open without the loss of a set, then played his best match of the tournament by eliminating No. 5-seeded Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals.

    Wawrinka emphatically reversed his loss to Nishikori at the U.S. Open by recording a decisive 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 victory this time. That set up another anticipated semifinal against Djokovic.

    Although the match went the distance with Wawrinka hitting several breathtaking backhands, this meeting did not provide the consistently high level of tennis achieved in their previous two meetings in Melbourne. Wawrinka faltered badly in the final set of Djokovic's 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 win.

    Final Grade: B+

Ekaterina Makarova

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    Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Ekaterina Makarova should have received more credit as a contender coming into the Australian Open. She reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens, and he got to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year.

    She then had her best result at a major when she reached the U.S. Open semifinals last year, beating Eugenie Bouchard and Victoria Azarenka before losing to Serena Williams. She had not done anything in the meantime to suggest she was ready to win a major, however.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Makarova backed up her U.S. Open performance by reaching a second straight Grand Slam event semifinal. Her straight-sets victory over No. 22-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the third round was significant, but not nearly as important as her 6-4, 6-0 demolition of Simona Halep, the No. 3-ranked player. Makarova dominated that match, rushing to a quick 3-0 lead and finishing it off in 69 minutes.

    The 26-yearold Markarova did not lose a set in the tournament until she was outclassed by Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals.

    Final Grade: A-

Madison Keys

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Hard-hitting 19-year-old Madison Keys had shown a lot of promise with her aggressive style and her confident court presence, making her America's top hope for the future.

    However, she had never gone past the third round of a major and had not demonstrated the consistency needed to go deep into a Grand Slam event. She had recorded some good wins, but seldom maintained that level through a tournament.

    A breakthrough in the future certainly seemed possible for Keys, who was ranked No. 35, but there were few hints that it would come in Melbourne.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Keys had the best tournament of her career, reaching the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time, and she was at least competitive against Serena Williams in the semifinals.

    Her third-round win over No. 4-seeded Petra Kvitova was the kind of performance that can catapult a career. Not only did Keys beat the two-time Wimbledon champion in straight sets, but she overpowered the powerful Kvitova.

    Perhaps as significant was that Keys was able to maintain that level, blowing past Madison Brengle in the fourth round and outlasting Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. She played well against Serena Williams in the semifinals, but she just did not have the goods, losing 7-6, 6-2.

    All eyes will be on Keys at the French Open and Wimbledon to see whether she can back up her Australian Open showing with solid performances. No one exceeded expectations at this Australian Open as much as Keys.

    Final Grade: A-

Andy Murray

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Andy Murray had shown signs of breaking out of the doldrums that have plagued him ever since he won Wimbledon in 2013 to become the first British male in 77 years to win that event.

    He seemed to have a letdown after relieving the pressure with that victory, and he did not reach the finals of a single event for the next 15 months. His four quarterfinal berths and one semifinal berth in his five majors since his Wimbledon win suggest he was playing quality tennis, but not at the level that earned him a No. 2 ranking in July of 2013.

    Injuries also played a role in Murray's fall to a No. 12 ranking this past September. However, he won two of his final four tournaments in 2014, both on hard courts, and got his ranking back up to No. 6. He was not considered the favorite in Melbourne, but he seemed to be playing well enough to be a contender again.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Andy Murray had to be disappointed he did not beat Novak Djokovic in the final after playing Djokovic dead-even through two-and-a-half sets. But Murray, who prides himself on being in top condition, simply wore down when they reached 3-3 in the third set, dropping the final nine games in a 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 loss.

    Nonetheless, getting to the finals was a major step forward for Murray. It was his first berth in a Grand Slam title match since his 2013 Wimbledon win, and it demonstrated he is back among the elite players.

    Murray had three impressive matches on his way to the finals. He took out dangerous 10th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in four sets, and then swept away Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in straight sets despite the loud support Kyrgios received from the crowd.

    In the semifinals, Murray eliminated Tomas Berdych, who was playing the best tennis of his life and had easily eliminated Rafael Nadal. Murray dominated Berdych in the middle sets of a 6-7, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 victory. Although Murray did not win the Australian Open, he showed for the first time in 18 months that he is capable of winning a major.

    Final Grade: A-

Maria Sharapova

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Maria Sharapova was playing excellent tennis entering the Australian Open, and there was every reason to believe she could capture her sixth Grand Slam title if she could somehow avoid playing Serena Williams.

    Sharapova's ranking had risen from the No. 8 slot she held last May to her current No. 2 post. She had won a hard-court tournament in Beijing in September as well as a hard-court warm-up event for the Australian Open in Brisbane. She had proven she could beat everyone in the Australian Open field except Williams.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Sharapova could not avoid Williams, and the result was predictable. Williams took out Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 in the final for Williams' 16th consecutive victory over Sharapova, who fought off two match points in the tiebreaker before succumbing.

    It is a remarkable run of dominance involving two of the world's best players.  Sharapova has not beaten Williams since 2004, and this was the fifth consecutive time Williams won in straight sets.

    Forgotten in the latest loss to Williams was the fact that Sharapova had reached the final of a Grand Slam event for the 10th time and did it in impressive fashion. Sharapova had dominated every opponent on her way to the final, eliminating No. 21-seeded Shuai Peng 6-3, 6-0, No. 7-seeded Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 and No. 10-seeded Ekaterina Marakova 6-3, 6-2. 

    Final Grade: A-

Novak Djokovic

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Novak Djokovic has been ranked No. 1 since July and was the clear favorite to win the Australian Open even though his Wimbledon victory last year was his only Grand Slam singles title in the past seven majors.

    Djokovic's best results have come at the Australian Open, where he had captured four of his seven Grand Slam singles titles. Since his loss to Kei Nishikori in the U.S. Open semifinals, Djokovic had won three of the five tournaments he entered. The fact that Rafael Nadal was not at his best enhanced Djokovic's chances in Melbourne.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Djokovic won his fifth Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title by beating Andy Murray in the final 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0. The match was dead even at 3-3 in the third set when Djokovic's stamina, both mentally and physically, took over. Djokovic took the last nine games of the match from a drained Murray.

    Djokovic had played dominating tennis through the early rounds, racing through his first five opponents without the loss of a set. That included a straight-sets victory over No. 8-seeded Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals.

    For the third year in a row, Djokovic faced Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open, and for the third year in a row, they went five sets. The level of tennis was not as high as it had been in their previous two encounters, and Djokovic did not seem emotionally involved in the match until the late stages. Djokovic's play in that match is the only reason he did not receive an A+ grade in an otherwise dominant performance.

    Final Grade: A

Serena Williams

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    2015 Australian Open Expectations

    Serena Williams was not quite as dominant in 2014 as she had been previously, but she was still the favorite to win the Australian Open.

    Discounting the two tournaments in which she had to retire during a match, Williams had won her last three tournaments, including the U.S. Open. She had won the Australian Open five times, and winning it a sixth time would give her 19 Grand Slam singles titles, putting her one ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

    Williams had held the No. 1 ranking for nearly two years, and, at age 33, she was showing no signs of relinquishing it soon.

    2015 Australian Open Performance

    Williams struggled more than expected in several early-round matches, but she played her best tennis later to capture her 19th major title. That tied her with Helen Wills Moody for the third-most Grand Slam women's singles titles, three behind Steffi Graf and five in back of Margaret Court.

    It didn't appear she would get there early in the tournament. Williams had to save three set points in the first set of her second-round match against Vera Zvonareva, who is ranked No. 203. Williams then lost a set in her third-round match against Elina Svitolina and again in her fourth-round match against Garbine Muguruza.

    Williams settled down with straight-set wins over Dominika Cibulkova and up-and-coming Madison Keys. In the finals, Williams continued her remarkable mastery over Maria Sharapova, beating Sharapova for the 16th consecutive time. Williams had to work in the second set, but she came away with a 6-3, 7-6 victory that continued her march toward major milestones.

    Her grade is based not only on her performance in Melbourne, but on her evolving place in history. Her one shortcoming in Melbourne was that she did not dominate every opponent throughout the tournament.

    Final Grade: A

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