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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Final grades for the stars Down Under

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tennis has a new ironman. His name is Novak Djokovic.

There needn't be any more questions about his stamina, or whether he can get through breathing issues and the like. Djokovic proved after topping Rafael Nadal in 5 hours, 53 minutes in Sunday's historic Australian Open final that his reserves are limitless.

How lucky are we to be witnessing Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray strut their stuff?

Victoria Azarenka delivered on the promise she'd long exhibited to become women's tennis' latest first-time Grand Slam winner. It won't be her last major victory, that's for sure.

Djokovic, Nadal and Azarenka receive top marks as we grade the big names in Melbourne.

Men

Novak Djokovic (A+): The pressure was on Djokovic. After his stellar 2011, we all wondered how he'd react in Melbourne. For one, he persevered when the tennis gods looked like they had it in for him in the semis, and even if he hadn't won the title, advancing to the finale was a solid result. Imagine the confidence he'll take from Sunday. There's no stopping this guy.

Rafael Nadal (A): He entered the Australian Open with a sore shoulder, had just changed rackets and was troubled by his right knee. It's no wonder that not many picked him to win the title. But he came so close. The lesson learned: Never count Rafa out. Once the confidence returned, after beating Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, he was destined to reach the final. If it was anyone else but Djokovic waiting for him, he wins in either three or four sets. Barring injury, we'll likely get another Nole-Rafa extravaganza in Paris.

Roger Federer (B): Federer did indeed create a monster. There were many who thought he'd walk out of the Australian Open with his winning streak that dated to September intact. Unrealistic. This was a best-of-five-set outdoor event, and he would have had to down Nadal and Djokovic. Federer did well to get to the semis, crushing an in-form crowd favorite in Bernard Tomic as well as Juan Martin del Potro.

Murray
Andy Murray showed newfound aplomb in Melbourne, which should lead to bigger and better things in 2012.

Andy Murray (B): Murray already has made progress under Ivan Lendl. He was far more positive in his five-set loss to Djokovic in the semis and hit the forehand slightly better. In a few months, we'll see more come out of their relationship. However, let's be honest, Djokovic made things slightly harder than he needed to when they met.

Juan Martin del Potro (C-): What a huge disappointment. Del Potro's inferiority complex against the top three has returned. Why, exactly, did the Argentine offer to replay a point against Federer when he was right? Too nice. He needs to become more ruthless. Del Potro barely put up a fight against Fed.

The Americans (D): No U.S. men in the fourth round? Ugh. And this is on hard courts, not the terre battue. Andy Roddick is excused because of an injury, but the three other players in the top 50 -- Mardy Fish, John Isner and Donald Young -- underwhelmed. Fish also lost his cool. Again.

Women

Victoria Azarenka (A): One by one, roadblocks appeared in front of Azarenka. She had to rally against Agnieszka Radwanska, and she wasn't the crowd favorite against Kim Clijsters. She also started poorly in the final. Then there was the crowd mimicking her grunting. But Azarenka overcame everything, proving that her temper tantrums are things of the past. The smiles replaced the sneers. Transformation complete.

Maria Sharapova (A-): As disappointed as Sharapova was by losing to Azarenka in the final, getting there was a job well done. Leading into the tournament, she was lacking matches because of an ankle injury. Sharapova put in typically gritty displays against Sabine Lisicki and Petra Kvitova. Now it's all about trying to clear the final hurdle.

Kim Clijsters (B+): In her farewell Australian Open, Clijsters gave the fans plenty of entertainment. The will to win was there, too. Oh, sure, Li Na gave her a helping hand in the fourth round, but the Belgian hung around playing on a dodgy ankle. Losing to Azarenka in the semis (with the aforementioned tender ankle) was certainly no disgrace. Keep it up, Kimmy.

Petra Kvitova (B): The education of Kvitova continues. In a year, or maybe months, she'll beat Sharapova in straight sets instead of falling in three and wasting 11 of 14 break points. Kvitova is no one-Slam wonder. Expect the Czech and Azarenka to battle in Grand Slam finals.

Caroline Wozniacki (B-): Wozniacki's Grand Slam drought lingers. But when the draw was released, did anyone really expect the outgoing No. 1 to exceed the quarterfinals? Departing in the last eight to Clijsters was by no means a shocking result. Not being No. 1 has its benefits, Caro.

Serena Williams (C+): Williams deserves credit for working hard to get her ankle ready in time for the start of the tournament. She wasn't 100 percent. But few would have guessed her conqueror would be Ekaterina Makarova, especially after Williams coasted in the previous three rounds. Will the aura begin to wear off?

Samantha Stosur (F): Remember when Roddick and David Ferrer were thrust on Court 13 at the U.S. Open? Stosur likely wouldn't mind competing on a tiny stage at next year's tournament. With the overwhelming pressure, she simply can't produce at her home Slam.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.