We review the highs and lows of a tournament by turns thrilling, perplexing, and intriguing, grading each of the usual suspects and a few unexpected figures who distinguished themselves.

Murray:  Long had the specter of Fred Perry stalked Andy Murray from major to major with an ominous tread that recalled the ghost of Hamlet’s father.  Finally freed from his burden, the Brit broke his nation’s 76-year drought in dramatic fashion.  Murray conquered not only a formidable opponent in Djokovic but his own nerves, which had crippled him in four previous defeats at this stage of majors.  For most of the third and fourth sets, a heartbreaking setback seemed destined to descend upon him, but he rose from his chair at the start of the final set with resolve rather than resignation written on his face.  More dazed than ecstatic at what must have felt like a cathartic moment, Murray may need some time to readjust himself to a life changed permanently.  One wonders whether his suddenly skyrocketing celebrity will change the man himself, turning him into a more polished, mainstream product.  Once he settles into the status of a Grand Slam champion, however, he should build upon this breakthrough to collect more majors on hard courts and perhaps even on a lawn closer to home.  In the eyes of his compatriots, the relevant year may have changed from 1936 to 1934, when Perry last won Wimbledon.  But only the most unforgiving of ghosts would have the temerity to pursue Murray now.  Valedictorian

Serena:  Utterly dominant through the first six matches, she showed a more vulnerable but ultimately more impressive side in the seventh.  Only dropping her serve twice en route to the final, Serena looked virtually invincible until that stage, as she did at the Olympics.  After a similarly commanding first set against Azarenka, though, everything nearly unraveled for her against an opponent unafraid of the challenge.  Forced to battle for each point and game throughout a thrilling third set, the 14-time major champion exuded a relentless determination more gripping to watch than any of her aces or running forehands.  (From even her earlier routs, in fact, radiated a distinct sense of urgency from last year’s runner-up, who had won this title only once since 2003.)  At the age of 31, Serena certainly could bask in the glow of her accomplishments and celebrity status.  The fact that she remains as fierce a competitor as ever not only reveals her strength of character but also should bolster her reputation for posterity, winning her more respect than she may have earned in her prime.  A+

Azarenka:  Only because of her fortitude after losing the first set of the final did this match become an epic and a worthy conclusion to the tournament.  Fearlessly resisting a woman who had defeated her nine of ten times, the world #1 validated her status and nearly turned around a match that she looked destined to lose.  Even though her record against Serena now stands at 1-10, Azarenka built upon her accomplishments of early 2012 with a moral victory no less valuable for the missed first serves and wayward backhands late in the final set.  She likely played all three of the best women’s matches of the tournament, starting with her three-set victories over Stosur and Sharapova.  While she did not emerge as the champion this fortnight, Azarenka displayed all of a champion’s attributes in victory and defeat.  She also deserves credit for accepting a bitter defeat with greater than usual grace.  A/A+

Djokovic:  Like Azarenka, he delivered a pair of sparkling victories in the quarterfinals or semifinals before narrowly falling short in the final.  More impressive than in any tournament since the Australian Open, the defending champion relinquished his title only after a titanic struggle.  Unlike Azarenka, however, he entered the final as the favorite and yet played surprisingly tentative tennis at crucial stages early in the match, which he likely could have won routinely had he not sprayed unforced errors at costly moments.  With Murray serving at 1-0, 15-15 in the second set, Djokovic attempted essentially the same return of serve that broke Federer’s spirit in last year’s semifinal.  This time, the shot landed just wide in a metaphor for much of his 2012 campaign.  All the same, he reached more major finals this year than anyone in tennis, playing 15 total hours in them, and should have proved to those who doubted that his breakthrough into the elite is permanent.  A

Federer:  Perhaps just a bit complacent after his sensational grass season, he rolled through the first week without losing a set, received a walkover and some superfluous additional rest, and then looked rusty in a stunning quarterfinal loss.  Not for the first time, Federer engaged in a baseline slugging match with Berdych that played too much to the latter’s strengths, similar to the final against Del Potro in 2009.  Fortunate to avoid a straight-sets embarrassment, he likely will consider this performance barely respectable as he resets his goals for the rest of 2009.  As Federer noted already, finishing the year in the top spot would represent a fine achievement, as would a record-extending title at the year-end championships.  But the abrupt end to this fortnight clearly left him as disconcerted as he has felt since losing consecutive major quarterfinals in 2010.  B

Sharapova:   Typically least successful here of all the majors, she recorded her best result by far since winning the 2006 title.  In stark contrast to her two hard-court losses to Azarenka earlier this year, moreover, was a compelling three-setter that proved her ability to compete with this younger rival on the surface after all.  Back at #2, Sharapova finished the year tied with Vika for the most matches won by a woman at majors.  But consecutive three-setters against Petrova and Bartoli, opponents whom she has demolished in the past, impressed more for their grittiness than for the quality of tennis.  Those unexpectedly long encounters, which she might not have survived if not for timely rain delays, might have drained her energy for the epic against Azarenka.  A-

Italian women:  Winning their second major title of the year in their third major final, the Fed Cup duo of Errani and Vinci consolidated their position as the top-ranked team in the world.  The two unassuming Italians also collaborated on marquee upsets in the fourth round over Kerber (Errani) and Radwanska (Vinci) before they met in an emotionally difficult quarterfinal.  Reaching her second semifinal in the last three majors, Errani has become the year’s most stunning revelation on the women’s side, while her compatriot’s craftiness offers some solace for those who mourn Schiavone’s descent.  Many would have expected Serbia to produce multiple quarterfinalists at the US Open, but few would have said the same about Italy, recently a nation of tennis overachievers.  A

Berdych:  After he endured a difficult summer, he suddenly awakened in late August to record his best result to date at the US Open.  Never even a quarterfinalist there before, Berdych made his first quarterfinal and first primetime match on Ashe into a night to remember with a remarkably confident upset of Federer.  When the match started to slip away in the third set, as one of their previous encounters had at the Australian Open, he rebounded swiftly to keep the pressure on Federer in fourth and then close out the victory without a tremor of nerves.  The wind troubled Berdych in an ugly semifinal during which he yielded 64 unforced errors and squandered a one-set lead.  But losing a four-hour battle with the eventual champion, a higher-ranked opponent, bears little shame.        A/A-

Ferrer:  The fourth seed in Nadal’s absence, he concluded the best year of his career at majors by reaching the semifinal.  Among the more memorable pre-final moments of the men’s tournament was his epic five-set quarterfinal with Tipsarevic, when he rallied from a fifth-set deficit in grinding rally after grinding rally and played an exceptionally steady tiebreak.  Ferrer enjoyed an especially accommodating draw, though, and should have dispatched this opponent more comfortably than he did.  Outside the anomalous first set, the world #5 did not belong on the same court with Djokovic in their semifinal, which illustrated the gap between the top four and the best of the rest.  B+

Radwanska:  Hampered by an injury before the tournament began, the Wimbledon finalist improved upon her first-week exit here in 2011.  A straight-sets loss to Vinci in which she won only five games still comes as a jolt considering her #2 ranking, and it continued a trend of lopsided losses that she has suffered this year.  In Asia awaits an intriguing test when she defends titles in Tokyo and Beijing.      B-

Tipsarevic:  Down two sets to love in his opening match, Djokovic’s compatriot nearly earned himself an F immediately.  Once he survived that misstep, however, he did not drop another set until his second straight US Open quarterfinal.  Competing bravely against Ferrer, Tipsarevic never folded as he did sometimes at majors before his breakthrough last year.  Instead, he battled cramps and a tireless opponent all the way to the bitter end, succumbing by the excruciating margin of a single minibreak.  A-

Ivanovic:  The owner of the longest drought between winning a major title and reaching a major quarterfinal ever, she halted the skid at 17 with her best performance ever at the US Open.  Frustrating her early in her career, the year’s final major has become a scene of consistent success for the Serb, who played four of her five matches on Ashe.  To be sure, Ivanovic defeated no rival of greater significance than Sloane Stephens in her four victories, but cracking the major quarterfinal code carried substantial symbolic weight to her.  A-      

Wozniacki:  Culminating a dispiriting season was a second straight first-round loss at a major.  The ailing Wozniacki had reached the semifinals or better in her last three US Open appearances, so she will drop outside the top 10 after starting the year at #1.  Will she become the latest Slam-less #1 to fall off a precipice once dethroned?  D

Del Potro:  At the scene of his greatest triumph, he threw everything in his arsenal at Djokovic in a match that deserved to last longer than three sets.  Perhaps buoyed by his Olympics bronze medal, Del Potro played more aggressively than he had against any top-four opponent at a major since returning from wrist surgery in 2010.  On the other hand, his tremendous effort in the second set still did not suffice to derail the defending champion, continuing to raise doubts regarding his ability to win a second major.  Ever a gracious sportsman, Del Potro handled the situation of Roddick’s final match as well as anyone could have, ensuring that the spotlight remained on his fellow one-time champion.  B+

American men:  Beset by recurring health concerns, Fish withdrew from his home major on the eve of a clash on Ashe with Federer.  Lacking such an injury alibi was Isner, who followed his Winston-Salem title the previous week with a desultory effort in his first career loss to Kohlschreiber.  Isner will spearhead his nation’s ATP presence in Roddick’s absence, and he resembled his predecessor more than his usual self in friction with the umpire and intermittent focus.  Less disappointing was Querrey, who won a set from Berdych in the third round but faded predictably once the Czech found his range.  And Jack Sock earned a pair of surprising victories before testing the 11th-seeded Almagro.  Fittingly, the last American man standing at their home major was the man playing his last tournament, to whom this grade does not apply.  B

Laura Robson:  Since she won the Wimbledon junior title, the lefty prodigy had languished outside relevance while producing results unworthy of her talents.  Ahead of her second-round intersection with sentimental favorite Clijsters,  a respectable loss would have more than met expectations.  But Robson held firm through two extremely tense tiebreak sets, each of which featured only one service break by each woman.  Her spectacular forehand winner down the line at 5-5 in the second tiebreak gave fans a glimpse of just what a shot-making threat she can become, and her three-set upset of Li showed that she can build upon her momentum, something with which players her age often struggle.  A

Sloane Stephens:  Tasked with crafty veteran Schiavone in the first round, she not only passed that test with aplomb but found the courage to mount a comeback in a nerve-jangling match a round later.  Less impressive was her effort against Ivanovic, closer than last year in scoreline but probably no higher in quality.  To avoid fading as sharply in the third set as she did there, Stephens must work on her physical and mental durability.  None of the other young American women, especially Christina McHale, did anything to challenge perceptions of her as the leading future hope for the home country, though.  B+

Milos Raonic:  If he represents the future of men’s tennis, the future does not look very bright at the moment.  In an unsightly first-round meeting with Giraldo, the man whose game should thrive on this court barely edged past a clay specialist in five sets.  The highly anticipated meeting with Murray flopped almost from the outset as the Scot essentially toyed with the lumbering Raonic, who cannot reach the next level until he improves upon his clumsy returns and his passive court positioning.  Those shortcomings aside, a second-week appearance at a major comprises a solid result on its face.  B/B-

Bernard Tomic:  At least he waited until the second round to tank a match, rather than the first round as he did last year.  Most wanted Roddick to progress further into the tournament, so their match produced the desired outcome.  In his listless “effort” and surly press conference afterwards, Tomic may have lost a few more fans from his shrinking group of supporters.  Credit to Patrick Rafter, meanwhile, for showing the nerve to criticize the top player on his Davis Cup team.  C

Stosur:  Considering the meager fruits of her 2012 campaign so far, her title defense exceeded expectations.  Into the quarterfinals without losing a set, Stosur used her status as defending champion to her advantage and even appeared to enjoy her fortnight.  Like Sharapova, she earned psychological capital in her rivalry with Azarenka by trading blows with her much more effectively than in their recent meetings.  If not for a net cord at 5-5 in the third-set tiebreak, she might have overcome the world #1.  As it stands, this loss showcased a more championship-quality Stosur than many of her victories.     A-/B+

Bartoli:  After she absorbed a humiliating loss to Kvitova at the Rogers Cup, the double-fister could have been forgiven for losing belief once she dropped the first set convincingly here as well.  In a strange but impressive comeback, she lost just two games for the rest of the match to reach her first US Open quarterfinal.  There, she came within five points of defeating Sharapova for the first time before the Russian ground her down in a fiercely contested battle.  Although she suffers plenty of inexplicable losses, Bartoli ranks among the WTA’s most dangerous dark horses on a grand stage.  A-

Tsonga:  A strong second half to 2011 inspired hope that he could contend at majors in 2012, which proved unfounded again.  Balanced against a five-set loss to Djokovic in a Roland Garros quarterfinal and four-set loss to Murray in a Wimbledon semifinal were first-week losses at the other two majors.  Notwithstanding Klizan’s rising stature, he would not rout a top-eight seed at a major without some collaboration from that player.  D

Germans:  Gone in the first round of the US Open were Petkovic, Lisicki, Goerges, and Barthel.  Although last year’s semifinalist Kerber survived until the start of the second week, she stumbled out to Errani in a matchup that should have tilted in her favor.  Florian Mayer became the first man to retire from the US Open, and Tommy Haas squandered a two-set lead in the first round en route to a surprising defeat against Gulbis after he had reached the top 25.  This proud tennis nation surely will hope that 2013 begins more auspiciously than 2012 ended.  F

Hewitt:  In perhaps the final US Open of his career, he compiled one last fine memory by winning an epic five-setter in the second round.  Hewitt also mounted a gallant effort in battling Ferrer toe to toe for two sets before his age and limited supplies of energy caught up to him.  The former champion could not have asked for a more characteristic farewell. B+

Men’s comebacks:  Setting a new US Open record, ten men won matches after losing the first two sets.  In the final, Djokovic became the first man since Borg in 1980 to force a fifth set after losing the first two.  At a time when the best-of-five format has received increased scrutiny, this tournament made a fine case for preserving it.  A

US Open Series women’s winners:  Awarded to the trio of Kvitova, Li, and Cibulkova was a total of just $100,000 after none reached the quarterfinals.  Returning to her familiar fecklessness in North America, Kvitova could not capitalize upon titles in Canada and New Haven but instead evaporated mystifyingly against Bartoli for her worst performance of 2012 at majors.  More disappointing, perhaps, was Li’s loss after she had hired new coach Carlos Rodriguez and surged within one victory of the Canada/Cincinnati double.  The champion in San Diego, Cibulkova’s early loss drew scant notice, for few would have considered her a genuine threat in the first place, and her third-place position stemmed from depleted draws during the USOS in an Olympics year.  C+

Venus:  Although she won only one match in singles and suffered a surprising loss with Serena in the doubles quarterfinals, the elder Williams thrilled a primetime crowd with a marathon match against Kerber.  Thoroughly outplayed for the first set and a half, Venus willed herself back into the match and almost to victory with a display of her champion’s courage.  Like Hewitt, this tournament might have represented her US Open farewell.  Like Hewitt,   she will have departed in worthy fashion if such proves the case.  B+

Wawrinka/Cilic:  On the one hand, they deserve credit for reaching the fourth round and the quarterfinals of the year’s final major, extending momentum in both cases from encouraging summers after unimpressive first halves.  Once they encountered quality opposition, however, both men crumbled meekly.  While Wawrinka retired in dubious circumstances near the end of a blowout from Djokovic, Cilic surrendered a 6-3, 5-1 lead to Murray and managed to win only two games over the last two sets.  Considering their solid fortnights until that point, such capitulations suggested that their lack of self-belief runs too deep to cure.  B- 

Bryans:  For their fourth US Open title, the celebrated twins avenged their loss to Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in the Australian Open final.  Vulnerable early in the tournament, they found their vintage form by the rounds when they needed it most.  Now the Bryans face an intriguing challenge of traveling to Spain for a crucial Davis Cup rubber on Saturday.  A

And Davis Cup is where our articles will travel next.  Return on Thursday for previews of the World Group semifinals as well as perhaps some World Group playoff ties.