In today’s semi-final under card at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro (above, top) takes on world #1, Rafael Nadal, in a rematch of the 2009 US Open semi in which the totally beyond compare and above reproach Rafael Nadal–the undisputed king of clay and looping topspin–was road graded by the bigger, stronger, and more talented Argentinian.  A command performance by JMDP who is the only player to ever defeat Nadal and Federer at the same major, claiming his first major title in the grandest possible fashion.  Sure, we were surprised.  That he beat Roger.  But Roger played the big points that day like the trophy was already on his mantle, confusing the 09 crown with the 04-08 crowns.

Bad mistake by the great man, and one he should never have repeated.  Lo and behold, he repeated it the next year, in practically the same exact spot, up 2 sets to 1 against Djokovic (above).  That victory has seemed to embolden Djokovic, who has played at a ridiculous level, handing Federer two consecutive major defeats, grabbing a 1st Davis Cup crown, and a 1st for his nation also, and a 2nd major title down under.  The tennis world, plagued with chronic tunnel vision, has jumped ahead to anointing Djokovic, yet to lose in 2011, as the world’s best tennis player.

This may not exactly be laughable considering his recent play, but it’s also not right.  Nadal currently holds 3 of the major titles.  Had Djokovic beaten Nadal in Flushing, these arguments would be valid.  But since Djokovic’s US Open run ended right after slaying Roger, and lost in impish fashion to Nadal, who is really not built for Decoturf and has little business winning the US Open without a sparkling draw and a matchup with a heartless quitter in the final such as The Djoker, we are still going to say Rafa’s the best right now, pains us as that does.

Is Djokovic the same heartless quitter he has always been though?  At least against Roger, he seems to be rather resilient these days.  But right after Roger in NY, Djokovic reverted back to being a clown who disrespects himself by saying that he was spent, that if the final was played on Sunday he’d have “no chance”, and then on Monday, claiming he was still so exhausted.  This guy?  He can act like a man.  He’s the 1 guy in tennis who calls trainers and defaults more than Nadal, and that’s saying something, because Nadal has permanent trainer’s hand prints on both his calves and quads.  Like Nadal was fresh in that dreadful final where he won in straights?  Nobody’s fresh at the US Open.  Not after 8 months of intense touring and 3 majors on different surfaces.

Djokovic is playing lights out, indisputably.  The Prince of Plexicushion, on which he has played exclusively, except for one tournament.  Good for him.  Yes, he won Dubai and straighted Roger there on a Decoturf court, albeit one topped with as much or more sand than any other.  Yes, he served up bagels to three separate opponents here at IW, including countryman and DC mate Victor Troicki, who took Djokovic to 5 sets last year and almost walked out with his pelt at Flushing.  Wouldn’t Roger have done back flips if that came to pass?

Is Djokovic that good?  Is the world #3 now better than a very able Troicki at #16, by a 6-0, 6-1 scoreline?  Well, serves don’t really take to the clay, I mean Plexicushion, the way they do to a real acrylic hard court not sand topped, like unadulterated US Open courts or the courts in Cincy or at the Paris Indoor.  Unless you are Karlovic, Isner or Raonic.  As the announcers often remarked, Djokovic is playing lights out without even serving that well.  Sure is.  But the surface issue is a big factor.  Even more so than at the Australian Open, Djokovic’s “stomping grounds”, which is technically considered a medium paced court.  Melbourne’s Plexicushion, still considered by us a travesty to the game, at least has allowed some dominant servers to have their day.  But the groundstrokes come in slow, suiting these putrid, safe, soft serving baseliners like Murray, Djokovic, and Nadal.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the only major finals that have not included Federer or Nadal going back 5 years have been at the AO?  Or that the only guy with 2 majors to his name since the Federer/Nadal dominant period began won them down under since Plexicushion was installed?

Kids, in Australia they have the “nice” Plexicushion.  Technically, the courts here at IW are called slow hardcourts.  In fact, the actual surface is called “Plexipave IW Slow.”  It is a synthetic, or as we like to call it, a fake hardcourt.  Why?  Because California is America’s training ground for homogenized boring baseliners west.  Oh yeah, all this nonsense about a slower, softer court being better in the desert because the balls can really pop in the dry air, and the heat?  Right.  It’s a business.  Slow tennis 2 handed morons want to see slow tennis with lots of rallies, even in America, where the courts should favor the better players, which, here, are fast courts.  But there is not one decent woman playing this game for America right now, and as for the men, well, Richard Gasquet pretends he’s sick when he has to face Andy Roddick indoors and on IW Slow he takes him apart like he’s Federer.

We guess they are pretty happy with the results this year, where the cream has risen to the top, either with the aid of or in spite of this awful surface.  No Mardy Fish’s or Ljubicic’s in the final four this year.  JMDP has muscled his way through the draw.  Good for him.  The game missed him.  Nadal didn’t, but the court, and Del Potro’s lack of long term tour level conditioning may not favor Argentina’s finest today.  Here are the odds:

Nadal:  – 240 (Wager 240 to win 100 plus initial investment)

Del Potro:  + 180 (Wager 100 to win 180 plus initial investment)

If we were willing to go with Karlovic the other night over Rafa, best believe we can stomach the dog here as well.  Do not get the wrong idea about us.  We don’t play who we necessarily expect to win.  We play who we like and who has odds we like.  That would be Del Potro.  The difference between winning and losing in tennis is a handful of points, and big favorites offer no real return, just nervous moments.  Like if you had Rafa the other day versus Karlovic at – 750 and had to sweat out a 3rd set extended tie breaker to win 1 penny for every 8 you laid.

Then there’s the feature match:

Djokovic:  – 180

Federer:  + 140

Say what?  Roger is underdog in a match not against Nadal on red clay?  When was the last time that happened?  Good question.  Honestly, we can’t recall it, and we are up on such things.  You guessed it.  We’ll happily ride 2 dogs today.  To be frank, Federer has a lot on the line today.  The #2 ranking goes to the winner.  Federer, for the 1st time in 8 years, is not in current possession of a major title.  Djokovic seems to have his number.  Especially on the slow icky blue track.  But Roger knows the deal.  Annacone is coaching him up.  Federer needs to absorb the pace, not give the pace to Djokovic.  On slow hards, Djokovic, like Agassi was, is a master at using your pace against you.  When Federer hit out on the slow garbage versus The Djoker in Canada, he looked bad.  He looked like he couldn’t hit a winner, and was over-hitting in an attempt to dictate.  When he gave Djoker junk, and used his variety of spins and slice, then the Djokovic must over hit.  We still feel that Roger has the edge in a close match, and we like the sunny conditions.  We’ve also been loving Roger’s quick hands at net all week.

How many times do you really get to play Federer as a dog?  And how many times is Roger playing for the chance to win a singles and doubles title in the same weekend?  Not sure when or if that’s ever happened either.  Federer/Wawrinka defeated Nadal/Lopez in the semis in doubles and will take on Malisse/Dolgopolov in the final today.

As we have said, we aren’t fainthearted Federer fans.  Not even on Plexicushion.

2 PM live on The Tennis Channel…

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