Dandy Milos Raonic (above), making another ho hum play at net this week in Memphis.

First up this afternoon, in what could shape up as a poor man’s clay court epic, world #5 David Ferrer takes on fellow Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro.  Ferrer has been the clear #5, consistently getting the most out of his talent, pushing pushers like Nadal and Djokovic because he hugs the baseline, taking the ball as early as anyone on tour, and negating the heavy spins that unfortunately dominate in the, shall we say, less than optimum conditions created by the current tour, with its selection of putrid surfaces and fluffy, over-inflated tennis balls.  Ferrer is heavily favored and is expected to collect his 13th career title in Buenos Aires today.  Here are the odds:

Copa Claro Mens Final Odds — Buenos Aires, Argentina (2:00 PM EST)

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David Ferrer:  – 400

Nicolas Almagro:  + 300

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Ferrer is 8-0 in this matchup, with 3 of the contests being clay court finals and 2 others also coming on clay.  After Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, Ferrer has been the most successful player on the tour with consistency, though we must note that Almagro is a bit of a clay court specialist.  Almagro has the classical one handed backhand, and attempts to be a shot maker, and we think he usually plays fairly pretty tennis.  So bravo.  He’s also improved a great deal over the past few years, and now finds himself an erstwhile top ten player.  But Ferrer is too clutch to lose to this guy, showing that he can both dominate him and outlast him, in their previous 8 matchups.

David Ferrer just does not make errors and we all know that that is what counts most on clay.  Also, mental toughness, where Ferrer has a decided advantage.  We have seen Almagro on more than one occasion play dispirited tennis, as though he did not expect to win.  We have seen the little used warning for effort invoked on him, which would seem a harsh indicator of the player’s character.  Who could argue the opposite for a player who is not playing hard?

So we feel he still has it in him, to be a dog, and we aren’t gonna apologize for that.  He has won few big matches in his life, and I can’t remember any of them.  We like Ferrer to claim this title, even at the steep odds.

Now in Memphis is the better spectacle, where Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic will take on Jurgen Melzer in Memphis.  Melzer has worked hard and has also elevated himself to erstwhile top ten after two huge years, and a couple of doubles majors as well.  But on this fast court, and the way Milos Raonic has owned hards like these, we see Melzer being left in a deluge of aces today.  We have to have a word about Raonic, who has come along to light up the game with the serve with the most buzz since Pete Sampras.

So we’re watching hockey the other night and checking tennis scores, and we notice that in Raonic’s quarter-final with Rocchus, he was up to 8 aces already by 3-2 in the first set.  So we got the feed of the match off the Google search ‘watch free tennis live’ and proceeded to see Raonic strike 13 aces in each set of a two set tilt in which his serve was the match.  Raonic’s serves are nearly bouncing into the crowd like smashes, and he’s hitting 146 on the gun routinely.  He hits one at like 133 and that’s off pace for this kid.  And the second serves, 110-120 with spin.  Okay, for perspective, Federer is hitting his second serves around 97 MPH over the last couple of years.

Justin Gimelstob was gushing in San Jose last weekend, and the Sampras comparisons were everywhere.  And these are comparisons that ring true because the kid has that kind of air about his service games.  In the San Jose final, Raonic won all but four points in the match on his first serve.  The kid simply takes the racquet out of your hands.  And when it doesn’t happen off the serve, he’s doing it with his forehand and by approaching the net, taking players to a make or break point much earlier in points than today’s reactive players are ready for.  This week it’s been Doug Adler, the latest flavor of the week commentator in love with the kid.  And Doug is right on.  The kid is making all types of plays at net, using the angles of the court to his offensive advantage perhaps the best in the men’s game right now.  Today’s odds:

Region Keegans Morgan Final — Memphis (4 PM EST)

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Jurgen Melzer:  + 240

Milos Raonic:  – 300

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Raonic is shooting for 16-1 on the year today and for his 3rd tournament victory, the most of anyone on tour.  He made the final last year, losing to Roddick, following the appearance both years in San Jose and the tournament win there, both years.  On a slower surface in Chennai Raonic beat Tipsarevic in the final, starting the year out with a tournament victory.  Now the kid has not played much tennis after March yet in his career due to a back injury last year, and will therefore move up easily in the rankings because he has virtually no points to defend from last year.  We really think he will be terrifying on grass where dominant serving has always proved out.

Also, so interesting are the mechanics of that serve.  Unlike most players who grip the racquet between their thumb and forefinger, Raonic points his forefinger straight up the racquet handle toward the face of the racquet.  It may seem like an awkward grip, but it actually generates more pop.  If you like to play around with different grips, give it a try.  It’s definitely interesting.

It might be a different story in a couple of weeks at Indian Wells, perhaps the slowest or second slowest surface in America.  A player like Melzer who tries to jump on serves early has a better chance their with the extra time.  Here, on this slick track, Melzer is gonna get pushed to the back fence, and giving up real estate to Milos Raonic is a losing proposition.

This kid is here now and he’s not going anywhere.  We definitely see him as the next big thing.  We shall see though. But we just feel like these days are big ones for big players.  At little 250’s and 500’s is where guys get their titles for the year who aren’t winning titles away from Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal.  Del Potro this morning, seized on an opportunity at Marseille, and got himself his first title of the year.  We are about to watch Ferrer do the same, and expect Raonic to follow suit, who may well turn out to be the best of the bunch.

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