Aravane Rezai

Venus (above) looking very serious in Luxembourg.

BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open — Final

9:00 AM EST (9 PM, TTC)

Venus Williams:  – 400

Monica Niculescu:  + 300


We can’t be happier than to see Venus with this easy opportunity in Luxembourg City tomorrow.  We of course hesitate here for a moment because we may have just jinxed her, and we have noticed that Lady V has played a lot of tennis this week, which she may not exactly be as used to as she was in her prime, or even just a mere two years ago.  This was a great week for Venus on the court though, beating the impressive but heavily acne-ed German Mona Barthel (yes, Venus slipped her the bagel), top seed Roberta Vinci (a shout for the Italian one hander), and German Andrea Petkovic.  Frankly, while the head to head sits at love love, Niculescu is a poor world #70, she is a bona fide journeywoman, and this was in all likelihood, the best week in her life.  Venus could not have asked for a better matchup in this final.  We also think Niculescu played way over her head earlier in defeating the heavily favored Daniela Hantuchova.  Niculescu may come into this spot with stars in her eyes, and she could be already satisfied at this run.  Or maybe, she’s super motivated to win her 1st career title.  That may be safe to assume, but she is playing Venus Williams here.

We don’t consider this at all similar to Williams-Rezai in Spain a few years back.  Rezai stunned Venus on the clay, after a great week, and we thought that Venus was unprepared to play on that Sunday.  Rezai is a very competent clay courter, theoretically, when she can be located on the face of the earth.  And clay does not suit our Lady V.  But indoors do.  Venus sits at world #41 right now, and with the win, she would re-enter the top 30, by our estimation, on Monday.  Should she win, it will be the first singles title for Venus since Abierto Mexicano, way back in 2010.  It would also be Williams’ 44th career singles crown.

WTA Kremlin Cup — Final

5:00 AM EST (TTC)

Sam Stosur:  – 115

Caroline Wozniacki:  – 115


Please.  Who thinks this is an even matchup?  Stosur leads the h2h 3-2, but she is obviously the much better player, the true champion, the contender with real weapons, whereas Caroline Wozniacki, The Dutch Miss, is the pretender, the chump, the so-so face with the pop gun game.  We would never lay money on Wozniacki, and if you follow us you know why.  Wozniacki is a joke.  Let’s be real.  Her time, which never really came, is now past, and until she makes serious coaching, training, and scheduling changes, she will remain a laughingstock.

ATP Kremlin Cup — Final

7:00 AM EST (TTC)

Andreas Seppi:  – 200

Tomaz Bellucci:  + 160


Seppi is the better fast court player, and we are especially impressed with his play on grass over the last few years.  We feel that translates to indoors.  Bellucci is a clay court specialist, a very poor man’s Rafa, right down to the corkscrew lefty forehand, the grinding, and the incessant running.  But we aren’t comfortable with Seppi as a favorite.  Remember that our philosophy is to make the better bet and that we look for positive money lines.  Speaking for ourselves, we’d probably take a cheap flyer on Bellucci, even though Seppi is a better player.

If Stockholm Open — Final

9:00 AM EST

Tomas Berdych:  – 180

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 150


We feel like Berdych does everything a little better than Tsonga, and is much stronger mentally.  We’d not be surprised if this match is similar to the one they just played in Beijing, in which Berdych won in straights.

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Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (above), who “upset”  15th seed Jelena Jankovic today, as we expected.

As you know, we were on Radek Stepanek today, and unfortunately for us, after taking the first 2 sets from Fernando Verdasco, whom we think is a quite poor big match player, the Spaniard got out of jail, winning 3 straight sets, and 9-7 in the extended fifth.  We aren’t about to apologize.  This is the kind of action we like, and we’d go the same way if there was a rematch of these 2 on grass tomorrow.  Some of other picks did a little better.  We think that Gonzo is officially back, after popping 25 aces and playing very clean tennis against Alexandr Dolgopolov, who got stung by an abysmal draw.  Gonzo hit 50 winners and had only 19 UFE in a very entertaining match in which Dolgopolov played pretty well, save for his weak second serve, now very exposed come fast court season.

We loved Ryan Harrison and along with Gonzalez and Martinez Sanchez, we were very happy with a nice trio of wins from those dogs.  Simply put, Dodig was not the same player he was last week against Harrison, who dominated every positive category except aces.  Harrison will play David Ferrer in round 2, and we’ll be liking him again in that matchup on Thursday.  Harrison is a very tough kid, for an American.  Very atypical of the sort of tennis brats our nation has been raising.  Speaking of brats, how about that Melanie Oudin, who caught a bagel and a breadstick from Ana Ivanovic, in the route of the day.  Oudin should give it up.  How sad was that performance, in which she won a mere 15 points out of 39 on serve, and a meager 8 points in the return game?

Frankly, we are absolutely sick of seeing her touted as a rising American.  She has gotten by too long on her opponents double faults.  If we trot her out for Fed Cup again, I’m gonna puke.

We thought Lleyton Hewitt would out-tough Kei Nishikori on the grass, and he did, for his 104th career win on grass.  We also thought talented 1-hander Sergiy Stakhovsky would roll British hack Daniel Cox, and he did.  We had Isner going through, if you recall, with few breaks of serve, and we loved Dimitrov, and fully expect him to come through when his match is resumed tomorrow.  The Bulgarian 1-hander who has been called by some a Federer clone wass up 7-5, 7-5, 3-3 when darkness fell.

On the women’s side, sure we went against Wozniacki, as we will in every round until she is eliminated.  We weren’t impressed with the short work she made of Parra Santonja, and have no respect for her game or rank.  As we expected, Irina Falconi, a terrible favorite, fell easily to Stephanie Dubois of Canada, 2 and 2.  Tamira Paszek came through againt Ayumi Morita in 3 sets, and will draw suprise winner from New Jersey, Christina McHale in the second round.

And before we get to the morning’s odds, we’d just like to mention that Serena had a very tough match and seemed, by her post match comments, just happy to be there and to have won a match.  We have seen her get hot many times, and many times, off of long layoffs, notably dusting Justine Henin, and silencing the “Serena is fat” bandwagon by winning at Melbourne while fat, but we just feel like this may be a bit too much for here here, despite a favorable draw.

Serena may bow out early.  And we might be betting against her.  As for tomorrow’s odds:

Nadal:  – 12000

Sweeting:  + 3000


Fish:  – 400

Istomin:  + 250


Hanescu:  + 700

Roddick:  – 1500


Paszek:  – 175

McHale:  + 125


Dulgheru:  + 250

Kuznetsova:  – 400


We think Kuznetsova’s movement is suspect on grass, and we don’t like her as a big favorite here.  McHale has a fighter’s chance in what is basically a toss up.  We hate Roddick at minus 1500, and Nadal at minus 12000.  I mean, who really wants to lay 1500 units or 12000 units to win a 100.  I’ll take my chances with the dogs at those rates.  We also don’t like Mardy Fish much at (-400), and don’t think he’s much good in the big spot.  There are a lot of 1st round matches yet to come off, and we spoke about some of them yesterday.  We didn’t mention Kristina Barrois,  a one hander whom we have a soft spot for.  We are pulling for her, a slim favorite over Petra Cetkovska.  And Bethanie Mattek-Sands is (-600) against Misak Doi.  Wow.  Another sign of how bad the women’s game is.  Gun to our heads, we’d say Hanescu/Istomin would be our long shot parlay of the day.  Maybe throw in Ryan Sweeting if we are feeling really crazy.  A 5 unit 3 team parlay there would net 4340 units, if the stars aligned.

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Agnieszka Radwanska:  + 6000

Alisa Kleybanova:  + 12500

Ana Ivanovic:  + 5000

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:  + 5000

Andrea Petkovic:  + 3000

Aravane Rezai:  + 15000

Caroline Wozniacki:  + 1000

Daniela Hantuchova:  + 2000

Flavia Pennetta:  + 15000

Francesca Schiavone:  + 6000

Jelena Jankovic:  + 3000

Julia Goerges:  + 4000

Kaia Kanepi:  + 10000

Maria Sharapova:  + 400

Marion Bartoli:  + 4000

Na Li:  + 700

Nadia Petrova:  + 12500

Petra Kvitova:  + 800

Sabine Lisicki:  + 4000

Sam Stosur:  + 2500

Serena:  + 350

Shahar Peer:  + 15000

Svetlana Kuznetsova:  + 4000

Tsvetana Pironkova:  + 10000

Venus:  + 1000

Vera Zvonareva:  + 1500

Victoria Azarenka:  + 1200

Yanina Wickmayer:  + 6000

Field (Any Other Player):  + 3000


Azarenka over Zvonareva?  Really?

2011 Rome Masters Champion, Maria Sharapova (above).

We thought Caesar’s was rough on the men, and they were, if you aren’t Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal–the only men given a shadow of a chance to win at Roland Garros.  Wait until you see the odds for the ladies chamionship:

French Open Ladies Champion Odds

Agnieszka Radwanska:  + 5000 (wager 100 units to win 5000, plus initial wager)

Alexandra Dulgheru:  + 10000

Alisa Kleybanova:  + 10000

Ana Ivanovic:  + 2500

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:  + 4000

Andrea Petkovic:  + 3000

Aravane Rezai:  + 10000

Caroline Wozniacki:  + 500

Daniela Hantuchova:  + 10000

Flavia Pennetta:  + 8000

Francesca Schiavone (defending champion):  + 1500

Jarmila Groth:  + 10000

Jelena Jankovic:  + 1500

Kaia Kanepi:  + 10000

Kim Clijsters:  + 1000

Maria Sharapova:  + 800

Marion Bartoli:  + 6000

Na Li:  + 2500

Nadia Petrova:  + 12500

Petra Kvitova:  + 1000

Samantha Stosur:  + 800

Svetlana Kuznetsova:  + 1500

Vera Zvonareva:  + 1000

Victoria Azarenka:  + 450

Yanina Wickmayer:  + 5000

Yaroslava Shvedova:  + 12500

Field (Any Other Player):  + 800


Right off the bat, we find it very interesting that only 4 players have odds better than or equal to any other player in the field.  That’s a huge indicator that this field is wide open, and that the odds makers do not have a lot of confidence in anyone.  By the way, did we miss the newsflash about Petra Kvitova?  She’s been given good odds despite having reached the 4th round at Roland Garros only once, and having only a 3-2 lifetime record there.  She has had a good year, and won Madrid, but considering the depleted field, we can’t even call it impressive fashion.

Kim Clijsters, fresh off of a long layoff due to an ankle injury suffered at her cousin’s wedding, is strapping up for Roland Garros, knowing the window for this major is closing for her.  We usually like her after long layoffs, but not when she’s hurt.  She’s a + 1000, and normally, you’d have to jump all over that, except, how many people win the Frech with serious ankle injuries?

We like Zvonareva a bit at + 1000, who has an 18-7 record at Roland Garros, a quarter-final appearance in 2003, and 2 round of 16 appearances, though only one “recently” (2008).  Zvonareva is a smart player and we like her style.  She may be able to navigate such a downtrodden field.  As for Stosur and Sharapova, we like neither, and Stosur especially, has shown us nothing in the big spot.  Stosur has definitely been the better clay courter here recently, and yet Masha destroyed her Sunday in Rome, and is 8-0 lifetime in the matchup.  We aren’t rushing to put anything down on any of these ladies though.

There’s lots of respect for the favorite, Victoria Azarenka, and she is the favorite with good reason.  She has power and mobility, and keeps the ball in play, unlike world #1, Caroline Wozniacki, who has no power.  Now would be a great time for either of these ladies to step up and grab their first real hardware, but neither look that good to us.  Azarenka recently came up lame and retired in the 2nd set against Sharapova last week, and Maria simply took Wozniacki to school.

Gun to our head, we’d probably lay the money on Sharapova, the most tested and true champion in the field, who also happens to be playing a lot, and playing well.  The weaknesses in her game on real tennis courts, like her inability to move forward, volley, and hit over-heads will affect her less on clay, where she will be content to play everything from the baseline.  And, she may get a little extra motivation from her man, Sasha Vujacic, who has been travelling with her since the Lakers got swept.  Otherwise, we’d be all over Clijsters, but a bad wheel at Roland Garros is very bad news.

With this diluted field, maybe even a young American can catch a break.  If Sloane Stephens can take out Anastasia Pivarova in the final round of qualifying, then Sloane is into the main draw, along with the diminutive Irina Falconi, who won the USTA’s French Open wildcard competition, and not our girl Lauren Davis, much to our chagrin.  World #124 Jamie Hampton, an Alabama product, is also one win away from qualifying for the main draw.  It’s also nice to see Pennsylvania’s Alison Riske is in to the main draw, and will be playing in her first French Ope.  And here’s to the field getting healthy for Wimbledon.  We can live with a piss poor champion in the mud, but not on the royal lawns.

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Aravane Rezai (above) celebrated her 24th birthday Monday by losing to world #18, Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-2.  What had been an excellent start for the world #22 and French #2, an early break and a 2-0 lead, quickly turned sour for the birthday girl, who commenced to get steamrolled by Sharapova from there on a sunny day at Indian Wells.  For Rezai, who has only won 2 tour level matches this year, with one of those coming 2 days prior against Shuai Zhang, and the other coming in her very first match in 2011 at Medibank in Sydney some 2 months ago, we don’t think she minded too much that her ticket got punched here so early and in such decisive fashion.

For Rezai, it seems she is apt to settle for incremental progress, having taken a bagel in her first round defeat in Melbourne to Zahlavova Strycova, and eventually losing 7-5 in the third, and having been pushed all over the court by Alla Kudryatseva 6-2, 6-1 in the first round a few weeks back in Monterrey.  Why has the world #22 played only 6 matches this year, and why would a nationalistic young woman skip out on Federation Cup, especially when French #1 Marion Bartoli, already in a rift with the French team, was a definite no go.  Why is there a rift between captain Nicolas Escude and Bartoli?  Why, over Bartoli’s controlling father, mad Doctor Walter Bartoli, of course, and the fact that to Escude, he has made Bartoli an “and one” player, a diva who places herself above the team.  Escude says that Dr. Bartoli never lets Marion out of his sight, occupies her every moment, that he demands to be on the court at all times, and even “decides the hour that she will eat.”

We’ll say this then: he’s letting her eat too much.  But as it turns out, Dr. Bartoli, though controlling an unorthodox, is by no means the tennis father villain that the elder Rezai has become.  Rezai, of French and Iranian descent, has represented Iran in the Women’s Islamic Games, and while she has done her best to remain neutral politically in recent months, she has become infamous in Iran where she was featured in a promotional video for the controversial Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his latest bid for president.  Ahmadinejad’s victory touched off a firestorm of unrest, “violent protests” and “has drawn virulent criticism in some Iranian circles”.

 Rezai has taken to ducking the tour some these days, taking an otherwise inexplicable 6 weeks off after the debacle in Melbourne, which she admits, was in part due to distractions.  That her father and boyfriend had some sort of altercation involving the Australian authorities on the morning of the match, and that the WTA has subsequently banned her father from tour events indefinitely, didn’t exactly come as a surprise to us, considering that Rezai’s father once had a famous screaming match with a coach at Roland Garros.

The French Federation has been so disenchanted with Rezai’s family problems and volatile entourage that they once went so far as to deny Rezai, one of the few promising French women at the time, direct entrance into the French Open, and forced her to qualify.  So Rezai is especially careful in choosing her words when apologizing to her exceedingly honest Fed Cup captain Escude for her absence from a squad that featured Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano in singles, and still almost pulled off a stunning upset of the Russians in February.  Instead, France got out 2-0 and then lost 3-2, letting Russia out of jail and giving the Russian women their first ever victory from a 2-0 deficit.

Aravane Rezai: In Australia, I had some problems with my family. These are problems that happen in all families. I decided to take a break after this little family problem. For me it was a big earthquake in the head. So I decided not to play Fed Cup and the Open GDF-Suez. I want to apologize to the girls of the France team for not having been with them. They know what situation I’m dealing with. I really enjoyed representing my country, but being only 20% was impossible. I thank the captain (Editor’s note: Nicolas Escude) have respected my choice. My apologies also to GDF-SUEZ, which has always supported me as a partner. But this break was important to me, and it will allow me to come back stronger. I intend to return to the tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, if I have a wild card, or otherwise in Indian Wells.

When pressed further, Rezai claimed there was no big deal down under, and that her problems are normal ones that all families go through.  She claims none of the press reports are true.  She says she’d have spoken out earlier, but:

 the WTA, my managers and the organization advised me not to do so because they thought I was not ready psychologically.

Does that sound like no big deal to you?  What about her “big earthquake in the head”?  We will not comment on the rumors, but we aren’t afraid to re-state what those rumors are.  The whispers on tour, and they are loud, are that Rezai is left traumatized by abuse at her father’s hands.  Not surprising.

A teen and then twenty-something year old girl used as an Irani political pawn, now who must literally duck and cover from angry nationalists?  Who injects their kid into that type of situation?  What does a French national like Rezai’s father even care that much about Ahmadinejad’s campaign?

The WTA, among others, we’d think, are currently investigating abuse claims.

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World #112, American Christina Mchale (above).

Teaneck, New Jersey native Christina McHale, whose best wins in her young career have come on retirements to Victoria Azarenka at last year’s Family Circle Cup and and Nadia Petrova at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open (though to be fair, she was ahead 7-6 (4), 5-3 when Petrova laid down her racquet), notched by far the best win in her young career last night, perhaps inspired to a degree by Donald Young, when she stunned two time major champion and 11th seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7), on the torturously slow Plexicushion at Indian Wells.

Despite managing to get in only 49% of her first serves, McHale, behind a very strong return game, converted on 5 of 16 break opportunities en route to the straight set victory that she sealed with two dramatic tie breaks, the second of which, by a score of 9 points to 7.  Kuznetsova only won 51% of the points on her first serve, despite making 72% of her first balls.  Frankly, the clay like, soft blue Plexicushion played too slowly for Kuznetsova, and she seemed frustrated by the night winds and lack of traction her serve and groudstrokes had and her inability to move the ball through the court.

In total, Kuznetsova only won 58 points of 116 on serve, while McHale, 2 months short of her 19th birthday, was a bit more efficient in that area.  McHale won 47 of her 88 points on serve, and was outstanding in the return area, where she stymied the clearly poorly conditioned Kuznetsova by getting so many balls back with her quickness and defensive skills.

McHale, who received a wildcard into the draw here at Indian Wells, will finally have a paycheck to speak of, after collecting a meager $460 in prize money coming into this event.  In round one, McHale defeated 66th ranked Uzbeki Akgul Amanmuradova, 6-3, 6-1.  McHale will next face Russian Nadia Petrova.  Petrova, another poorly conditioned Russian, may have her hands full with McHale in round 3, especially if the match is played at night when conditions are even heavier. 

In fact, the draw looks excellent for McHale.  Potentially, she could face Lucie Hradecka or Shuai Peng in the round of 16, as most of her quarter of the draw has completely fallen out.  A quarter-final would see McHale face one of the following players: Stosur, Safina, Rezai, Sharapova.

Indian Wells is upset city, so anything is likely to happen.  Though we despise IW for the Plexipave Slow Plexicushion surface they use, topped with more sand than perhaps any other “hardcourt” in the world for the way it favors defensive tennis and diminishes shot making, we’ll be rooting for the girl from New Jersey, who has shown a lot of heart, effort, quickness, and composure, if not true tennis talent.

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Three super fine tennis champions (above).

At the 2010 U.S. Open, in watching Roger Federer cruise throughh 5 rounds without dropping a set and clinically dispatching Robin Soderling in gail force winds in the quarter-finals, and then to see him come out so flat for his super Saturday main event semi vs. Novak Djokovic, to blow 2 sets and several match points, I was struck with this Venus Williams sort of feeling.  Venus’ last major showing at a major was in the O9 Wimbledon final against “little’ sis.  She failed to capitalize on a 1st set business end break opportunity and she didn’t get another sniff.  Serena blitzed big sis in the breaker and 20 minutes later, instead of holding a 6th singles title of her own, she was watching little sis hoist her 4th.  Since, we’ve seen Venus play some flawless matches in majors, but she has been unable to put a complete fortknight together.  Venus made runs in Melbourne and Roland Garros in 2010, and of course, we wanted desperately to see her add both pieces to the trophy case.  We bought the hype hardcore on the red clay, especially, as Venus won an event on the dirt in the spring and played nearly flawlessly 2 weeks before Paris in Madrid, until she was upset in the final by Aravane Rezai.  The thing about Venus of late that we feared was beginning to apply to Roger was that looking good 1 day had absolutely no conceivable carry over effect.  Venus was barely taxed at RG, dropping no sets until being bounced by Petrova in straights in the round of 16.

In fairness to Rog, aside from his failings vs. the Djoker in the semis, the man had an outstanding Open, and the command performance vs. Soderling and another highlight reel tweener shot, with a routine 24,000 spectator standing O would attest to that.  Our opinion?  The great man suffered a big let down after battering Soderling in a highly anticipated rematch of the 2010 French quarterfinal which he lost.  After 23 straight major semis, and then 2 straight misses, we think that Roger was also a bit satisfied with returning to the final 4.  The great man’s concentration waned.  Still great, but not great enough to throw away sets and still win majors, as he proved at the prior Open in his finals loss to Juan Martin Del Potro.  In retrospect, we’ve been very hard on Federer this year.  Deservedly so.  Sure, he won a major, went to 2 other major quarter-finals and an Open semi, and had a year anyone not named Roger Federer would die for.  But he went from February to August without winning an event, lost gimmes to Montanes in Estoril and to Lleyton Hewitt at Halle, giving Hewitt his 1st win vs. Roger in about 8 years to boot–a more epic drought against the master than Roddick’s famous time in the desert.

And worse yet.  Roger, on his best surface at this stage of the game, left a 2nd consecutive US Open title on the table.  If you’re of a mind to think grass is Roger’s best surface, think again.  It was true in the midst of his run of 5 straight Wimbledon titles, but at this point, Roger is almost a hardcourt specialist.  He hasn’t won on clay or grass since July 09 and his last 6 titles have all been on hards.  Still worse than that: putrid counter pucher’s defensive tennis at the hands of Rafael Nadal has prevailed in the wake of Roger’s beautiful, elegant shot making gone MIA.

Let us be truthful here.  We are always pissed when Roger and Venus go down in majors.  Always.  Unless they win it, we feel they could have done better invariably.  With the way Roger ended his summer, we were very concerned that even with Paul Annacone in his corner, that his will was fading.  Then we watched vintage Federer circa 06 this fall, and we felt really good about his chances at the YEC in London.  Federer did not disappoint.  Straight set, easy wins vs. Murray, Soderling, Ferrer and Djokovic, and his 1st win over Nadal since June 09–in style at that–for his 5th YEC have us daydreaming about more than just Roger’s 17th major.  We are envisioning the scenario that sees Federer return to #1, and though it will be bitter sweet as an even bigger fan of Pistol Pete, breaking Sampras’ all time record for weeks at #1, we could stand to see it and regard it as one of the few records of note that Federer has not yet broken in the singles game.

The YEC means more to Federer than it does to the field.  Aside from his 4 YEC titles going in, there was only 1 other YEC title even floating around in this year’s 8 man field (Djokovic).  Usually Roger makes a very strong run at the YEC for the hardware.  Two years ago, the great man could hardly bend over and still gave his all in 2 marathon 3 setters vs. Murray.  In 2005, when the final was still best 3 out of 5 sets, Federer was rolling against Nalbandian, up 2 sets and cruising until hurting his calf.  Instead of retiring (see Djokovic and Nadal), Federer trudged on with greatly hampered mobility and eventually lost in 5 sets.  The win in 5 over a gimpy Roger represents Nalbandian’s greatest triumph to date, and prevented Roger from ending that year with the all-time best year end record ever, as he finished at 81-4 rather than 82-3, which would have topped John McEnroe’s record 1984.

But why so much optimism regarding Federer in 2011?  Well, the best in the land, the fairest by far, is once again playing like it.  When the year kicks off down under, Roger Federer will be looking for a 5th Australian crown and 17th major title.  He’ll be fresh and uber motivated, and who navigates the landscape better at majors?  Federer also tends to benefit, as does Murray, Djokovic and Soderling from the full time return of injured Nadal killers Del Potro and Davydenko.  Davydenko’s ability to get balls back throws the most prominent aspect of Nadal’s success right back at him, and his take-it-on-the-rise-while-crowding-the-baseline style means he can go from D to O very quickly, and is effective at turning Nadal’s pace against him.  Then there’s the next legitimate #1, Juan Martin Del Potro, who at 6’6 is able to take Nadal’s high bouncing topspin well within his strike zone.  Del Potro mauled Nadal in a laugher in the 09 Open semi, 2, 2, and 2.  Nadal, who does not play first strike tennis well, is left constantly on his heels by Del Potro’s immense serve and huge groundstrokes.  The return of Davydenko and Del Potro to major tennis means more challenges for Nadal through the draws, and at the very least a greater physical toll will be exacted.

Personally, we feel Nadal owes his US Open title and career slam to Del Potro’s wrist injury more than any other single factor.  Del Potro could also be the player best suited to take up the mantle on clay, his natural surface.  and Del Potro’s 135-140 MPH serves are not dampened much by the dirt.  After watching Rafa take just 3 out of 54 in the YEC final on Roger’s 1st serve, we again see Nadal’s return game against quality servers as a weakness.  The same way in which Nadal won 1 major in 09 and then “fell apart”, so did Roger in 2010, and so could again Nadal in 2011.  After Melbourne, Roger will be poised to gain points, as we are already pencilling him in for better results almost unilaterally across the tour.

Can Roger get back to #1?  He can if he keeps playing like he’s 24.  And what about Venus, our best lady, now thirty something?  Can she add an 8th singles major title in 2011?

It certainly does boggle the mind that Lady V would exit the Australian Open in the quarters at the hands of Na Li, in a match she led handily, and that after beating eventual RG champ Francesca Schiavone in Madrid, that she’d be blown off the court by a lumbering Petrova in France.  While we like Tsvetana Pironkova as a player and have admired her poise in big spots, she has no business beating Venus 6-3, 6-2 on Wimbledon lawns.  But the fact is, the women’s game is wide open.  Venus went to the semis at the USO–her last major–and came this close to taking out eventual champ Clijsters in a tough 3 setter when a win would have paved the way for singles US Open title number 3.

Venus went 38-7 last year, won 2 tournaments, made 2 other finals, and did not lose before the round of 16 in any event.  she also partnered with Lady S for French and Aussie major doubles titles, bringing her obscene majors total to 21 (7 singles, 12 doubles, 2 mixed).  Hearing her comments about the US team’s Fed Cup Finals loss to Italy (“I was too sick to watch”) and of her committment to Mary Joe Fernandez’s squad for 2011, makes me think that Venus is focused, and she realizes she is on the clock.

I used to frequent an awful trollfest of a tennis message board littered wall to wall with morons–you know the type.  Agassi and Nadal fanboys.  In 2006, their lack of collective genius came up with a thread before Wimbledon called “What’s wrong with Venus Williams?”  She only won the tournament.  My friends bumped the thread the next year, and she won it again.  And the next year. 

I imagine there’s a “What’s wrong with Roger?” thread too.  I also imagine them playing flawless tennis, and feel neither is that far removed from doing it again.

Crack (,

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