Australian Open


168245563One handed heir apparent, Grigor Dimitrov (above), about to cut a deadly slice from beyond the tram line on Tuesday.

In October of 2012, world #1 Novak Djokovic came upon talented upstart Grigor Dimitrov in an early round match at Shanghai, on a liberal hardcourt (where Djokovic is hands down the best in the business, despite losing the 2012 USO final to Andy Murray), and made short work of the lad, then ranked around 50-something in the world.  It went to the king, 6-2, 6-3, over the squire, but the kid played better than the score line indicated.  As you may know, we’ve had Dimitrov marked as prime stock since his junior days, and whenever we are asked who will carry the mantel as the next great one hander, we say Grigor Dimitrov.  Even at 18 and 19 years old, rarely has the kid stepped on the court and not flashed the brilliant potential we associate with him.  Dimitrov is in a class of comers, with Milos Raonic (who made for one half of an interesting if unsuccessful doubles pairing here with Dimitrov this week, coincidentally) who you know we love, and Jerzy Janowicz, who has an electric game and a fluid serve motion reminiscent of the king of swing himself, Pete Sampras.  We’ve taken to Raonic and Janowicz because they play the game on their toes, and their countenance is aggressive.  But with Dimitrov’s arrival, we find it not only refreshing but proper and rightful to see a one hander compete at the highest level in this era, and one who we think is destined to win majors.  If Janowicz and Raonic and their big time serves are the new kings of swing, then we’d like to anoint Dimitrov as the new king on the backhand wing.  His Tuesday tussle with Novak Djokovic would be an excellent barometer of the kid’s flat out superb skills on that wing, as Djokovic has the best backhand in the sport, but could not take Dimitrov in BH to BH rallies–  on clay–which is extremely notable, since the higher bounces favor 2-handers.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/skistar-mercedes-cup-semi-finals-odds-analysis/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/one-handers-figure-prominently-in-day-2-legg-mason-young-americans-looking-good/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/isner-nadal-odds-dimitrov-other-odds-on-americans-from-roland-garros-tuesday-vegas-odds/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/grigor-dimitrov-rises-in-the-mens-game/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/grigor-dimitrov-one-handed-tennis-prodigy-out-in-2nd-round-at-queens-club-see-dimitrov-clips/

We thought that Djokovic was far more impressive off the forehand side, and dictated play much better with the forehand, which has improved so much, along with his heart and grit, as he has ascended into the stratosphere with his game.  Good news for Dimitrov, especially since he does not have an imposing forehand.  That wing will need to improve dramatically in order for him to one day claim the top spot, which we think he is destined to do.  As for the grit and heart, he already has it.  Despite serious cramping, Dimitrov bucked up late in the 2nd set on Tuesday, and found his way to match point, though he had a 10 or so minute stretch during which he could barely move.  We must also note that Djokovic was more or less good to go, after 2 weeks of rest that followed his spanking of Rafael Nadal at the MMC, handing the Spaniard what was only his 3rd loss ever on French clay (counting MMC and Roland Garros).  We had our own questions about Djokovic’s ankle going into the MMC, but after his fine form and 2 weeks recovery, there are zero questions that still persist.  Now if Djokovic, the former king of quit, and by our count, the only top player to retire at 3 of the 4 majors, could learn to turn that weakness into a strength, then so too can Dimitrov with the forehand, which, after all, is a tennis shot.

Especially in the case of a Dimitrov, as we do not really usually assume improvement, and when we do, we don’t do it lightly.  We never assumed James Blake was going to have his big break through, and we even knew he’d still lose that match to Agassi in the QF’s at the USO in 2005 when he was up 2 sets and on fire.  Good thing we didn’t assume greatness for Blake, because if we had, we’d still be waiting. Dimitrov however is a rare breed.  This no Bernard Tomic.  This kid gets up to play matches, comes with a plan, and believes he can win.  Even if the plan seems rather lacking in sense, like going backhand to backhand with Djokovic on slow dirt.  Or believing he could play with Rafael Nadal, as an 18 yr old at AMRO in Rotterdam, and playing him closely in a  7-5, 3-6, 6-3 loss in which he was not afraid to go after Nadal’s (who was then #1) forehand, which most players are terrified to do.

On that note, we have a bone to pick with Milos Raonic, who repeatedly approached the Nadal backhand at the MMC and got burned, winning 3 of the 1st 4 games and then losing 11 of the last 12.  We aren’t gonna say Raonic’s development has stalled or taken a hit, as talent needs to develop and breathe and can not usually be measured strictly week to week.  That’s why we are measuring these 2 against top talent instead.  Raonic’s gameplan was flawed, and we felt, lazy.  A Spanish team (Raonic coach Galo Blanco who we usually have high praise for) should understand that tall players that go after Nadal’s forehand, in rallies or on the approach, are having success, since they deal well with the high strike zone and have the power to do something with his topspin, whereas giving Nadal a target on the backhand, which he can direct with the top hand, is really the only backhand he hits for winners–passing shots.  To that end, Raonic also quit on that match, and had we paid to see it, we’d have been very angry.  The listless play bordered on lack of sportsmanship.  By the way, Raonic was abysmal on 2nd serve that day, which we also could not understand so well, since Raonic gets so much action on his 2nd ball and since Nadal returns serve from so well beyond the BL.

By that measure, Dimitrov took Nadal to 3 sets at the MMC, was in every point, was unafraid, and had a real shot to win at 4 all in the 3rd.  Theoretically it is the Raonic type matchup that Nadal recoils from and the Federer type matchup he embraces.  But Dimitrov is a much better player than Raonic right now, despite Raonic’s ranking and wealth of weaponry.  That Raonic can’t get near executing an Isner type strategy against Nadal is perplexing.  That Dimitrov can execute the Federer type strategy against Rafa (which not even Roger can do) is enormously encouraging.  Dimitrov has a real it factor, and moments do not intimidate him, nor do shots or reputations.  Why does Dimitrov’s backhand hold up so well?  We see him as an extremely early ball striker, reminiscent of Blake in that regard, but far better at it on clay, probably closer to an early to mid prime Gustavo Kuerten, or as we ponder it, perhaps even Ivan Lendl, though Lendl was a forehand player.  Dimitrov also shows a lot of patience in backhand exchanges, and relishes them, unlike Federer, save for a few times in his career, like against Davydenko in Melbourne in 2010.  Dimitrov seems to have tremendous bite on his slice, which stayed out of Djokovic’s strike zone even on clay.  Anyone watching closely enough might have noticed that in Federer’s last two major victories over Djokovic, in 2011 at Roland Garros and last year at Wimbledon, that slice played a major factor.  As far as Dimitrov, he understands when to go to the safe, deep cross corner topspin backhand, coming way over top of the ball, and then, at 2-1 and 30 all in the 3rd on Tuesday, he zaps the backhand down the line after he had pinned Djokovic into the opposite corner.  Bravo.  And this is after GD nearly pulls out that tie-breaker while cramping, and loses it, which would have broken many a player, young, veteran, top ten, etc.  It was the best point we’ve seen all year.  Mark it down, and do not discount the pressure of the moment, as if he misses there, he is down a BP to the greatest returner in the game and his odds of winning reduce dramatically.  Because giving that break back right there after the game he put together to earn it in the first place gives Djokovic whatever he needs, as even at 2-2 that match is probably over.  Djokovic is just that good.  Check out the play of this kid, especially on the backhand side, in this clip below:

We totally agree with the call, “this is magnificent!”, which comes at 11:29 of the video when Dimitrov hits the particular down the line backhand that we already described above.

Now if you still are over there questioning Dimitrov’s ability to improve, just consider how strong his serve has become.  Djokovic, for our money, is by far the best returner in the game.  Dimitrov aced him 13 times on slow clay, and held his nerve on several critical 2nd balls placed deep in the box, a skill that Milos Raonic has lost track of.  Dimitrov won 63% of all his service points, 52% on 2nds, and saved 10/12 BP’s.  If his serve can get to that level on clay, then his forehand can go a lot farther, as top dogs like Djokovic’s and Azarenka’s has.  Elite class players are always developing their game (recall Federer adding the forehand dropper), and right now Dimitrov is pre-prime, though still poised to move from #28 into the top twenty with nice showings in the coming weeks, already up more than 20 spots now than where he was at the end of 2012.  Dimitrov should also expect his best results come the fast court legs of the tour on grass and American hards (as a junior, Dimitrov won Junior Wimbledon, the Junior USO, and the Orange Bowl).

The obvious comparisons, from hairstyle to sponsor to the one handed backhand is Roger Federer, and that they were both coached at the junior level by Peter Lundgren doesn’t diminish the comparisons, though Dimitrov seems to learn from all his coaches, which have also included Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou and current coach Michael Tillstrom.  We think the Federer comparison weak stylistically if not substantively.  Federer is a forehand player and Dimitrov is a backhand player.  Dimitrov does not manipulate backhands into inside out forehands.  He doesn’t have to.  But we think he will be able to in time.  When he does, look out.  This kid is marked for greatness the same way Roger was, which might be their greatest commonality.  That, and his ability to put points together, which might even be a stronger skill set than Roger’s, especially pre-prime, have us very high on one handed tennis again, which as any purist understands, is the most dynamic and talent affirming style there is, and which is noticeably absent from the game these days due to the game’s over-homogenization at the hands of safe baseliners, safe baseline coaching, clay, slow hardcourts, and thick grass.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/australia-plexicushion-bad-for-tennis-the-state-of-one-handers-and-the-game/

If you’re wondering about Djokovic going out so early at a Masters Level tourny, recall that Querrey got him at the Paris Indoor, which there was no shame in, considering that Djokovic rebounded by claiming his 2nd career Year End Championship title.  The last time it happened at a Masters Level tourny on clay?  Date back to 2006 when Federer took out a very green Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo.  Speaking of dating…

Unknown-1Yes, that is Dimitrov with “serious girlfriend” and career slam champion Maria Sharapova.

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federer_nadal_indian_wells_sferturi_finalaThe 2 fair haired boys (above) are back at each other in Indian Wells.

BNP PARIBAS @ Indian Wells — Men’s Quarter-final (Approx. 10 PM EST)

Roger Federer:  – 140

Rafael Nadal:  + 110

…….
The h2h is still grizzly (Nadal, 18-10), which won’t be helped by Nadal’s precarious nature, because we don’t really see him making it too deep at the events where Federer can make headway in the h2h.  Just like when Roger was king, and he’d lose to Nadal at 2 Masters Finals and the RG Final every year–his reward for constantly going so deep–while Nadal hid from Roger at the events where Roger has a surface edge, like Cincinnati (where they’ve never met), the USO (where they’ve never met), and indoors (where they’ve only met 4 times and only at the YEC).

Tonight’s match, should Nadal keep his appointments, will be the 1st in the matchup since Key Biscayne in 2004 when the players have met before the semi-finals, and only the 2nd time ever.  Frankly, after watching Nadal handle Federer in Melbourne last year on Plexcushion (a 2nd terrible defeat against Nadal at Oz), we were shocked to see Federer have such an easy time with Nadal, when he beat Nadal 6-3, 6-4 here at Indian Wells.  Especially surprising also considering that in 2011 on a similar court with similar if not the same weather conditions–cool and windy–Nadal gave Federer what was probably the worst hard court loss he has ever suffered (6-3, 6-2 with a 62-39 edge on points).

But really, that was Rafa at his all time best, not too far removed from completing the career slam, and this is not.  Obviously Nadal is not himself, and any time when that’s the case, we’d favor Federer in the matchup.  Though Federer didn’t look all that hot himself in fending off Stan the Man last night.  Federer said that he and Nadal both “have issues” at the presser today.  Federer seems to have a lingering back issue that a lot of guys are speculating about.  We heard some good conjecture from we think Mark Knowles, who claimed that Roger is hampered, from what he can tell, on overheads and stretches.  But like the great Johnny Mac likes to say, the Fed back is an injury that hurts way more when he is losing.  We recall the whispers about Fed’s back within 48 hrs of the great man laying absolute waste to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at Wimbledon, 2012.  Federer, a picture of health usually, has shown a tremendous ability to shake off back problems, which while they do nag, they have not proven degenerative.  And then you kind of say ‘well Roger doesn’t seem too bothered’ when he goes out and plays well, because unlike some, Roger has not spent his career whining about injuries.  Then Roger will lose to a Berdy or Soderling or Tsonga and suggest that he wouldn’t have lost if the back were not a factor.

For us, we see it as pride before the fall.  We don’t think Roger played hungry tennis against Soderling (RG, 2010) or Tsonga at SW-19 in 012, and against power players like that, the great man hasn’t looked good.  Sure, eventually a guy like Berdych is going to win a night match on Ashe and eventually Federer is going to lose one.  But the power is a problem, and seems to be Roger’s worst one, especially when really taking apart the recent losses and all the trouble he’s had with guys like Berdych and Del Potro, who serve big and who can control the baseline.  We don’t see it as as great a problem on quicker surfaces, then again, we didn’t think Dubai was that slow.  We didn’t think London was that slow at the YEC or any of the back end spots where DP got him at the end of 2012.

So we don’t actually see Nadal as the great threat to Federer he’s always been, and we won’t either, until or unless Nadal finds a way to make his legs his biggest weapon again.  Especially on a clay like surface as bad as this one.  Until that day, Federer has a more comfortable matchup here, back willing.

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Unknown-2

The 2 best players from Spain, David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal (above).

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Doug Adler had said it, and we all had to be thinking it, that if Nicolas Almagro was ever in position to pull the upset and grab a W against Nadal, then last night was the night.  Almagro is very comfortable on the Acapulco clay, is a two time past champion, and of his 12 titles and 6 runner-ups, all have come on clay.  Almagro has hardly looked better than this year, in which he made the quarters in Melbourne and has gotten his ranking all the way up to #9.  And Nadal has hardly looked worse.  We do not care that he is 12-1.  He isn’t playing clean tennis, he’s laboring, and guys at least have a chance against him, and they can feel it.  Almagro had his crack, with a break point/set point while up 5-4 in the 1st.  Almagro has a greatly bolstered chance there last night if he gets up 1-0 in sets.  Then again, the absolute gutless wimp that he is, he’d probably blow that, the way he blew that break point, the way he blew that 2 sets and a break lead over Ferrer in Melbourne, the way he usually blows all of his chances in non 500 level clay events.  But the match was competitve, and really, if you are apologizing or excuse making for Rafa right now, as so many are, the bottom line is this: he is no longer unbeatable on clay.  Novak Djokovic much be licking his chops thinking about that first RG title and the completion of the career slam, which we bet he can just about taste.

If Almagro is gutless then countryman David Ferrer is the opposite.  Ferrer, who gutted out the win against Almagro, when he pulled that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide routine in the Melbourne quarters, did what he has to do sometimes to win.  He hung in until the choke light turned on in Almagro’s cabin.  Ferrer, an absolute beast of a competitor, played one of the worst matches of his career last May, in losing to Nadal in a meek 3 sets at Roland Garros, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.  It’s not often that a Ferrer makes a major semi, and to get bounced so unceremoniously was a big disappointment.

We don’t see how that wouldn’t be on Ferrer’s mind tonight.  Like with Almagro last night, you have to wonder if Ferrer doesn’t beat Nadal in this spot, will he really ever?  Ferrer trails the h2h 16-4 and has lost 12 out of the last 13 matchups in the rivalry.    Tonight’s odds:

Abierto Mexicano Telcel (Alcapulco, Mexico) — Men’s Final

David Ferrer:  + 165

Rafael Nadal:  – 210

……….

Though the matchup has been a nightmare for Ferrer of late, he does hold two important distinctions against Nadal.  He has beaten him on clay, though not since 2004, and he is the only guy aside from Federer, Djokovic, and Murray to defeat Nadal twice in a major (2011 Aussie, 2007 USO).

We think Ferrer has a healthy shot here.  Ferrer has made a living off of the South/Central American clay court swing in his career.  He’s the defending champ and he is a flat out great early season player.  We respect Ferrer’s game.  For a guy 5’9, he absolutely gets everything out of his ability.  For a grinder, we respect the way he does not cede his spot right on the baseline, rather than floating well beyond the court like Nadal.  Much harder to hit the ball early, on the rise, like Ferrer does, than to do what Nadal does.  And Nadal looks kind of gimpy.  The 25 second rule is obviously bothering him, a strange timeout after set one last night has us wondering, and Nadal is out of shape, as evidenced by the amount he is sweating, which seems unnatural.

While the 2 are friends, we sense a serious distaste for Nadal’s routines with Ferrer, who is a fierce competitor.  We know for a fact that Nadal’s pre-match routines, jogging around the court, and aligning the bottles, irk Ferrer.  We also feel that Ferrer likes to play fast and Nadal slow, and that Ferrer doesn’t always think Nadal is playing up to the speed of the server in return games.  These are some interesting side stories going into tonight’s match.  As is also the line, which is notoriously low for Rafa on clay, which tells us that Vegas doesn’t believe in him very much right now.

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imagesJustin Gimelstob (above, r.), who went big time, with sickening Jay Leno.

We did not think Rafael Nadal played very well in his much ballyhooed return to the tour on South American clay, as we watched him labor to beat Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-3 in a mid round match.  The score line may suggest relative ease, but that wasn’t the case.  The match took 1:31, a long time for a match to go in which you only drop 5 games, and Chardy had plenty of chances to make it even closer.  The rallies were long–too long for Nadal who is still out of shape–and Nadal drifted well beyond the baseline, practically playing many strokes with his back against the back wall.  And then there was the stalling.  Nadal was called, given warnings, for not serving within the allotted 25 seconds, which frankly, is always there when Nadal plays but seldom called.

A lot is being made over Nadal’s win in the final last weekend in Brazil over David Nalbandian, but one day before, Nadal was mere points away from being eliminated, down a set and fighting for his life in the second set breaker.  And that was against world # 91, poor man’s journeyman Martin Alund, who is now 27 and has zero titles in zero finals made.  We’d say that Nadal does not look good here in this return, and that had he returned for the Australian Open, he would have probably had a bad showing.

We were all over Justin Gimelstob that week on Twitter in the first week of Nadal’s return in Chile at Vina Del Mar, with good reason.  Gimelstob, a Nadal sycophant, seemed to have a list of Nadal talking points he wanted out there, which we have no doubt came from the star himself.  Like how Gimelstob urged that the chair use discretion when calling the time code, and how people were wrong to assume Nadal was stalling because of his knees when he routinely abuses the code as ritual, because Nadal likes to, as he explained, ‘really think through strategy between points.’

Really?  Because a guy that misses 7 plus months due to injury and who has chronic knee problems which have kept him out of 3 majors since 2009, would really raise the ire of an announcer when it is suggested that he stalls because the guy is lame?  By the way, we find Nadal’s one more ball back/heavy topspin forehand to backhand strategy completely simplistic and elemental, and the suggestion that Nadal is doing all of this thinking is insulting to us as real fans.  Especially when we feel that enforcing the time code is an important step that the chair has made collectively to improve the game.  Really, who in the game does not enforcing the code help other than Nadal?

Then you had Gimelstob state that Nadal is “one of the best doubles players in the game”, which, when considering the disservice that playing doubles at IW did to his career to follow, and how Gimelstob lauded Nadal for winning there, conveniently omitting the fact that Nadal has not even set foot on a hardcourt since, is questionable at best.  Nadal is a very talented doubles player, and we’ll not argue that.  But doubles has decimated Nadal, as has Plexicushion, and for everyone to pretend this is not the case for the sake of a constant Nadal love fest is disgraceful.  As is Nadal for missing a major in order to practice on clay instead, though if again, he is shaky on clay, it does not bode well for the rest of his game.  It’s nice that Nadal, at the age of 25, has finally figured out that Plexicushion is ruining him, but to say he’s needed a brick to fall on his head in order to realize as much would seem totally accurate.  It would also be nice if a high profile commentator like Gimelstob, who was himself an attacker, would acknowledge that Nadal’s constant grinding, inability to hit winners consistently, and necessity for long points has been essentially Nadal both living and dying by the same sword.  This is where we feel Gimelstob, who burst on the scene as a big time commentator due to his honesty and unabashed enthusiasm for the sport, has taken a back seat in recent months to announcers like legends John McEnroe, Boris Becker, and Jim Courier, who we thought for a while he was set to surpass.  What Gimelstob should have said was that Nadal’s doubles prowess has come at the expense of his singles career, because his job is to do more than throw out hollow platitudes, by offering more substantial commentary to the hardcore fans who are watching match to match on The Tennis Channel.  Because what match in, match out fans of the game are really sitting there marveling at Nadal’s doubles ability in the wake of him missing the entire US Open, Indoor, and Australian seasons, when the guy has zero doubles majors to his credit?  What a John McEnroe does in providing meaningful commentary is to point out that Nadal’s excellent hands at net, which he seldom showcases in singles, could be a boost to his longevity and might serve to prevent him from breaking down so much if he could find a way to be more intrepid.

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But therein lies the rub with Gimelstob, who, we assume in his role as an official ATP guy, is looking to divorce himself from controversial, i.e. honest stances.  Guys like Nadal and Murray, who are talented net players, but who only approach net a handful of times per match have essentially rendered that skill moot by way of ignorance, and so wouldn’t it be more relevant for him to talk about why these guys would squander such ability due to under use?  Instead, we hear Gimelstob pushing Nadal’s agenda, which is to suggest the YEC be played on clay, rather than questioning Murray’s lack of initiative, we hear him talking all about Murray’s new apartment in London.

A guy like Boris Becker, who shoots straight as an arrow, has even been heard to criticize the great Roger Federer.  Martina Navratilova, as solid in the booth as they come, has panned players like Murray and Wozniacki, labeling their failures and the correlation to passive play as “the same old story.” She has labeled Nadal’s injury woes as “the same old story.”  These announcers have done something serious by denouncing the style of play, and in Nadal’s case, have connected the style of play with the physical toll, which Gimelstob disservices us by failing to admit exists.

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https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/as-1-wozniacki-is-done-see-camel-toe-shot/

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Gimelstob doesn’t have the star power that they do, making honesty all the more precious a commodity for him, though he has definitely lost it along the way somewhere.  In fact, upon reflection, we’re happy that we were not subjected to this type of hack announcing from Gimelstob, who was noticeably absent from the AO ESPN mix channels coverage.

So Nadal plays perhaps his worst match on clay ever in that final and loses in a 3rd set breaker to Horacio Zeballos, then around world #73, and it is obvious to any true fan of the game that this is not the same indestructible clay court Nadal we have come to expect.  Gimelstob essentially tiptoed around the issue, another real disservice, we thought, to the tennis world.  As it would be to play the YEC indoors on clay, as indoor clay is the height of tacky, the most bush league a move there is, reserved for clay court specialist team tennis nations and the Porsche Cup at Stuttgart, which is a high quality surface in exactly zero arenas, and in most cases, is just clay heaped carelessly atop a hard wood, like the surface upon which John Isner, who we don’t see ever beating Roger Federer on an outdoor clay court, upset Roger Federer in Fribourg in February of 2012.  And frankly, we recall Federer’s back tightening up in that match, which we attributed to traction issues.

The next week, Nadal is set to play doubles with Nalbandian, and withdraws due to “knee overuse.”  The finals loss and the subsequent doubles withdrawal, coupled with the fact that playing doubles helped put Nadal in this predicament in the first place, was a huge tennis story, and we commend honest reporting like Matt Cronin’s, who was all over the withdrawal, calling it one of the strangest bits of phraseology he could ever remember regarding injury/non injury propaganda.  But then Nadal goes on to win Brazil despite the showing against Alund, which now seems a non a issue.

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Today the story broke on Twitter regarding Nadal skipping Indian Wells, which Nadal already refuted, since putting out a statement through his camp that he ‘intends to play.’  Nadal has not played on hardcourts since IW in 2012, and at this point in the season he is usually playing on hards, but obviously this year he has played exclusively on clay.  If he missed a major where he was a defending finalist, why would he risk playing at IW in the Masters Series, with relatively little at stake besides points?

We think Nadal is playing coy when he says he ‘intends to play.’  We think he said he intended to play Melbourne, and how’d that turn out?  It seems to us that Nadal is trying to pull it together to play the soft court season only, and that like last season, he will barely keep it together through Wimbledon.

What would Gimelstob think of that?  We think we know already,though we don’t expect him to tell the truth.  We think Gimelsob is, at this point, resigned to seeing Nadal on a limited basis, and that he feels a little Rafa is better than none, which is probably why he has been on the shill for a clay court YEC.  One thing you can’t fault Gimelstob for is wanting Nadal back at a high level, as it is good for the sport, which is why we are always outraged when players who can go skip majors, as we do not think that is good for the sport or show’s the proper respect to the majors that they deserve.  Instead of getting together with Nadal to disseminate propaganda, Gimelstob and Nadal should deliver the bad word about Plexicushion and other soft hards, which beat the hell out of the players worse than anything, while promoting bland, timid, reaction tennis and one dimensional defensive style tennis.  Since Roger Federer has already announced that he will skip Key Biscayne and it’s tacky, bland, frustrating Defense Pro soft hardcourt, which frankly, we feel plays worse than fucking Lenglen and Philippe Chatrier.

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Down Under, the Bryan brothers won their 6th Aussie doubles crown, with a straight sets win, 6-3, 6-4 over Robin Haase and Igor Sjisling.  On their illustrious careers, they now have 13 major titles, 4 more than the magical American team of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, who had 9 major titles with one another.  While we don’t always have the same respect for the Aussie titlist in singles, because of the surface usually, and because we are old school, and we just don’t weight as heavily the Australian Open as we do the majors, as far as the ranks within the majors go.  But doubles is different entirely.  In team tennis, what doubles is, you are not going to have a great chance if you are not synched up and in tune with your partner, and even then, there are no guarantees.  What makes doubles so interesting, among other things, is that it is still very much bang bang tennis–short rallies, true attack tennis, net play–and as synched as you are, the opponents may just be better that day, you lose, even if your name is Serena and that’s it.

Or, you might throw 2 guys together and they might even be baseliners or less bold players, like Bellucci/Paire and they me playing Rojer/Qureshi, 6th seeds who are heavily favored, and for most of the match you are shaking your head at how Bellucci is killing his team, like at the AO 3rd round men’s, and then Bellucci pulls it together for a few games late, and Quereshi and Rojer, a major calibre team, is going home.  Doubles is interesting for so many reasons, and therefore, we must cherish how much doubles we get on those mix channels at major time.  When else is it even televised?  All these tour stops now between the AO and RG, we will be lucky to catch a handful of doubles finals on TTC in all those months, and yet I have just seen TTC air 6 Destination Tennis episodes since last night, all previously aired heavily.  You’d think The Tennis Channel could throw a doubles match in once in a while, but since they aren’t even willing to send a broadcast team to road Davis Cup ties, these reasons come up when one inevitably call TTC a second rate network.

The Bryans have always been good players.  They were both top 100 singles players, if not actually then certainly potentially, but they choose doubles and focused on it, and obviously America is lucky they did.  I thought both played singles very offensively, and with improved conditioning, could have played that way well enough to see some singles success.  For the Bryans to be this good, this in step, well, obviously it has been a labor of love, but yes, a labor.  Nothing gets this good without planning and coordination, and work.  Winning 6 AO’s, more or less the first real high stakes tennis of the year, when it might be even harder to be at your best because of a lot of poor conditions, from heat to surface/injury problems, and because most teams have yet to get in step, and find that groove ultimately necessary for big things to happen.  Even the Williams sisters slipped up Down Under, giving the very good team of Errani/Vinci (one handers holla) life, enough for them to get in step and hand the Williams’ a very rare defeat.  Rarers so is the Bryans losing in doubles in DC, where they are 20-2 in their careers, essentially losing twice now over 2 decades, and providing the true linch pin that America owes at least a healthy amount of whatever success they have in Davis Cup to.

Both the Bryans play one handed tennis, they are expert at net, and really, magicians.  They are the most unheralded athletes perhaps anywhere.  And today they play a very good team of Melo/Soares for Brazil, on a fast American court, in a Davis Cup tie, which is really the truest form of doubles left today, where you must win 3 sets.  Only the French Open and US Open are left as majors where teams need to even win 2 sets out of 3, as now we are seeing, even at majors, these 10 point mini deciding sets.  Puke.  At least Wimbledon is still pure, best of 5 set tennis.

Do yourself a favor and tivo the Bryans today at 2 PM.  There’s no excuse for not doing so if you really love tennis.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

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2013 Australian Open Men’s Final, January 27th 2013

Novak Djokovic:  – 220

Andy Murray:  + 170

……….

Djokovic leads the h2h 10-7, and defeated Murray here in the 2011 final and the 2012 semi-final in 5 sets.  Djokovic holds an 8-6 lead on hard courts.  Murray holds a 4-3 lead in finals though, with one of the wins coming on a 2nd set retirement by Djokovic in Cincinnati, 2011.  In major finals, they have split two meetings, with Murray winning the last to take the 2012 US Open.  They have each taken one five setter from the other, both last year (SFs @ Melbourne, USO F).

While we like Djokovic, it would be hard to argue that Murray is not a good bet at (+170).  By making the semis, Djokovic has guaranteed that he’ll retain the world’s top spot on Monday.  If Djokovic wins, he will become the first player in the modern era to win 3 successive Aussie crowns.

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Roger-Federer-and-Andy-Mu-001Roger Federer (above) holds the Australian Open trophy for the 4th time, while a teary eyed Murray composes himself in the background.

Australian Open Men’s Semi-Final — January 25th, 2013

Andy Murray:  – 145

Roger Federer:  + 115

__ __ __ __ __ __

Australian Open Women’s Final — January 26th, 2013

Victoria Azarenka:  – 145

Na Li:  + 115

……

Tomorrow morning at around 5 AM, Roger Federer and Andy Murray will do battle for the twentieth time, with the winner either having the opportunity to be the first man to go from zero to two majors consecutively, or looking to boost his record major count to a total of 18.  The match will be the 2nd ever between them in Australia, and the third on Plexicushion, with Federer memorably winning the last, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11), and leaving the once petulant Briton in a wake of tears (Murray won their first Plexicushion tilt in 3 sets on Indian Wells purple goo in 2009).  It will be the 18th matchup between the men played on hard courts, where Murray holds a 9-8 lead at the moment.

We must say we are a bit surprised at these odds, which in defiance of the established norm, do not seem to be giving too much credit to Federer or Azarenka, who we feel should be clear favorites here.  We always bring it up, when Roger is a dog, that it’s really rare to lay a bet on Roger when he has a plus by his name.  As far as we can tell, international action is dictating these lines, as what smart bettor is really going to lay 145 units to win 100 on Andy Murray?  And who is likely to bet against Azarenka on Plexicushion, on which she did not lose last year or this year, for that matter, defaulting to Serena in Hobart because of the toe injury?

Na Li no doubt has received a good deal of respect for her drubbing of Sharapova last night.  That may have been the best match she’s ever played, truth be told.  But tennis is in the matchups.  We think Murray and Li will both have a bit of a different experience as the competition jumps up a few levels, as it has.  Li no doubt came to play, and most impressively, she gave Sharapova nothing to work with last night, because we’re sure if given an opening, the battler she is would have made it more of a contest.  But to look at Sharapova’s body of work here and get too crazy head over heels for it, when she played nobody but a sub prime Venus Williams, would be a mistake.  We suspect that when Venus gets to her see again, as she continues her comeback from Sjogren’s, it will play out differently.

As it would also be a mistake, to look at Murray’s body of work like that, after he waltzed through a collapsed draw.  Murray was greatly aided en route to the semis by the upsets of Cilic and Del Potro, something Federer has not benefited from, as Roger has so far beaten 5 top 50 opponents, and is attempting to be the first man to win a major when beating 7 top 50 opponents since he did it in 2010.  Just like Federer’s timing was affected by not playing Mardy Fish at the USO in the Round of 16, and not getting in his regular match play, Murray should be affected by not having played anyone good.  We thought Gilles Simon might give him a tussle the other night but when we put it on, we concluded after one shot–a forehand slice into the net–that alas he would not.  May have helped Murray to miss Monfils as well, who probably wouldn’t have beaten him but who always exacts a toll.  On his opponents and himself.

As much as tennis is matchups, it is also timing.  Federer has never lost to Murray at a major because, in large part, he makes Murray work so hard to hold serve, and on his own serve, he has staples to win him points that Murray does not.  Federer’s timing is peak right now, easily seen by how easily he is hitting the one handed backhand, how many points he’s winning on return of serve, and how sharp his forehand has been.  If your timing is bad, the one hander won’t work.  You also won’t be dialed in on returns.  And as many announcers have pointed out throughout the fortnight, Federer is giving himself plenty of margin on the forehand, content to go for lethal combinations, as he is obviously very comfortable on the court.  The other day Roger out aced Raonic, while only allowing the boy something like 6 of 60 baseline points.  Murray is going to have to win about 60% of the baseline points to win.  We don’t like his chances.

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We also feel like Federer is heavily motivated.  He was obviously unhappy with the conclusion of his year.  He was very unhappy about losing 3 of the last 4 matches he has played to Del Potro, even suggesting at the YEC that his team was being out coached by DP’s team.  Because of the schedule, he had much less rest than Djokovic, having to play 3 matches in the last 5 days there, and losing out on his quest to defend the YEC, a trophy he covets.  We know that Roger worked very hard in the off season.  Unlike Murray, who made his workouts public to a group of British tennis reporters, clowning around on Miami Beach, Federer kept his routines highly guarded.  Roger has heard a lot about Murray of late.  He is relishing his underdog role, savoring it.  We expect him to be very tough in this spot.  Also, and of no small consequence, Roger has played most of his matches in Melbourne this year at night.  He has become very comfortable with the night conditions, whereas Murray has played in the day light most of the way.  Federer is well aware that he lost both of his last 2 semi-finals here, and has adjusted accordingly, we think.  We expect classic Roger here.  That means a strong start.  We also expect the crowd to be in Roger’s favor, which was not the case at the Olympics, and which gave Murray a considerable boost.  Slightly faster Plexicushion also aids Federer, who had no real problem with Murray here in 2010 on the slower track.

In the h2h matchup between Li and Azarenka, Vica leads 5-4 and has won 4 straight.  Azarenka defeated Li at the YEC in Istanbul to end 2012, and won their last matchup on Plex, which was last year in Sydney.  But Li is the last player to beat Azarenka in Melbourne, eliminating her in 3 sets in 2011, which puts the match in an interesting light.  We’re sure that Azarenka hasn’t forgotten.  She’d be a fool to let a pass a golden opportunity to grab a major without having to go through Serena.  And maybe Plexicushion is to thank for that, as Serena would surely have won if the back and ankle were unhindered.

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We think a Roger-Azarenka ticket is the way to go.  The only way.  Then again, we’re frequently wrong.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

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