Boris Becker


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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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.

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

The injured leg of Andrew McDougall (above), who was essentially recklessly kicked by David Nalbandian.

David Barbarian, um, Nalbandian, while up a set in the AEGON Final at Queen’s Club, in frustration at having been broken in the 7th game of the second set by Marin Cilic, kicked a wooden Nike placard that covered the feet of the line judge, drawing blood on the left shin of bewildered line judge Andrew McDougall, when that wooden placard crashed into his leg.  For any Nalbandian apologists that exist, and there should be few, especially considering the hell Serena is subjected to whenever she has an outburst, we would ask how they could explain away the following video:

Obviously Nalbandian tried to argue that he thought the Nike placard was moored, but with McDougall sitting directly behind it, feet probably touching it, we can not except that rationale.  Whatever happened to throwing your racquet?  Since when are guys kicking things?  It seems that this is something we can only credit to Nalbandian, who in all our years of watching tennis, is the only guy we have ever seen get disqualified in such a manner, for drawing blood to an official.  Let alone, in the final at the once very prestigious Queen’s Club, which used to be frequented by Nadal and Djokovic, but which this year barely pulled 3 players from the top 10 (Murray, Tsonga, Tipsarevic).  Even when our boy John McEnroe flipped out and smacked a cooler of Gatorade which spilled on the King of Sweden, he wasn’t DQ’ed.  Some thought that was funny.  Today’s incident was in no way funny at all.

While we can think of 8 tremendous #1’s who’ve won here (Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Lendl, Roddick, Hewitt, and Nadal), 7 of which are Wimbledon champions, we’d have to say that the club is at a low point, as should be David Nalbandian after that act of savagery.  People in tennis definitely took note of world #2 Rafael Nadal’s decision to play Gerry Weber at Halle this week, the first time he had ever committed to a grass court event outside of Merry Olde.  Queen’s has looked completely drab since losing Stella Artois as a sponsor a few years back, and if you are watching Halle, where the main court is state of the art, complete with a retractable roof which slid closed when the sky greyed on Saturday in seconds, you’d have to say that Halle is the superior production.

Having Raonic, Nadal, Federer, and Berdych, among others doesn’t hurt, but the quality of the environment is obviously a factor in why people are playing Halle over Queen’s, when Halle was widely considered the inferior week to Queen’s until now.  From what we can see, the courts seem quicker at Halle as well, which, for tennis purists and grass court fanatics like us, means that for a rare week we get to see classic bang bang tennis, with more balls being taken directly out of the air.  It’s also nice to see a court where the ball stays low, allowing dynamic one handers like Federer, Haas, and Kohlschreiber to do damage on the backhand wing.

Halle had a magical week, featuring Federer-Raonic III, which was again decided by a third set breaker, and really, hinged once again on the scantest of margins, a mini break to Federer, who had really not managed a thing on Raonic’s first serve again.  We’re not surprised.  You know how we feel about the kid.  As for Roger losing to Tommy Haas today, we are very surprised.  Federer has looked listless in finals here in recent years, also very uncharacteristically losing to Lleyton Hewitt in 2010.  Seemed like he put the cart before the horse today, a day after blistering Mikhail Youzhny, and looking quite like the old champ.

But the result at Halle, with Haas, an exciting grass courter and dynamic player, returning to form is great for the game.  Unlike at Queen’s, where Nalbandian acted reprehensibly.  And for that matter, the British crowd, who applauded him, after a weak apology.  Sure, they wanted to see more tennis and that is understandable, but once that match is called, how can you applaud a guy who injures an innocent?

And how does Nalbandian pull this stunt up a set?  Complete disgrace.  We’d like to know why the tennis world is so silent on this debacle in its wake this evening?  Nalbandian should be suspended for Wimbledon.  The ATP is sending the wrong message if they allow him to play.

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

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (above).

Queen’s Club Mens Final

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 290

Andy Murray:  – 380

 

Gerry Weber Mens Final (Halle, Germany)

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Philipp Kohlschreiber:  – 155

Philipp Petzschner:  + 125

 

Eastbourne Ladies Final

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Sabine Lisicki:  + 130

Daniela Hantuchova:  -160

Best for first.  You’d have to love, as do we, Andy Murray, soldiering on with torn ligaments in his ankle, knowing full well he can’t miss the grass season without a polite British revolt, and after working out some problems earlier in the week, he thrashed Andy Roddick today, and maybe had the best serving day of his career.  High praise.  Not that Roddick played nearly sharply or aggressively to win.  But Tsonga is who we are interested in here.  He’s a good value at + 290.  Tsonga is an attacker and he had Nadal confounded on Friday, and then took care of the other local, James Ward, who was vying to make Queens an all English affair.  In straights.  If Murray is laying the ball out there in Tsonga’s strike zone, then he is going to play well.  Murray needs to return very well tomorrow.  Grass is perfectly suited to Tsonga’s game, and this is the best we’ve seen him look on the surface.  A win for Murray would make for his second grass title and his 2nd at Queens, where he defeated James Blake in 2009.

Kudos to the Germans who will be getting an all German affair at Halle, after the 2 Philipp’s both won today as dogs.  Kohllschreiber, an upset specialist who narrowly lost this title to Federer a few years back, stuck it to a broken down Gael Monfils.  Wimbledon doubles champ Philipp Petzschner, a late bloomer, and a very intriguing talent, especially on grass, whom John McEnroe has described as having a “perfect” service motion, should play some very entertaining tennis.  Gun to our heads, we’d probably take PK.

As for the ladies, again, kudos to Germany.  Good to see Sabine Lisicki beat that chubby, wretched double hander on bothh wings, Peng Shuai.  Lisicki gets Hantuchova in the final, who we hate hate hate as a favorite.  We thought Ivanovic, who served great this week, a great sign, would pull through in her first semi of the year, but unfortunately it was not to be.  Still, her stock is up, and we like her game much better on fast courts than on clay, where she won the French once upon a time.  We wouldn’t be surprised if Ivanovic gets her act back together this summer.  Taking nothing away from Hantuchova, who played a great match, but the ugly two fisted swinging backhand volleys?  Bad tennis.  Hantuchova, for a usually well ranked gal, doesn’t win hardware much.  Keep it in mind.

BTW, Andy Murray will be breathing some rarefied air with a win tomorrow, joining Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as 2 time winners at Queens.  John McEnroe, Lleyton Hewitt, and Andy Roddick are 4 time winners, and Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors have won there 3 times.

Stay glued to The Tennis Channel starting bright and early for all 3 finals.

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

The rising sun, Canadian phenom Milos Raonic (above).

Beating Michael Llodra at the Australian Open in 3 straight, tight sets does not necessarily make us stand up and take notice of a guy.  The Frenchman Llodra, a nice player with good hands and a nice one hand backhand, has squeezed a lot out of his slight frame, and probably had over-achieved to get his ranking up to the mid twenties, his seedline in Melbourne.  Beating Bjorn Phau in round one, in a match by the same score, also doesn’t wow us.  And then we laid our own eyes on the stunning talent that is Montenegran born Canadian Milos Raonic, who we will once again say, without hesitation, is the best player under 25 in all of North America.  Soon he will hold that title without the age qualifier, as Raonic out played the current “title holder”, Andy Roddick, a few weeks back in Memphis in the final of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championsips, and Roddick was lucky to get out alive.

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Back to Australia.  Devoted Nadal haters that we are, we were hoping to see flat ball wizard Mikhail Youzhny and tenacious Spaniard David Ferrer battle it out in the round of 16 for the right to play Nadal.  Both guys have given Nadal problems in majors on hardcourts, and Ferrer is still the only guy to beat Nadal at a major after dropping the first set.  Youzhny had to do his part first.  Raonic, Youzhny’s 3rd round opponent, did his part better.  The kid who had played only a handful of pro tournaments on the main tour, who had never played a major, smoked Youzhny in 4 sets behind the livest serve we’ve seen on a 20 year old since Pete Sampras, a solid forehand, a deadly 2-handed backhand which he takes early and wreaks havoc with, and a beautiful transition game and gifted hands at net.  By the way, the transition game, from baseline to net, by far the most neglected skill among the homogenized legions of boring baseline hackers that now define tennis, and which separates Raonic, among other things, has obviously gotten a big assist from Raonic’s coach, Spaniard Galo Blanco, who is also firmly on our radar.

Are we in love?  Well, you know our philosophical opposition to 2-handed backhands, but we’re willing to overlook it when we gaze upon this kid and the full glory of his talented game.  Ferrer, a gritty, all heart guy, ended Raonic’s Melbourne magic carpet ride in 4 sets in the round of 16.  But Raonic came through qualifiers down under, which meant he had to win 3 best of 5 set matches before the tournament began.  Ferrer was not his 4th opponent, he was his 7th, and still, it was a 4 set match that probably could have gone either way.  Translation: Ferrer, nor anyone else, is looking forward to their first, or next meeting with this young monster.

Not Roddick, who prounounced himself lucky after Memphis, and who showered praise upon his young opponent, admitting that Raonic had taken it to him.  Roddick was on the defensive all match, and literally pulled out passing shot after passing shot out of the clear blue sky to stave off Raonic.  Certainly not James Blake, who the kid destroyed, and who would say afterward of the kid, who hit 149 MPH on the gun, that he had played a lot in his time against Pete Sampras, Roddick, and once even had Sam Querrey jam 10 consecutive aces down his throat, still a record, and that Raonic serve popped like no other’s.

Certainly not Mardy Fish nor Fernando Verdasco wait in eager anticipation of their next tangle with the kid.  Raonic, stepping up to the plate in his first ever ATP final in San Jose against Verdasco, handled him in straight set tie-breakers.  Then, because of an asinine and archaic ATP rankings system, had the good fortune of facing Verdasco in the first round at Memphis a day and a half later.  Raonic, despite soaring up the rankings from world #209 in October, is now #37, but despite the meteoric rise, his ranking has not yet registered in terms of making the main draws at these events.  But the system that has seen Raonic either wildcard or qualify his way into all of these events where he is already the best power player, was a lot less kind to Verdasco, whom Raonic handled once again, this time allowing the Spaniard to have a set.

Mardy Fish?  He’s another top 15 guy who has now lost twice in a few weeks to Raonic.  The kid served Fish a loss in the semis at Memphis, paving the kid’s way to the finals, his second consecutive final, and the first man in eons to win his first ATP tour final and then to make another ATP final in consecutive weeks.  The first Canadian man to win an ATP singles title of any kind in more than 15 years.  The first Canadian man…stop.

If there’s a real deal type to come out of nowehre faster in this game, then I haven’t seen it since Boris Becker won Wimbledon as a 17 year old.  Last night, Fish, in heavy conditions, had been rolling on serve, taking some 89% of his first balls and cruising to easy holds, and the young tennis god was laboring, and had called the trainer to deal with his back/mid section.  After the timeout, Raonic dumped a few anxious forehands into the net to go down love-30.  They were less a product of his injury than the fact that the ball was moving so slow off Fish’s racquet on this horrible IW Plexipave Slow “hardcourt” that the fast reacting Raonic had too much time.  Not so for Mardy.

Without a really, really big television one couldn’t even really glimpse Mardy Fish while he returned Raonic’s serve, basically from the 2nd row, having conceded the entire court plus an extra 6-7 meters so that he could even lay a string on Raonic’s bombs.  It’s was a clinic for the kid–the injured kid–from there on out.  Raonic embarrassed Fish in 3 straight games to take the 1st set 7-5, and then made short shrift of Fish in the 2nd set, taking 9 of the last 13 games in total.  And Fish’s morale, to boot.  Fish, a guy who prides himself on getting to the net, could barely get near the baseline, and he put an abundance of balls into the bottom of the net and watched Raonic crack forehand and backhand winners at will, Federer like droppers that make you go “Ooooh!”, and of course, the almighty ace, which is the biggest staple of the kid’s game right now.

Tomorrow, barring Raonic being unable to walk, we’d look for him to carve up America’s best young almost 19 year old, Ryan Harrison, in what will be an ugly bloodbath for the American in all likelihood.  And then, in the round of 16, should Roger take care of business, is when we are sure to see the real fireworks.  Raonic, at 15-3 so far this season with 5 wins over top 15 players, versus Federer, who really has looked quite good this year, having a tournament victory in Doha, a major semi appearance, and just 2 losses on the resume, both to Novak Djokovic.

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A Chinese proverb states that it is far wiser to pay attention to the rising sun than the setting one, though we are not Roger fans of little faith.  Raonic does have a weakness in terms of the return game.  He has played an inordinate number of tie-breakers.  But if we’re crazy about Grigor Dimitrov at around world #75, and he does hit the beautiful one hander for us, then we have to be crazy about Raonic, who has powered through on slow clay like hardcourts during his meteoric rise to world #37.

Rising sun?  We’ll go with it, even if that seems a little quick to you from here.  But we can just imagine what he’s going to be like on real hardcourts (acrylic Decoturf and not this soft synthetic garbage) that actually play fast in the true tradition of the game, this summer in Cincinnati and New York.

Hell on earth.

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

Roger Federer’s beautiful one hand backhand (above).

“You don’t have that room for movement with the 2-hander that you do with the one hand.”–Martina Navratilova

–Crack