Cliff Drysdale

Stacey Gardner (left, above) and Ester Satorova.

Originally we were going to light up The Tennis Channel for it’s diminished coverage of our beloved Hopman Cup, which is a celebration of tennis, a multi-national competition sometimes decided by our dearly beloved mixed doubles–how novel–and the greatest of New Year’s pick me ups.  It is true that TTC only televised three sessions of the Hopman Cup, but in it’s quest to cover American tennis primarily, and with the blah team of Mardy Fish and Bethanie Mattek-Sands representing America, could we really blame them?  In this day and age, if you can’t find just about any tennis online live, you have no business criticizing the The Tennis Channel anyway.  But criticizing Fish and Sands?  That’s a cottage industry.

Well, if you hearken back to last year when John Isner–a winner–and Sands partnered up to win Hopman Cup XXIII, you couldn’t have been too displeased with Sands, who perhaps had no business tussling with Justine Henin, but who did pull her weight admirably in perhaps sharing with Isner in her greatest tennis glory.  And was it not a sight to see Justine Henin returning serve to John Isner?  Let’s face it, Sands is a middling player at best, a blight on our Fed Cup team, a high socked, neon dyed chubby little picture of bad fashion with the girliest popgun forehand in the women’s top 55, but she is not a disgrace to American tennis.  The girl gets doubles, understands well her limitations, and therefore uses the net, approaches as much as possible with nice touch at net, and again, she came through as much as one could expect her to last year to get USA her sixth Hopman Cup.

It’s not her fault that her meager game gets trotted out so regularly to horrible results by Mary Joe Fernandez.  That would be the USTA’s fault.  So when the Czech sounded the American death knell the other morning, and Sands got obliterated by Kvitova, as she should, and when Fish got abused by Berdych, as expected, we put no blame on Ms. Sands.  After all, the Americans were up a break in the second set of the mixed, and it was no fault of Sands that Mardy Fish blew about ten volleys in 4 games and netted four crosses in the exact same damned spot in the net.  As our mate Fred Stolle aptly pointed out, if Fish were tired from being beaten so badly by Tomas Berdych, that was not an excuse for dead legged tennis in the mixed, crossing like a kamikaze to blow volleys that the 12 year olds over at the NYJTL make regularly in the school yard.  Fred Stolle, who we only get down under and occasionally during mixed package major season, the first seven days of the majors, when we are very lucky.  Fred, why couldn’t you have stayed with ESPN back in the day and that hack Cliff Drysdale have gone?

Fish Fish Fish.  The worst thing anyone could possibly do is to put their faith in Mardy Fish in the big spot.  Now you might say, well, didn’t Fish win the bespeckled tennis ball with a driven Serena a scant few years back?  Yes.  But Serena is so great that she can make Mardy Fish a winner for a week, something we’ve yet to see anyone else do.  She carried Fish, she banged unreturnable serves to the men and women, and her presence on just about any doubles team has generally always produced medals and champion trophies.  It was lucky for Mardy that Serena likes bling so much, was healthy, and so motivated to get another blinged out tennis ball from old Lucy H.  For when Fish had the opportunity to take home the gold, he lost in five sets to…Nicolas Massu.  And he’ll never live that down.

And the excuses abound.  And that’s just tiresome.  Like hearing about Mardy Fish’s ankle all summer.  Let’s face it.  Nadal is more heavily taped up on a day to day basis by a lot, and he only wins majors.  While Fish is rationalizing to the cameras on Hopman Cup that at least Bethanie got in some matches.  Again, Sands is not the dominant player here.  When she won, it was Isner, and when Fish won, it was all Serena.  But can’t Fish state a grand intention for once, even if it’s only at Hopman Cup, where he is a past champion paired with the defending champion?  Instead it’s always like, ‘well maybe I can make the quarters.’

So we aren’t upset that America lost, considering the roster, and that so many other rosters were much much stronger.  Had a special eye on Bulgaria with our lad Grigor Dimitrov, the best up and coming one hander in the game, and Tsvetana Pironkova, Wimbledon’s mistress–quite a team.  BTW, Dimitrov did not look like a prodigy but rather, a prodigy realized, when he spanked Mardy Fish 6-2, 6-1.  Loved France with super talented one hander Richard Gasquet and two-hander Marion Bartoli, an utter hack but taken with Gasquet, a very diverse tandem.  And the Czech obviously were going to be heavy favorites because they were loaded, with Kvitova a given to win and Berdych sitting very pretty.  If the Americans could have actually stretched it out TTC would have shown us more tennis, but they still had the good grace to televise the final which we happened to catch last night at 4 AM, and despite the lack of drama due to the sweep and the no mixed match which would’ve been a hot contest, we got to see the dominant left hand of Kvitova, the dominant serve of Berdych, and the flair of Gasquet, one the game’s best shot makers.  Gasquet took the backhand early and made many beautiful backhands up the line, made incredible forehand return winners, making for a very interesting match which Berdych took 7-6 (7-0), 6-4.  Berdych is in fine form.  His return game was clicking, popping several huge forehands for winners in his own right, and even on the tacky blue plexicushion, we felt the indoor conditions made the court play extremely fast.  It was bang bang tennis, and both guys should get credit for going for shots, coming forward, and pursuing the attack.

A nice bit of warm spirit after the contest was when Bartoli came down to console Gasquet after the match, and when Kvitova came to congratulate and celebrate with Berdych.  This is a great competition and always has been, in the name of the great Harry Hopman who coached from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Gerulaitis, and who stressed the serve, the overhead, and getting to net and sticking your racquet out.  Unfortunately from a sentimental aspect, the event has had its last run at Burswood, but is sounds like the Hopman Cup is moving to an even better venue in Perth’s new arena.

It’s no real comfort to America, but Fish goes home with Stacey Gardner, so obviously these losses aren’t sweated too heavily.  And Berdych to Ester Satorova.  Damn.  We should’ve had a battle of the tennis babes featuring those two.  But there’s still time.

Crack (


Sam Querrey painted lines all day, as he aggressively attacked Andy Murray into submission.

Samurai Sam Querrey, on his Southern California home turf, successfully defended today as Farmers Classic champion, with an exciting victory over wild card entrant and top seed, world # 4, Andy Murray, on the campus of UCLA.  Querrey defeated Murray today for the first time in 5 tries, with his most recent loss coming in straight sets on the lawns at Wimbledon last month.  For Querrey, it was also the first time he took a set off Murray in the American’s career.

Querrey, America’s most successful male player this year to date, won his fourth tournament of the year and his 6th career title, and denied Murray his first title of the year in the process.  Murray, who is now 0-2 in finals this year (Farmers Classic, Australian Open), plays his best tennis on hardcourts but is always succeptible to the power game on fast hardcourts, which prevail at UCLA.

Querrey gutted out today’s win on the strength of big serves and huge forehands, and had a chance to make shorter work of Murray, as he found himself out to an early break lead in the first set.  Murray took the break back, and another, and found himself up a set.  But Querrey was not broken again in the match, taking Murray to a 2nd set tie break where he blitzed the hope of Britain.  To Pam Shriver’s credit, she called the result of the tie break, and her commentary has seemed to be very insightful, to the point where I may put her in the category of top tennis announcers with John McEnroe, Ted Robinson, Patrick McEnroe, Chris Fowler, and Mary Carillo, who I have not really loved of late but usually do.  Querrey then collected an early break in the third set, for a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory in 2 hours and 23 minutes.

To his credit Murray, in the words of Cliff Drysdale, “looked like a jackrabbit out there” and truly wanted this final, but big Sam Q kept on coming, despite Murray’s phenomenal defense.  Though Murray got a lot of balls back, in trademark fashion, Querrey dictated the match with his huge game.  Here on American hards, that now play the fastest of any surface, including grass, in my humble opinion, Querrey was able to finish off way more points and Murray, the “jackrabbit”, was not able to run them down for passing shots the way he did so many times in their Wimbledon quarter-final.  And far too many times did Murray have a short ball or off pace ball to work with, and did little with them.  He was hitting drop shots like he was on clay, but drop shots on this type of court turn into waist high forehands for Querrey.  It used to be a good play to try and draw Querrey in with a drop shot because he was uncomfortable at net–a few years ago.  Querrey has played a lot of doubles with John Isner of late, and his coordination is better developed.  Now, drawing in a guy who is 6’6 and can jump a little is a dumb tactic, unless Querrey is far back of the court, which is not usually where he is.  Still not the best volleyer, Querrey is extremely tough to pass.

As for Murray, this isn’t some case of Murray being more comfortable on grass, as is some people’s notion, that because he’s British and Wimbledon is in Britain, that he must be great on grass.  As a member of Britain’s Davis Cup team, he gets to play more matches and gets more practice time around SW-19 than just about anyone, but he definitely disappointed in semi-finals the past two years against Roddick and Nadal.  He is best on hards, which he has played on for his entire life.  Like so many foreign tennis kids, and domestic, for that matter, Murray moved to Florida as a youth to pursue his career.  When he was a little older, he began to split his training between Florida and Spain.  Speaking of Murray on clay, though he has spent a lot of time training in Spain on red clay, he isn’t the best mover on clay.  Surprising, considering his movement is his only real weapon, having an otherwise popgun game.  I’d also think that a guy like that could conquer such an inadequacy, the way that guys like Agassi and Courier did. 

The whispers on Murray are that he is lazy.  I’ve heard many rumors that Murray is a video game addict, and that it cuts down on his practice time, and may have cost him his relationship with girlfriend Kim Sears.

Sears (above).

I heard that Murray’s coach, Myles Maclagan, and Murray were at odds over how much time he devoted to Playstation.  Murray fired Maclagan earlier this week, citing Maclagan’s differences with Murray’s part time coach, former Spanish player, and a pretty good one, Alex Corretja.  But Murray, who hired Maclagan because he wanted a yes man, did not like when Maclagan tried to have a more active voice in regard to Murray’s training.  After Murray lost to Roddick at Wimbledon last year, Murray blamed Maclagan in the press conference afterward for not having scouted Roddick well.  That’s a ridiculous assertion, considering the 2 Andies have played 9 times, with Murray holding a 6-3 edge in the h2h.

Then Maclagan took issue with Murray’s training regimen when Murray famously took his act to South Beach to train for the hardcourt season last summer, boasting that he was acclimating himself to playing in conditions far more gruelling than Flushing.  Murray supposedly played tennis and ran 5 miles a day on the beach, but still managed to devote 7-8 hours to video games a day.

Since Murray already has the “finesse” coach, in Corretja, his next hire needs to be a guy who will beef up his serve, if possible, and get him into more of an aggressive mode.  His mentality is too passive, and that’s why he is always going to have a hard time on the prevailing surface of the tour with hot players whoo have big games–like Querrey.  Roddick’s coach, Larry Stefanki, who refused to coach Murray before he hired Maclagan because Murray did not call him personally, but rather had a lackey do it, said last year after Roddick’s defeat of Murray at Wimbledon that Murray will never realize his potential until he takes a more aggressive countenace.

And that’s not drop shotting Sam Querrey on hardcourts.  As for Sam, the world # 20 should move up in tomorrow’s new rankings.  An impressive week, winning 3 straight matches after losing the first set to keep his crown.  And mention should be made of Sam’s coach, David Nainken, who in addition to seeing Querrey into the top 20, has also coached and continues to coach Mardy Fish on to impressive accomplishments.

–Crack (