Craig Boynton

At the biggest hardcourt stop yet of this sumer’s Olympus Series, on the way to the US Open, it’s good to see aggressive players, young and old, bringing some much needed flair to the men’s game as the tour returns to the right type of hardcourt: Decoturf.  In action today are five one-handers, with 3 on the courts as we speak.  American James Blake (above), who dropped off the face of the earth in the last year and a half, is enjoying a surprising renaissance at the moment, leading former Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian 6-2, 1-0 (a break to the good already in the 2nd) taking that first set in a little more than 30 minutes.  Blake’s free swinging style and hard bang ball crushing are a bad matchup for Nalbandian, who tries to dictate without gving up much ground on the baseline with his 2-handed backhand.  Blake is a difficult guy to do so against because he hits with too much pace for Nalbandian not to give up some feet on the baseline.  If Blake is on, it is impossible for a tight two hander to take the ball early against him.  Blake doesn’t give them enough time.  That’s why Blake has given Nadal so much difficulty over the years, especially before Blake’s demise.

Fortunately for Blake, Nalbandian has suffered an injury related demise as well and seems to be struggling to regain his form.  Blake’s demolition at the hands of the almost unbeatable Novak Djokovic in Miami looked like a fait accompli for the once 2nd most talented player in the game.  Blake, complaining about tendinitis in his knee, mused aloud about retirement, and getting smoked by the Djoker in that manner made us wonder if hadn’t already retired mentally.  But Blake has was worked hard with new coach Craig Boynton, who has done wonders with Giant John Isner, and that hard work seems to be paying off right now.  You will remember that Blake, loyal to a fault, refused to fire his previous and one and only coach, Brian Barker, even as the wheels were coming off of his career.  Sometimes you have to change to grow though.  We are glad to see Blake, who is one of the best athletes on the tour when healthy, holding his serve and concentrating again on big points.  We consider Blake a young thirty and feel he can recapture some of the magic his enormous potential and natural ability holds.  Blake is now serving, up 3-2 in the 2nd set.  Go James!

Thirty-one year old Tommy Haas has had a very hard road back from a hip that effectively ruined his last year and a half on tour.  Since returning in April, Haas has shown flashes of the wealth of talent he possesses, but had only won one match, which came at Newport in July against countryman Michael Berrer.  In his next match, Haas was forced to retire down 5-2 in the 1st set.  Today Haas took out former American collegiate star and solid doubles player, Amer Delic, 6-2, 6-3.  Haas’s high risk, high reward style, which has seen him rise as high as world #2, making 4 major semi-finals (3 down under, 1 at Wimbledon), has been sorely missed.  Remember that Haas was only 5 points from closing out Roger Federer in the round of 16 at Roland Garros in 09, the year that Federer won the crown, and that Federer also defeated Haas in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, on his way to his last Wimbledon crown.  That year, Haas defeated Marin Cilic 10-8 in the 5th on the lawns in one of the most entertaining matches in recent memory, and then blitzed Novak Djokovic, upsetting the Serb star in the quarter-final round.

The Blake match is now final, with the American winning 6-2, 6-4 in 1:12.  Blake struck 7 aces and was not broken in the lopsided contest.  He will face the winner of Isner-Kamke, which is just under way, in the 4th round.  Tommy Haas will face another very talented one hander on the comeback trail in the second round, Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who upset Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr. at Wimbledon (we called it!).

Up and coming one handed Bulgarian prodigy Grigor Dimitrov just came through a few minutes ago against putrid American Tim Smyczek in a 3rd set breaker.  Dimitrov is a kid we’ve had our eyes on for a long time because we see him as having the most potential of any young one hander in the game.  Dimitrov, who has patterned himself after Roger Federer and who was coached by Roger’s same developmental coach, Peter Lundgren, broke into the top 60 for the first time this summer, and has risen relatively quickly in the last year after a rough first year on tour.  Dimitrov has yet to do much on hardcourts, and if he wishes to here, he will have to go through another talented one hander, Frenchman Michael Llodra, in the 2nd round.

Michael Berrer, German one hander, defeated refreshing Italian serve and volleyer Paolo Lorenzi in straights earlier and will face our favorite techno ace, Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the next round, with an opportunity to meet the Llodra/Dimitrov winner in the round of 16.  Big Aussie redheaded one handed serve and volleyer Chris Guccione has just gone to a decisive 3rd set with giant South African Kevin Anderson, a teammate of Amer Delic’s at Illinois.  Notable Americans Donald Young and Ryan Harrison, who is having an excellent summer so far, won their first round encounters as well. 

Crack (,

World # 19, American John Isner (above).

In what is truly a disappointing development for the tennis world, John Isner has pulled out of Pilot Penn due to a ligament tear that will likely keep the American out of the US Open, where he should have had his best chance at any major to excel. 

John Isner will likely be knocked out of the U.S. Open after he was diagnosed with ligament damage in his ankle, per Judy Murray (via the Tennis Reporters). Isner admitted as much over his own Twitter account, saying:

Ankle is worse than I thought. Need a miracle

Isner injured the ankle during his match against the resurgent David Nalbandian at the Cincinnati Masters last week. Isner was up 5-4 in the first set, serving for the set, when he landed awkwardly and twisting his right ankle. Isner was forced to retire from the match. Although Isner was initially hopeful that the injury would be similar to the one he suffered to his ankle last year that didn’t knock him out for very long, that does not appear to be the case now.

Bad news indeed for Isner, who memorably won the longest match in tennis history over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon.  That match left him empty in the tank for Thiemo DeBakker in the 2nd round, but Isner, overall, has done well at the majors this year, beating Gael Monfils down under in a great match, before bowing out to Andy Murray in the round of 16.  Isner also impressively won his first match ever at Roland Garros this year.

Last year, Isner upset American Andy Roddick famously in the third round of the US Open in a Saturday night feature match.  Chances are, he would have played doubles here with Querrey, making it a further blow to tennis fans. 

Here’s to a speedy recovery.

If there is a bright side, perhaps it’s that Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, who is also James Blake’s new coach, has more time to devote to the wayward star.

–Crack (

American Donald Young, up to # 105 in the world (above).

In an absolute clash of the titans yesterday in Atlanta, world # 94 Taylor Dent, defeated world # 115, “Where have you gone, James Blake?” Dent, who we have made fun of since the dawn of time, despite playing a style we admire, being the serve and volley dinosaur that he is.  The only problem is, you have to be good enough to pull it off.  And not just against the Ivan Navarros of the world. 

Dent, who looked fat at the US Open last year, made an improbable run to the third round at Flushing, and has also improbably won a round at each of the majors this year, including Roland Garros, where he had yet to win a match in his career.  All this a level of success that his opponent yesterday, James Blake could only dream of.  Blake has fallen off the face of the Earth since beating Roger Federer in 2008 at the Olympics in Beijing, and as a Blake fan, a crushing defeat he suffered to Fernando Gonzalez in the bronze medal match has seem to linger with Blake and seems unshakable for the exciting American with all the talent in the world, but who may never put it all together, we must assume at this point with Blake nearing 30 years old.

Had Blake won that bronze medal, he would have attained his singular best achievement to date in the game.  I am not a lover of Olympic medals.  Ridiculous people have won golds.  In my lifetime, I have seen Tim Mayotte, Jordi Arresse, Agassi, Arnaud Di Pasquale, Nicolas Massu, and Mardy Fish, among others medal.  Yes, Fish won a silver.  Does that make him more successful overall than Blake?  It’s a tough call, but I would say that it does.  Neither has won a major and neither has done more than quarter-final at a major.  Blake finished in the top 10 a few times, and once faced Roger Federer in the finals of the Year End Championships in China. 

But Fish is younger and his game is in much better shape than Blake’s.  And you could almost see where Fish surpassed Blake.  I believe it was a few weeks after that Olympic games in 2008.  Blake and Fish were facing each other in the 2nd round of the US Open, and Blake had owned the head to head, to that point.  But Fish came out and served big and Blake missed a lot of first serves, and really, ir was never a match.  Now I have called Mardy Fish an embarrassment to the American game in the past, because he was a chubby kid with a weird haircut, and he served big but never moved his feet, and usually lost in the big spot.  But Fish has gotten it together, has gotten into great shape and now has the requisite footwork to pull off keeping 2 hands on the racquet on the backhand side as much as he does.  Fish also is an excellent volleyer, and he gets to the net quite a bit.

Does he do anything better than James Blake does at his best?  No.  Perhaps the serve is a little bigger than Blake at best for argument’s sake.  But Blake pulls off everything a lot easier and more athletically when he is right.  So Blake doesn’t have the footwork anymore in a 5 set match to beat guys who can bomb first serves, but to try to sneak Taylor Dent into that category, which Blake did yesterday, lauding Dent’s serve and saying that when Dent “gets it going like that, there’s not much I can do” is laughable. 

There isn’t much Blake can do when Federer gets it going like that.  At this point, that much is obvious, with Blake beating Roger one time out of 18 I believe, in his career.  An astute commentator once remarked of Blake when he was rallying with Roger Federer, that Roger has more pace on his backhand than Blake does on his forehand.  I believe Blake’s brother made the same observation when interviewed after the match.  I can’t kill Blake for that.  Won’t kill him for losing to Sam Querrey and standing there and getting aced ten points in a row–still a record, I believe.  Should a quick guy like Blake be able to get 1 or 2 of Big Sam Q’s serves back in that span.  I should think so.  But Querrey can make the gun read 140 and he’s very tall so he’s got the angle to his serve as well.

But Arnaud Clement for 2 plus sets in Melbourne is unacceptable.  Taylor Dent is unacceptable.  Yesterday, James Blake only converted on two of fourteen break points, losing to Taylor Dent, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour and 51 minutes, and Dent won despite hitting 21 double faults.  Dent then won today’s 2nd round match, defeating 4th seeded Horacio Zeballos, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, and earning a date in the quarter-finals, along with American Michael Russell on Friday, in a matches that will be televised in America on either The Tennis Channel or ESPN2.

Russell at world # 89, Dent at # 94, Fish, who just cracked the top 50, Robby Ginepri at # 75, and even Donald Young, up to # 105, are all guys that Blake, if his footwork is right, should demolish.  If Craig Boynton, Blake’s new coach, is listening and can get Blake’s feet going so that he can maximize what’s left of his career.

Mardy Fish leads Atlanta’s own, Robby Ginepri, 6-1 at the start of the 2nd set of their 2nd round match.  The winner makes the quarter-finals Friday.  John Isner survived talented touch player and Luxembourgian, Gilles Muller, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7).

Donald young will face the talented 6’7 South African Kevin Anderson for a date in the quarter-finals.  Andy Roddick faces American Rajeev Ram for the other spot in the quarters.

–Crack (

Frenchman Nicolas Mahut (above) may only be the 149th ranked player in the world, but he is a throwback tennis player, who returned to court 18 on which he had earlier finished the 11 hour five minute all time record longest match in defeat to John Isner this morning, returned again to court 18 this afternoon with doubles partner Arnaud Clement to play a first round doubles match against the British team of Fleming/Skupski.

Mahut, who was noted by ESPN’s Pam Shriver as having difficulty walking in the player’s restaurant after his warmup hit this morning, has left court 18 for a third consecutive day in a suspended match due to darkness.  Mahut/Clement trail Fleming/Skupski 7-6 (4), after one set of play. 

To call Mahut the 149th ranked player in the world and to leave it at that would be a disservice to the nifty Frenchman, who has some of the best hands in the game.  Mahut has some impressive wins to his name in his career, including a victory over Rafael Nadal at Queen’s Club that helped him reach the finals where he lost to eventual champion Andy Roddick, after winning the first set in 2007.  Mahut, an excellent grass courter, defeated Marin Cilic at Queen’s last year, and advanced to the second round of Roland Garros last month, handling young German Mischa Zverev, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Isner’s coach Craig Boynton called Mahut yesterday “one of the top twenty best player’s on grass in the game.”  For those of you who like his style–aggressive serve and volley with a dynamic one handed backhand–you may get to see a little of him this summer, as his game is also well suited to American hardcourts. 

Those who like his game and are at Wimbledon have had quite a treat this week.  In addition to the epic with Isner and being entered in the doubles, Mahut had to come through qualifying last week, winning 3 matches, and coming from 2 sets to none down in the final round of qualifying against Austrian Stefan Koubek.  In fact, English tennis fans should know Mahut well, who despite not having advanced past the first round at Wimbledon since 2006, had not been eliminated prior to the round of 16 at Queen’s Club until losing a rematch of last year’s battle with Marin Cilic at Queen’s two weeks ago.  We love Mahut’s game, if not the majority of his results, and we totally love him for playing singles and doubles, and today, for keeping his commitment to his doubles partner, Clement.

Some interesting facts from the epic match according to ESPN:

Mahut toweled off 176 times, hit over 750 forehands, and bounced the ball before serving 1,576 times.  I wonder if Kuznetsova would have shaken his hand today.

Here’s to a class act.

–Crack (