DC


Vasek-Pospisil-and-Milos-Raonic-of-Canada-pose-for-photographers-with-Novak-Djokovic-and-Rafa-Nadal-rafael-nadal-14620911-1024-768An old shot of the main man, Novak Djokovic (still in Tacchini), with Canadians Vasek Pospisil (l.) and Milos Raonic (still with Lacoste)–future main man–and former King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

Anybody catch the beat down Rafael Nadal caught at the hands of the real king, Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo on Sunday?  Good of Nole to give Rafa a sorry little game in that first set, wethinks, prior to taking the 2nd set breaker with ease, on his way to his first ever Rolex MMC shield, and doling out Rafa’s first loss there since Guillermo Coria got him in 2003.  Now we had our concerns about Djokovic.  Not about his tennis, and not about dirt, but rather, about the ankle, which he seemed to roll very badly against Sam Q in DC, but of course, not badly enough.  For Querrey.  Or Nadal.

Such a treat to see a guy mature mentally from quitter to hitter, which is what Djokovic has done.  Bravo.  And like a smart athlete, this week he rests.  Then there’s Nadal.  Couldn’t play for so so long, and now, he’s back to playing more meaningless 500’s, and one sandwiched between the MMC and the Italian Championships.  Can’t teach a dumb dog…um, old dog, sorry, new tricks.  Since Nadal jumped back to the scene, it would seem he has played more matches than anyone else in the game, and almost leads the game in match play, despite missing the Aussie swing.  Interesting indeed.  But not curious.

Anyways, that he plays this week has given us a matchup to salivate over, which is as much must see TV as you get at the 500 level on red clay.  Versus Canadian ball crusher and serve machine Milos Raonic.  Odds here:

BARCELONA OPEN BANC SABADELL (Barcelona, Spain) — 2nd Semi-Final

Milos Raonic:  + 800

Rafael Nadal:  – 1500

…..

Nadal leads the h2h 2 love and Raonic has yet to take a set.  But but but.  I think a lot of people (or maybe it’s just Patrick Edwards, LOL, can’t say as too many people other than our good friend PE actually care) may confuse our picks for who we think is going to win, when what we are doing is discussing good bets.  Like in Miami, we told you that Murray was a bad bet against Ferrer, and if you had plunked down 400 units to win 100 on Murray, you must have been dying at match point Ferrer, no?

Murray is a pick em over Ferrer, even on hards where Murray makes his home base.  This isn’t football.  Murray is not good enough to give a touchdown, or rather, in football terms, 8.5 points to Ferrer.  Nadal is a bad bet today by those terms.  And he’ll probably win, but would you like to lay 100 units to win 6.67 units?  That is just insane.  Then there’s the matter of Raonic being a lot better on clay than people think, the bit about him having Spaniard clay court specialist Galo Blanco as his coach, and that his home base is also the dirt yards of Spain.  Raonic is 6’6.  He can dunk basketballs like JR Smith at TD Gardens!!!  High bounces do not bother him, which are Nadal’s bread and butter.

We’d take a flyer on Raonic here, laying 100 units to recoup 900 should the wunderkind come through.  Now if only the rain stops so we can see the show.

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

990593-16126026-640-360Rafael Nadal (above) seeks his 9th Monte Carlo Masters 1000 shield 10 hours from now.

ATP MASTERS 1000 FINAL — Monte Carlo, Monaco (8 AM EST)

Rafael Nadal:  – 225

Novak Djokovic:  + 175

…………

Nadal leads the h2h 19-14, and has grabbed 13 of 14 on clay in the matchup, and the last 3, including the “hotly” contested 2012 final at Roland Garros at which Rafa cried and whined about having to play in a little rain (since he was getting pounded during that stretch).  We don’t see these odds as Vegas being that into Rafa here, despite the whole slow red clay story.  Nadal has won the previous matchup at the MC, back in 2009, going 3 sets.  Not sure if Nadal has ever lost at MC in fact, and not he shouldn’t be the bigger favorite here.

Djokovic is a wilting lily no more.  He and Azarenka both had the trait, and as they matured, they have both developed extreme toughness.  We’d like to commend him on that now, and Azarenka, we’ll save for later.  It is very hard for an athlete to change their personality, and in tennis, the turnaround is so stark, especially with Djokovic, that we would have to harken back to Andre Agassi, to think of a similar mentality change.  And Agassi won at RG late in the game, after his attitude adjustment.  We see Djokovic getting his RG trophy a lot earlier than Agassi did, and we were thinking this year.  So we were of course very disappointed to see Djokovic hurt his ankle so badly in DC versus Sam Querrey.  It may not seem to affect him, and he has won 6 straight matches since rolling the ankle, but he will need his wheels today.

Djokovic wants it badly, for sure, and usually, we’d take a flyer on him, even in this situation on clay versus Nadal.  There are probably those of the mind that if he is playing, then he’s fine.  And certainly, the ankle did not slow the main man down against Sam Querrey, breaking Querrey in his first game after the injury, and getting stronger as the match went on to boot, allowing Sam Q only 1 of the last 13 games.  But we think Djokovic should get himself absolutely perfect for RG, and we don’t see how war of attrition tennis versus Nadal 5 weeks before Paris helps him to do that, unless Djokovic is so there mentally that he has completely blocked the injury out of his mind, and is looking to make a statement here versus Nadal, who we don’t think has played that great here, playing very close matches with Grigor Dimitrov, who split 158 points with Nadal evenly, and with Tsonga, who usually has no traction at all against Rafa on clay (6-3, 7-6 is very close for Tsonga, LOL).

We’d like to see Djoker at his best on that first Sunday in June, but there have been whispers that he may lose his ranking during the clay season if he takes his foot off the gas.  We will trust the decision to the Djokovic camp, who has been making all the right moves since jettisoning Todd Moron, um, Martin, sorry.  One thing we can not stand though, is to see a hurt player making an extended go of it.  See Angelique Kerber’s brutal play these last few months.  Health comes from rest and treatment.  All that said, this will be compelling tennis for a variety of reasons.  Gun to our head though, we’d probably take Rafa, pained as we are to admit.

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

641747850

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)

The all-time greats, Borg, Sampras, Federer, and Rod Laver.

Well, if the master hadn’t handled the student today.  Roger Federer, seizing on a quick indoor Wimbledon center court, on which he made only ten unforced errors, played the perfect grass court tennis match pretty much, in dispatching Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.  Federer put his big serve to use, pounding second serves, where he also had a decided advantage. Federer won 72% of second serves, and that really got him out of almost all of his deep service games, in clutch fashion.  And when you think about clutch serving and Wimbledon, you have to think about Pete Sampras. Now Federer-Sampras comparisons are nothing new, but the twilight Federer-Sampras comparisons, we feel are very useful in demonstrating how, well, major they are.

The gameplan with Annacone all along was to get back to the top on grass, because that’s where serving and attacking take to the best.  Here they are.  And there Annacone once was with Pete Sampras, on the verge of a 7th Wimbledon title and what was then a record would be 13th major.  For Federer, it’s a Sampras tying 7th trophy, if he can get it, and 17th singles major.  That’s why we don’t see a lot of pressure on Murray in this spot, despite the fact that a British man has not won here in so long.  Since the Wimbledon champion is also commonly known as the champion of tennis, we think it fitting for Federer to be the 7 time champion of all tennis, pretty much the one record in major history that is most cherished and respected.  Murray doesn’t have the pressure on him that Federer does, though Murray is probably feeling it, and must relish a final without Djokovic or Nadal in play, to boot.

But here is where we think Federer has a good chance to come through.  Sampras had a few cracks at US Open trophies late in the game where he had gone out and played six great matches twice and then didn’t get it done in the finals, against Hewitt and Safin, younger guys.  We think in this older-younger matchup, Federer has a decided edge because of service.  Once again, a situation, as well, where Federer has not played one single match against Murray prior on grass.  Or clay, that we are at it.  For shame.  We would love an extension of grass court season, such as the one we will see this year with the Olympics being held next month in London, with perhaps a Masters on grass, at a state of the art place like Halle.  Because it’s better tennis.  We love our attack tennis, and that’s why we feel Federer is in a tremendous spot to handle Murray here and pick up the hardware.  Murray is not an attacker, and despite some big serving, we don’t see him as having the right makeup to attack Roger Federer on grass.  Djokovic is by far a better grass court player, and Federer handled him magnificently today, despite being outplayed at net by Djokovic, we might add.

I think we see the full fruition of the Federer-Anacone partnership right here.  Federer serving his way to major titles.  And it will be another similarity between Roger and Pete, that they came out and served well in big spots late in their career.  We’ve seen Federer capitalize on Murray’s inabilities to claim his most recent majors at Flushing and Melbourne.  In fact, we haven’t seen Federer pick up a major against anyone of Djokovic-Nadal calibre in quite a spell, recalling that the last four majors Roger claimed were against Murray, Soderling, Roddick, and Murray.

Roger must capitalize on this opportunity.  And ultimately, his durabilty, and his laterals are what gets him in this position, and of course, timely serving.  We have always slightly favored Pete because of what we perceive to be lack of clutch factor in Roger’s major finals, letting many nice opportunities go by the board, and unconscionably losing to Nadal in Melbourne on Plexicushion.  It’s why Roger needed an Annacone, and we see the influence on what Roger is doing, and we’ll see it on Sunday, we feel.  Annacone has essentially taken Roger’s two best shots, his serve out wide and his serve down the middle, and made them the staples of his gameplan.  Annacone, in his capacity as Captain of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team, worked intimately with Murray for a few years and no doubt has quite a book on the kid, who we feel is going to feel the enormity of the spot and the matchup/surface disadvanages.  At the heart for Murray, is a refusal to play attack tennis, an achilles heel for Murray throughout his career, which should certainly be exploited by Federer, best perhaps on these courts, where attack tennis should reign.

Federer only has to play the opponents who advance to play in the finals.  If he can do that, based on his overall excellence and longevity, he is going to have his chances sometimes against guys who might be tailored made for him at a given time.  Personally, we think it would take a lot for Federer to lose.  This is the opportunity that he lives for, and coming up with the goods against Murray has never been a problem, not at least at a major, where Murray has yet to break his cherry against Federer.  This is looking like vintage time warp Roger, circa 2007, and if he can find this level now, he may be able to find it a few more times before the lights go out.

If Federer wins Sunday, he would tie Sampras for 7 Wimbledon singles titles, and 12 US Open and Wimbledon titles, combined.  If Murray wins, he will become a first time major champion and the first Wimbledon winner from Britain since Fred Perry.

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

Sloane Stephens (above), popping a serve off against Mathilda Johansson on Friday in an easy breezy victory.

While we understood Serena as the prohibitive pre-tournament favorite, we have said many times that clay is a different animal that always treats her differently.  We said that her M.O. at RG was that something always seems to go wrong.  Were we surprised at the loss to Razzano?  Absolutely.  Were we on it?  No.  Betting against Serena is a bad business, as we’ve said, and only further reinforced by her destruction of Azarenka in Madrid, and that little gambit we took with Vica.

Hopefully someone took our underdog philosophy and made some bank on Razzano.  Still, not an easy bit of business, down a set and 5-1 in the breaker before the tide turned.  How often does Serena choke one away?  Or lose R1 at a major?  Until Tuesday, the answers to both were never.  But then again, neither the partisan French crowd–in truth a pit of vipers–nor Chair Eva Asderaki, with whom Lady S has past history, were going to do her any favors.  On Asderaki: 1) That’s a tough over-rule.  I don’t like to criticize calls, as it’s bad form, and at RG, the Chairs do player a larger role than elsewhere because the stupid clay leaves stupid marks…and yet, there is simply no line call conflicts on any other surface and at the other majors, where they have gone to modern technology.  John McEnroe has said often enough that he feels he would have been far more successful with the current Hawkeye system because he expended so much energy fighting officials and that had such a negative impact on his game.  Anyone who remembers John John understands the point all too well.  Are the French cheap, stupid, or just stubborn?

Ding ding ding.  Anyway on to 2) Point penalties for “hinderance” on player audibles are never called, yet has now been called by 1 Chair in 2 different majors against Serena in the last calendar year.  Does Asderaki make that call against Azarenka and Sharapova, the tour’s loudest players?  No.  But then again, they haven’t called Asderaki a “hater” and a “terrible person.”  But then again, again, Asderaki’s 1st hinderance call in the US OPEN FINAL against Stosur was not prompted by unfortunate remarks.

The Chair has played way too big of a role in Serena’s most recent USO & RG losses.  The same Chair.  While we may stop short of calling Asderaki a racist on this page, we would have to agree with Serena’s assessment.  Also, we aren’t one of those types who scoffs at the notion of racism in tennis.  We also feel that Asderaki is obviously prejudiced against Serena, if not actually prejudice (although…)  In a virtually even match on points (Razzano won on total points by 5, 117-112), those 3 points essentially gifted to Razzano would have swung the total in favor of Serena by one.  Three points is practically a game, or half a breaker.  Frankly, the Chair should not play a determining role in ANY match, EVER.  If the Chair’s fairness is questioned, then it ruins the integrity of the game.

On to little Lauren Davis, who announced herself this week with a huge victory over very impressive German Mona Barthel.  We thought Barthel was set to turn heads here.  But Davis, on a foreign surface, abused Barthel.  Despite her loss to the American bulldog, Christina McHale in the next round, we are very pleased with her results, obviously coming into RG prepared for both the surface and the stage.  If Barthel hasn’t yet registered as a name, it’s only because ascent has been so meteoric.  That is a tremendous win.  Perhaps MJF is doing a better job with our young ones than we usually credit her for, having been awarded the Fed Cup post out of what we feel is blatant cronyism.  As for McHale, she may not be ready to take out Li Na, but we watched it closely, and also listened to RadioRG tell it in stretches.  We all thought that McHale scared Li very much with that strong, clean first set, and you can really see McHale winning a match like that next time around.  McHale seems to get as much torque on her forehand as any woman we’ve seen this week.  In short, Joy-zee was in da house.

John Isner, 2 years after setting the major match length record at SW-19 after his 70-68 5th set win over Mahut, now has the French Open record, this time losing to Paul Henri Matthieu 18-16 in the 5th.  This match has us considering if John McEnroe isn’t right about something else as well.  We were inclined to disagree with Johnny Mac, who has pushed for deciding 5th set breakers at all the majors.  We had felt that the extended 5th set format at the AO, RG, SW-19, and DC has a certain mystique and that the players who take part in those matches enhance the history of the game and their own names by playing in these most memorable matches.

But the epic Isner-Mahut affair did effectively scuttle the rest of both players’ 2010 seasons.  Mac talked about how the players have discussed job actions in order to pursue better prize money for lesser players and better protections.  He’s correct that the 5th set breaker would protect players health and ultimately their careers.  And the very personable Dimitry Tursunov underscored the travails of the lesser player in a phenomenal interview he gave to Matt Cronin and Matt Brown of RadioRG.  Tursunov discussed his gig as a pro tennis blogger and how fickle fans always threaten to unfollow him, and more serious stuff, like how expensive the tour is for lesser players like him, who God forbid, want to travel with a coach, a physio and even a girlfriend.  Tursunov candidly explained that in a city like Paris he can barely afford to do anything.  We loved Tursunov in this spot.  While Justin Gimelstob (who hit with Brian Baker prior to Baker’s win over Xavier Malisse and gave great insight as to the Baker story, an American who played in the RG Junior Final in 2003 and was injured the next year and then spent almost 8 years off the tour) is obviously our favorite TTC personality by a mile, we are considering throwing our support behind Tursunov as well, who would be a fine score for TTC.

After an easy R1, Isner spoke with Bill Macatee of TTC, and discussed how he really likes playing on the clay, because of the time it affords him and because the ball bounces up high, right into his strike zone.  We weren’t paying close enough attention, and missed on another upset.  Paul Henri Matthieu is perhaps the flattest hitting Frenchman there is, and goes very flat on both sides.  Even flatter, we feel, than Gilles Simon.  Isner got a bad matchup in that regard, and is not as good when he has to get down low to play balls.  But the central issue with Isner remains his inability to generate opportunities in the return game.  We talked a lot about how Kevin Anderson was such a bad matchup for him back in Delray, because Anderson holds serve easily.  How many times have we seen Isner play these matches where he can’t muster a break?  We know that Jim Courier has been coordinating his efforts with guys like Isner and Harrison, and their coaches.  Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, has done a great job getting this giant to play defense as he does, but the laterals are always going to be the question with a guy this big.  And now, in 3 recent majors (2012 AO, 2012 FO, 2010 SW-19), he has had to go to an extended fifth set, and all 3 times he faced unimpressive servers (Nalbandian, Mahut, Matthieu), or relatively unimpressive servers.

Isner has heart and smarts and weapons, but he has to do better in spots like these.  Matthieu in the 2nd round, on a collision course with Andy Murray, weak on clay in the quarters, then possibly Nadal, who he pushed to a 5th set here last year, Nadal’s only 5th set ever at RG.  That’s a bitter defeat.  But Wimbledon should also offer a wealth of opportunities for a guy who serves out of a tree top.

Then there’s Sloane Stephens.  Wow.  This is why we have been begging for her inclusion on the Fed Cup team.  She’s our best bet.  She’s not tiny like McHale, but she can defend like McHale, and her weapons are real.  Frankly, she has dominated this week, blowing out BMS and Johansson, and also straight setting Makarova, who was a big favorite.  We are going with her tomorrow against another SS, Sam Stosur.  We’ve gotten hot, pegging Varvara Lepchenko for good things throughout the week so far (another American), and today we had Granollers, Kanepi, and Rus.

Tomorrow it’s Sloane at +475.  As we see it, Stephens has the pace to target Stosur’s backhand and actually get the ball there.  If Stosur is allowed to run around every forehand, she wins.  She probably does enough to win here tomorrow, but she has been very wonky since winning the Open, and Sloane has the power and speed to show her up a little.  We do not see this line as being a realistic indicator of the scoreline.  We do not see the rock solid Stosur we saw two years ago here.

We’ll be happy to watch it all play out, provided NBC and ESPN and TTC can get the coverage straight, and we don’t have to watch a Spanish feed of the match off the internet (as we did today for Raonic-Monaco).  And hopefully Asderaki is chairing on another court, or better yet, no court at all.

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

 

The deadly Milos Raonic serve (above) which produced 14 aces today.

We are kicking ourselves this morning after just having seen Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic upset world #4 Andy Murray at Sabadell in Barcelona, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Last night we had identified the match in which Raonic was +300 as a potential upset, though we were reluctant and did not pull the trigger. We were of the mind that Murray, after going toe to toe versus both Djokovic and Nadal last year on the dirt, and with the addition of Lendl to his camp, simply moved too well for a Raonic on clay at this stage.

On clay it is very hard not to take the better mover, but clay is changing. How many times in recent years have we seen power surprise us on clay? We all recall Sunday Bloody Sunday, our affectionate name for the day on which Soderling outslugged Nadal. We’ve also seen big men like Del Potro and Isner excel on clay, both seriously tussling with Nadal in DC and Isner taking Rafa to 5 sets at RG, the only time that’s happened.

So after a breezy first set of tennis in which Murray did not get a single sniff on the Raonic serve, we knew it was uphill sledding for Murray, who simply could not dial in for any real traction. Raonic has very wisely gone about his business since leaving the American “hardcourts”.

Not many North Americans rolled out to MC last week but Raonic was there, and though he lost in the 2nd round, he got 2 matches in. Spaniard Galo Blanco should be a tremendous asset in preparing the kid for clay. The coach has been that this year. Taking Raonic to Spain to train has been a successful tact for many looking to beef up on clay, including Andy Murray, today’s loser, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won at Roland Garros after a hard spring spent training in Spain.

Raonic has improved laterally, but what the kid does best aside from serve is think the game and keep to plans. As much as a 6’6 kid improves his side to side, you aren’t out laterally moving Andy Murray. The kid hit serve bombs and loaded forehands, playing the match on his own terms. Once he had the 1st set, you got the sense that Murray was in big trouble and he was.

Raonic is an excellent front runner and he has legs on clay, winning four matches in straights this week, 3 against specialists (Falla, Andreev, Almagro).

We had him against Almagro, liking the line very much (+200). Too bad we hesitated last night. A little too much credit we afforded Murray, who we had pencilled in for Sunday’s final.

Now we know that Raonic’s style, well described by our man G-Stob as “blunt force trauma”, is ready to keep on red clay. Raonic may even play through to Sunday’s final, especially since at the moment, David Ferrer is struggling mightily with Feliciano Lopez (6-7, 3-3). Raonic has trouble with the pesky Ferrer, though we would like to see that matchup revisited, especially with Raonic playing so well.

Raonic’s victory today was his first ever against a top 5 opponent. First of many to come. We look forward also to seeing Tipsarevic-Nadal today. We took a flyer on Tipsy at a whopping +1500.

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

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