Decoturf


images-3One handed tennis prodigy realized, Grigor Dimitrov (above).

It’s always nice for a tennis fan when this time of year rolls around and the TTC begins to air live tennis, much of which is from down under, though the pro tours are going through parts of Asia and the Middle East as well.  So you may have seen some action from Qatar last week, you may have seen some tennis at AIRCEL/Chennai, but most of it has come on those spongey blue Plexicushion courts that have now seemingly covered the entire southern hemisphere in blue mush.

Catch 22 for us, really.  We despise this surface.  This surface promotes defensive play, rally tennis, and a bland, homogenized version of the game that has practically seen the extinction of the volley, one handed tennis, and namely, the one handed backhand.  We’re not going to leave it at it’s Australia’s prerogative.  Sorry.  There’s plenty of Plexicushion all over the world, and sickeningly enough, we have to watch the atrocious American swing that includes Indian Wells–a putrid Plexicushion event that diminishes the talent of the worthy and rewards the meek–and Miami (Key Biscayne), which is probably an even slower, and more terrible surface, if it can be so, on that retched Defense-Pro.  If you smirk at this, recall a practically unbeatable Roger Federer, mid prime, losing to journeyman grunt Guillermo Canas in successive weeks in 2007.  But, Australia was more than happy to sell out to Plexicushion, for fear of having a tournament “too similar” to the U.S. Open.  God forbid the most successful tournament in the world be the model, but what do we know?

http://www.foxsports.com.au/tennis/federer-unimpressed-by-plexicushion/story-e6frf4mu-1111115309530#.UOuCFI42UqY

The Australian legacy is grass court tennis and this major was played on grass in all of its years until 1987.  Maybe Australia can find the pattern when it comes to moving away from fast surfaces.  Because moving away from fast surfaces damages tennis talent, and Australia is largely irrelevant as a tennis nation in singles (the top Australian male is Bernard Tomic at #64; there are 2 Australian women in the top 100), and hasn’t produced any of the attack style players that make their legacy since they transitioned from grass to … plastic.  Once, the Aussies owned the game.  Even if that time is long passed, most people my age can vouch for Pat Cash and Patrick Rafter.  But Australia sought to destroy their legacy with bouncy surfaces–first Rebound Ace and now Plexicushion–and so now Australia produces two handed hackers like everywhere else, hardly any of them being good.

The Australians, for all their grand history are little more than tennis morons who have contributed to the ruination of the game, in a nutshell, but we can’t let it bother us too much, except insofar as it has diluted the talent pool and complexity of talent beyond repair.  The Aussie legends themselves, old men like Laver and Newcombe, were given free Plexicushion courts and since they are now 80 years old or so, they just love how “spring-y” Plexicushion is on their joints, and so they endorse putting Plexicushion in just about every development.  But ask Rafael Nadal how Plexicushion is working out for him, should you need the word of a player.  Nadal skipped this season entirely, and frankly, if we are to believe the Rafa injury timeline, he hasn’t been himself since he left Australia last year.  We even hear that Nadal’s stomach virus is largely bogus and that he is already practicing heartily on red clay in Spain.  A curious thing for a guy to forego all of those points to defend, lest he truly despises the surface and is trying to prolong his career.  Or ask Lleyton Hewitt, who has complained vociferously about the surface being too slow.  What really can we expect from Australia though, a depressed nation economically, in a bitter fight to keep their major, who has mismanaged the game in their country woefully to the point where there is basically no talent on either side, and who had to rebrand the AO as the “South Pacific/Pan Asian” major in an attempt to stave off the oil rich nations who have sought to downgrade Australia to a Super 9 and to re-organize the majors so that the Australian Open becomes “The Major at Dubai” or Beijing.  Also why, if you’re wondering, Tennis Australia rushed to up the prize pot when Roger Federer suggested this past summer that players may be willing to skip Melbourne if the lower round payouts were not seriously increased.  Obviously Australia is the only major any players of note would ever seriously consider boycotting, and Tennis Australia knew it, and did the right thing.  In this case.  Check out the article below in which luminaries from Federer to Wilander, a defensive style player, to Paul McNamee and a host of others scratch their heads over the inscrutable choice of Plexicushion for Melbourne.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/sports/13iht-srtennis.5.9176593.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Nadals and Hewitts, pushers, counter attackers, are guys who generally favor a slower track.  But not at the expense of their health or ability to end points.  Nadal sometimes needs a miracle to finish a point, and Hewitt can use the pace of a quick court to his advantage, because his balls need a little help getting through the court, help he does not get on the Plex because one is left to generate all of the pace, pretty much, on their own.  Or, as we shift the focus of this piece more to one handers, it can’t be of little consequence that Roger Federer has skipped all the Plexicushion warmups this year, and that he has already announced that he is skipping Key Biscayne, despite whatever the given reasons, because the surface is too slow.  Federer suffered his worst hard court loss ever there to Nadal, in a match where conditions suited Rafa better than slow red clay.  Federer also lost to Andy Roddick on that Defense Pro, which had not happened in some 10 years prior, and it was also the scene of Roger’s notorious racquet smashing incident.  While we expect Roger at Kooyong next week (an exo, not a tournament), we definitely feel there is a lot to Federer skipping these events when healthy.  Especially missing Miami, which we see as a huge statement on the surface issue.

Kudos to Roger, really.  As the world’s foremost tennis God, Federer’s decisions resound loudly.  Really, the people in Florida and California are no brighter than those in Australia, and they are all guilty of homogenizing the game with slow courts that have become the norm, and with safe, baseline philosophy, the hallmark of which is the dreaded two handed backhand, which leaves players moored to the back of the court, and so the result is players like Sharapova, whose fundamentals are an absolute disgrace, an embarrassment to tennis, having to hit groundstroke after groundstroke to win and then re-win the same point, because no one bothered to teach her how to take 3 steps inside the court and take the ball out of the air.  And if you don’t think that has a great deal to do with her injuries, her chronic shoulder situation, and the fact that she isn’t playing now, then you are deluding yourself.

The AO wants 6 hour finals and 60 shot rallies and that’s too much tennis.  Here’s a novel concept: courts that promote shot making, where players actually finish points and can get done with their business before they develop tendinitis of one sort or other.  A court that promotes the high bounce may seem to favor defensive tennis in the short term, but what of the long term consequence, in terms of degrading players’ health past the point of their ability to compete.  Obviously Nadal has been degraded, with his puke style and slow high bounce surfaces to thank.  Last year Djokovic was clearly not the same in Flushing after such a long, grueling season, and since he is the better player, vastly superior to Andy Murray, we can’t see how justice is done when safe, bland Murray style tennis wins out.  Grigor Dimitrov, who checked in at #48 last week (now #41), and who we should congratulate for making his 1st tour final, lost Saturday night in a tight 7-6, 6-4 decision to Andy Murray, who used the “strategy” of lofting top spin up to Dimitrov’s backhand side, to force errors.  As was reported late last night by our main man Down Under, Matt Cronin, Dimitrov was right there with Murray, until 4 consecutive UFE’s on the backhand wing off high top spin did him in (9th game, 2nd set).  Still, we’re happy to see the improvement from Dimitrov, who we’ve long regarded as one of the only up and coming one handers in the game.  Like Serena, we’ve seen an improvement in Dimitrov since making the switch to Patrick Mouratoglou, who seems to be more mature, and stronger shot to shot.  Making such an early final in 2013 does wonders for Dimitrov’s confidence, whose trajectory toward the top 20 seems imminent.  Dimitrov, largely schooled on clay, is well suited to survive slow courts as long as he, like Federer, moves around the backhand in the ad court, which should leave him poised to make a nice run come the better grass and hard courts of the summer season.  BTW, Dimitrov’s draw sprang open when he upset Milos Raonic early in the week.  The notable stat we took from that encounter was that Dimitrov out aced Raonic 10-4.  If you can out serve Raonic, you’ve definitely got him.  Says something for Dimitrov’s return game as well.  And while we are on Raonic, we find it curious that he did not roll out to Chennai, as he usually does, and where he usually goes deep, last year picking up the hardware there.  But Chennai is only a 250, and they play on acrylic hard courts (more similar to the faster–notice we didn’t exactly say fast though–US Open Decoturf courts), not synthetic ones, so Raonic’s team felt it might be better to get the kid in against better competition on more representative courts of what is to come in Melbourne.  The result happened to be that Raonic has gotten off to his worst start to a year yet, but we’ve quibbled with it enough for now.  We trust Galo Blanco’s stewardship of Raonic, and don’t necessary mean to criticize the team as much as highlight the fact that Raonic has had enormous success in the years where he has gotten off to flying starts.

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

We noticed a very impressive young German one hander the other day, Daniel Brands, who is 6’5, and at 25 years old, is finally coming into his talent, a taller order for skilled players who develop later, than for hacks who just play the ball back with regularity.  Like James Blake, who we are still waiting on to really develop.  LOL.  It takes time to craft the all court game, which Brands, who at world #153 (now #131) has now seemed to have done, bowing out in the semis at Qatar, a result that saw him rise up the ATP rankings some, after a stunning 6-1, 7-5 victory over Gael Monfils, in which Brands dominated the match at net and with his one handed backhand, which looked to us to be as good as practically anyone’s on tour at this time.  While it is hard to chirp about the world #153, that is the sorry state of one handed tennis in today’s bland, boring tennis world.  Also, a little easier, since a Brands roars out of the gate in the new year.  We’ve seen many guys who weren’t really on the radar, and girls, who have gotten it together in style when the new year rolled around.  Raonic would be a great example of one.  Brands lost in the semis to eventual champion Richard Gasquet, who is world #10 and who, in all likelihood, is the 2nd best one hander in the game today.  Gasquet defeated Nikolay Davydenko, who seems to be in a bit of a renaissance himself of late, in a workman like 3 sets.  Davydenko has obviously worked hard to try to recapture the attention to detail needed to play war of attrition tennis, and some days, like against Ferrer in the semis, he has seemed to find the fountain of youth.  But Gasquet is a guy groomed on clay, suited to hit a lot of shots, and so we were happy to see him stay with that match yesterday, of the opinion that Davydenko could be worn down by guys who stay with the program.  Ironic indeed, since a beautiful shot maker like Gasquet is forced to outlast a hack like Davydenko, but such is the game.  Consequently, Gasquet has had a great start to 2013 and we feel very good about his chances going forward, a skilled shot maker and net player indeed, but who also has the requisite grit today’s game requires to stay on the court, match after match, with guys whose best strategy is to get one more ball back.

While it has seemed that certain developments have foretold some dissatisfaction with the prevalence toward slow courts, like the blue clay in Madrid, the very fast Paris Indoor, and the roof at Wimbledon, which no doubt helped Roger Federer collect his 7th singles crown there, the damage has already been done.  The game is all 2-handers, weak 2nd servers, top spins and high bounces, and baseline baseline baseline.  Even kids who grew up idolizing Roger are adopting 2 hand backhands, as more of the one handers on the scene go the way of the dinosaur each year.  We actually feel that they’ve sped up the clay a bit, as well, as the powers that be are tired of seeing Nadal style tennis win out match after match, but the horse has long since left the barn.

That’s part of why we feel a lot better about clay than we do about Plexicushion at the moment.  Players have served big on clay lately, especially taller players, and all the height in the game has somewhat negated the Nadal, Murray strategy of getting the ball up high to guys with spin on the backhand side.  Monfils was trying to do it to Brands, but good luck finding the high backhand on a guy six and a half feet tall.  And clay is a surface where the drop shot really holds, and where, because of change of direction issues, you always have a play at a winner by going behind your opponent.  Plexicushion has taken these plays away, meaning that only brute power the likes of no one but Serena possesses, and endurance, are the deciding factors.

So, is 2013 a good year for one handers?  Well, Saturday wasn’t bad, we’ll admit.  Maybe it has even been a great start to the season for one handers, though let’s not get crazy.  The surface issues and Chris Evert Academy type coaching philosophies that have left the game bereft of diverse talent and attack style tennis have really decimated the game for traditional tennis fans who can’t stand watching 5 hour matches in which players don’t get to net 10 times, and that’s only getting worse, despite the occasional glimmers of hope we see from time to time.

But at least there are a few bright lights still out there.  Especially Roger Federer, who we feel, will have a very good opportunity to take his 5th Aussie title in a few weeks and his 18th major title, especially if he can stick to the hard slice in the inevitable Djoker, Murray matchups, forcing those players to make their own pace exclusively, without an opportunity to use Federer’s pace against him.

Lamenting the State of Tennis,

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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. 

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In today’s semi-final under card at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro (above, top) takes on world #1, Rafael Nadal, in a rematch of the 2009 US Open semi in which the totally beyond compare and above reproach Rafael Nadal–the undisputed king of clay and looping topspin–was road graded by the bigger, stronger, and more talented Argentinian.  A command performance by JMDP who is the only player to ever defeat Nadal and Federer at the same major, claiming his first major title in the grandest possible fashion.  Sure, we were surprised.  That he beat Roger.  But Roger played the big points that day like the trophy was already on his mantle, confusing the 09 crown with the 04-08 crowns.

Bad mistake by the great man, and one he should never have repeated.  Lo and behold, he repeated it the next year, in practically the same exact spot, up 2 sets to 1 against Djokovic (above).  That victory has seemed to embolden Djokovic, who has played at a ridiculous level, handing Federer two consecutive major defeats, grabbing a 1st Davis Cup crown, and a 1st for his nation also, and a 2nd major title down under.  The tennis world, plagued with chronic tunnel vision, has jumped ahead to anointing Djokovic, yet to lose in 2011, as the world’s best tennis player.

This may not exactly be laughable considering his recent play, but it’s also not right.  Nadal currently holds 3 of the major titles.  Had Djokovic beaten Nadal in Flushing, these arguments would be valid.  But since Djokovic’s US Open run ended right after slaying Roger, and lost in impish fashion to Nadal, who is really not built for Decoturf and has little business winning the US Open without a sparkling draw and a matchup with a heartless quitter in the final such as The Djoker, we are still going to say Rafa’s the best right now, pains us as that does.

Is Djokovic the same heartless quitter he has always been though?  At least against Roger, he seems to be rather resilient these days.  But right after Roger in NY, Djokovic reverted back to being a clown who disrespects himself by saying that he was spent, that if the final was played on Sunday he’d have “no chance”, and then on Monday, claiming he was still so exhausted.  This guy?  He can act like a man.  He’s the 1 guy in tennis who calls trainers and defaults more than Nadal, and that’s saying something, because Nadal has permanent trainer’s hand prints on both his calves and quads.  Like Nadal was fresh in that dreadful final where he won in straights?  Nobody’s fresh at the US Open.  Not after 8 months of intense touring and 3 majors on different surfaces.

Djokovic is playing lights out, indisputably.  The Prince of Plexicushion, on which he has played exclusively, except for one tournament.  Good for him.  Yes, he won Dubai and straighted Roger there on a Decoturf court, albeit one topped with as much or more sand than any other.  Yes, he served up bagels to three separate opponents here at IW, including countryman and DC mate Victor Troicki, who took Djokovic to 5 sets last year and almost walked out with his pelt at Flushing.  Wouldn’t Roger have done back flips if that came to pass?

Is Djokovic that good?  Is the world #3 now better than a very able Troicki at #16, by a 6-0, 6-1 scoreline?  Well, serves don’t really take to the clay, I mean Plexicushion, the way they do to a real acrylic hard court not sand topped, like unadulterated US Open courts or the courts in Cincy or at the Paris Indoor.  Unless you are Karlovic, Isner or Raonic.  As the announcers often remarked, Djokovic is playing lights out without even serving that well.  Sure is.  But the surface issue is a big factor.  Even more so than at the Australian Open, Djokovic’s “stomping grounds”, which is technically considered a medium paced court.  Melbourne’s Plexicushion, still considered by us a travesty to the game, at least has allowed some dominant servers to have their day.  But the groundstrokes come in slow, suiting these putrid, safe, soft serving baseliners like Murray, Djokovic, and Nadal.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the only major finals that have not included Federer or Nadal going back 5 years have been at the AO?  Or that the only guy with 2 majors to his name since the Federer/Nadal dominant period began won them down under since Plexicushion was installed?

Kids, in Australia they have the “nice” Plexicushion.  Technically, the courts here at IW are called slow hardcourts.  In fact, the actual surface is called “Plexipave IW Slow.”  It is a synthetic, or as we like to call it, a fake hardcourt.  Why?  Because California is America’s training ground for homogenized boring baseliners west.  Oh yeah, all this nonsense about a slower, softer court being better in the desert because the balls can really pop in the dry air, and the heat?  Right.  It’s a business.  Slow tennis 2 handed morons want to see slow tennis with lots of rallies, even in America, where the courts should favor the better players, which, here, are fast courts.  But there is not one decent woman playing this game for America right now, and as for the men, well, Richard Gasquet pretends he’s sick when he has to face Andy Roddick indoors and on IW Slow he takes him apart like he’s Federer.

We guess they are pretty happy with the results this year, where the cream has risen to the top, either with the aid of or in spite of this awful surface.  No Mardy Fish’s or Ljubicic’s in the final four this year.  JMDP has muscled his way through the draw.  Good for him.  The game missed him.  Nadal didn’t, but the court, and Del Potro’s lack of long term tour level conditioning may not favor Argentina’s finest today.  Here are the odds:

Nadal:  – 240 (Wager 240 to win 100 plus initial investment)

Del Potro:  + 180 (Wager 100 to win 180 plus initial investment)

If we were willing to go with Karlovic the other night over Rafa, best believe we can stomach the dog here as well.  Do not get the wrong idea about us.  We don’t play who we necessarily expect to win.  We play who we like and who has odds we like.  That would be Del Potro.  The difference between winning and losing in tennis is a handful of points, and big favorites offer no real return, just nervous moments.  Like if you had Rafa the other day versus Karlovic at – 750 and had to sweat out a 3rd set extended tie breaker to win 1 penny for every 8 you laid.

Then there’s the feature match:

Djokovic:  – 180

Federer:  + 140

Say what?  Roger is underdog in a match not against Nadal on red clay?  When was the last time that happened?  Good question.  Honestly, we can’t recall it, and we are up on such things.  You guessed it.  We’ll happily ride 2 dogs today.  To be frank, Federer has a lot on the line today.  The #2 ranking goes to the winner.  Federer, for the 1st time in 8 years, is not in current possession of a major title.  Djokovic seems to have his number.  Especially on the slow icky blue track.  But Roger knows the deal.  Annacone is coaching him up.  Federer needs to absorb the pace, not give the pace to Djokovic.  On slow hards, Djokovic, like Agassi was, is a master at using your pace against you.  When Federer hit out on the slow garbage versus The Djoker in Canada, he looked bad.  He looked like he couldn’t hit a winner, and was over-hitting in an attempt to dictate.  When he gave Djoker junk, and used his variety of spins and slice, then the Djokovic must over hit.  We still feel that Roger has the edge in a close match, and we like the sunny conditions.  We’ve also been loving Roger’s quick hands at net all week.

How many times do you really get to play Federer as a dog?  And how many times is Roger playing for the chance to win a singles and doubles title in the same weekend?  Not sure when or if that’s ever happened either.  Federer/Wawrinka defeated Nadal/Lopez in the semis in doubles and will take on Malisse/Dolgopolov in the final today.

As we have said, we aren’t fainthearted Federer fans.  Not even on Plexicushion.

2 PM live on The Tennis Channel…

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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)

The Isner/Mahut handshake from Perth, Australia last night at the prestigious Hopman Cup (above).

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With 6 sessions currently played at one of our absolute favorite non majors–in fact, it’s not even a tournament but technically an exhibition–the United States has acquitted itself quite admirably in its one session so far, taking both its male and female cotests, as well as the mixed doubles, behind the main event rematch from Wimbledon, #19 John Isner versus throwback serve and volley player Nicolas Mahut.  Isner once again came out on top, though this time he needed less than 2 hours, to take Mahut 6-3, 7-6 (5), using the blueprint for victory left by the gods, an unbreakabe serve and pass or be passed tennis.

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Isner, on the strength of 2 first set breaks, cruised to a an easy lead by the scoreboard, but the high pressure game of Mahut saw Isner earn those breaks on the strength of the shot he is least comfortable hitting–the backhand pass.  Mahut, who gets every drop of talent out of his lanky frame, and seems to always play well on grass where there is still so much value placed on net play because you don’t always get the waist high bounce to crank a perfect groundstroke. He stuck to the strategy on the forgiving Plexicushion surface, engineered by the California company who also builds the faster Decoturf for the US Open, which is rated somewhere between the US Open and Wimbledon in terms of speed, and will give topspin a fairly high bounce like on clay, but sees slice remain very low, while allowing big servers to bang lightning quick flat serves (see Isner’s  upset demolition of Monfils at the Australian).  Mahut served big in the 2nd set, was not broken, and got in behind literally everything he could, causing the match to come down to a few shots here and there in the 2nd set tie-breaker.  Not a few points.  A few shots.

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Once again, we are so so impressed with the Hopman Cup, to its traditional but unorthodox in the modern sense inclusion of the sport of mixed doubles, to the very interesting players selected every year, and the unique team/nation aspect that is really only seen in Davis and Fed Cup, as well as the Olympics, which does a horrible job promoting tennis, if you ask us.  Hopman Cup–an homage to legendary Australian coach and Davis Cup Captain Harry Hopman (who also moved to New York and had a legendary roster of pupils including John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, Patrick McEnroe, and Peter Fleming)–is the only event where we get a glimpse at mixed doubles, and better even than the majors because the mixed is featured and the championship often comes down to mixed doubles.

This year, the Cup features an American team of Isner and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (a replacement for Hopman Cup ace Serena Williams), and BMS did her part in the singles and with Isner.  BMS handled French 17 year old Kristina Mladenovich, clearly a big time talent who was another superb selection for the French Hopman squad.  Mladenovich, a banger with huge groundstrokes, is someone we’ve been interested to see as the top female junior player in the world who won the Girls Singles Title at Roland Garros in 2010.  The Ladies French Open Champion, Francesca Schiavone, also is competing at Hopman Cup for Italy, and scored a win in singles over intriguing British teen Laura Robson and mixed with Potito Starace, as Italy handed a defeat in session 3 to Great Britain, which probably seemed unlikely on paper because the Brits boast wolrd #4 Andy Murray.

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Back to Bethanie, who took 1 hour and 56 minutes to take out Mladenovic, and dropped the 1st set before taking the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.  BMS clearly needed a minute to figure out the 17 year old ball striker, but used a mix of variety, varied pace, net play, and 2 hand backhands which she took so early and flawlessy redirected the pace already there to show Mladenovic that she is in the big leagues this week.  In a loaded section, the Americans already have a 3-0 win over France, with a matchup tomorrow night against Italy looming, and another with Britain still to come.  As for the other section, it is also stocked with prime time talent and the kind of players you’d pay to see.  The Belgian team features the beautiful game of former Australian and US Open champ Justine Henin (the 2nd impressive 1 handed female on display here), who who was a finalist early in her comeback at Melbourne last year, and who is a 4 time French champ, along with lefty youngster Ruben Bemelmans, another guy we have wanted to see but would not have save for this event.  The Australians feature two-time major champ and former #1 Lleyton Hewitt, and the Serbians, already up 2 sessions, feature former Australian Champ Novak Djokovic, and former French champ Ana Ivanovic, finally returning to top form after a real struggle in 2010.

As far as Isner goes, we’d have to disagree with John McEnroe, who came out in favor of a 5th set tie-breaker at Wimbledon, after Mahut/Inser because he says such a match destroyed both players’ chances and would debilitate the rest of their seasons.  It may be so, but that’s the game, and two players who aren’t going to win the tournament or any players for that matter, are not bigger than the tournament, and an aspect of it which so greatly lends to the event’s old world mystique.  And since Isner was in the finals in Atlanta a few weeks later, and has remained in the top 20 despite the draining but historic ad wildly entertaining Wimbledon match, we’d venture to say the match has done nothing but help both players.

Hopman Cup from Perth has always retained that old world feel, even on perhaps the most beautiful, modern, and technically sound courts anywhere, even if they are not the fastest (our preference).  We’ll be watching intently all week as The Tennis Channel brings us the action live, and we’ll be reveling in every second, as the commentary of the great Fred Stolle brings us back to our childhood.  Even if we do have to look at the wrinkled up, ancient face of Lucy Hopman from time to time.

In other tennis news, Nadal and Federer won easily today in Doha, and Robin Soderling took out impressive American teen Ryan Harrison in straights in Brisbane 6-2, 6-4.

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Tune in to TTC tonight.

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