Feliciano Lopez

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.

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Canadian phenom Milos Raonic (above), with a rare fist pump against Kevin Anderson, whom he defeated in San Jose last week.

So we’ll admit we were wrong on Sunday. We told you we liked Raonic and the kid could not get the win versus Jurgen Melzer. We’ll even call it a bit of a bad loss because we don’t like the way he played in losing that match. To be totally fair, he just missed a big forehand by a hair that would have saved him from going down match point in the second set tie-breaker. It really was a close match, but when Raonic and his dominant serve went up a break in the second, we thought it was a match that was destined to go to a deciding set. That loose service game, in the eighth or so game of the second, is not something we associate with Raonic in his early career. Despite some truly dominant performances on serve in the last few weeks, the kid has been vulnerable at times because he is leaving a lot up to the second serve, and only winning about 50% of the second serve points. The performance against Istomin, where he won 44/48 first serve points, was still one where he flirted with defeat by giving Istomin life in the second set. Life, for Istamin, was about getting a look at he Raonic second serve.

The kid was still only broken once in 10 matches so let’s curb our criticism a little. Because the kid is improving so rapidly, he has gone from world #156 to #24 this week, rising 132 places in the rankings in approximately 15 months. Obviously poised, at 21 years old, to be heard from in a big way for a long time. But these guys who get a lot of balls back, even at their advanced ages, like Melzer and Hewitt, have been giving Raonic a problem this year, when last year at this time, Raonic was beating Fernando Verdasco. So we can’t say we are concerned all that much, but right now, we feel like we want to see Raonic beat a guy who really moves his feet. Aside from the second serve, the only problem we see with Raonic is his immobility, which, he seems to have worked a lot on from last year, and yet, he’s not playing well right now against guys in a position to take advantage of his side to side, and baseline to net.

Obviously Raonic has worked hard with coach and former player, Spaniard Galo Blanco. Blanco was a bit of a journeyman, but that’s an interesting mentality, to get to say to Raonic, ‘look how easy it can be with your big talent?’ And Blanco similarly improved Feliciano Lopez’s footwork in his tenure with him, and has Raonic in Spain practicing on clay a good bit, and that will do wonders to the problem, if the kid is applying himself. And it appears that he does apply himself. In addition to Blanco, Raonic also works with a physio and there is no doubt they are working on his coordination.

What a nice kid he is as well. He was extremely gracious when addressing the Memphis crowd, and spoke about the good things they are doing in the community in Memphis with some of the money from this tournament, and rarely to you get those kind of words in these situations. A lot has been made of his background in advanced mathematics, which would help explain his wise use of the angles and dimensions of the court. The kid comes in with ease. He has very nice hands at net, and seems more at easy with the half volley than anyone except maybe the top 3 or 4 in the world. He gets in to net, he uses slice, he can serve and volley, and do it on second serve, which would probably be a good percentage play because he does seem to lose a lot of rallies from the baseline during second serve points when he stays back. But really, what is the kid doing in any part of the game where you could be too critical of him, and not be impressed by the guys he has beaten thus far. He’s beating most of the guys in front of him, when healthy, and the competition has been healthy as well. The guy has beaten Nicolas Almagro and Janko Tipsarevic in back to back matches this year, two top ten calibre players, has won 2 events, been to one final, and in 17 matches, he’s lost only 8 sets.

Nothing not to like about this guy. Djokovic got on such a run last year that you almost didn’t notice that Raonic got hurt and Wimbledon and missed most of fast court season. But for tennis fans, seeing this kid on the surface that suit him best was going to be appointment television. We’re really looking forward to seeing him go through his second clay court season, and how he improves there, and then play the fasts, and how his year bears out if he’s healthy.

We already corronated him the best North American player, way back last year. And having so few points to defend through the rest of the year, we expect, despite his few flaws, to be banging on the door of the top 10 by the middle of the summer. Happy are we, to have even a two-hander, who plays the game right and plays offensive tennis, the modern version of the big game that is so largely absent from the mens game these days.

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Can Mardy Fish ever win a decent sized match? After going up a break in the 3rd set against Nadal Sunday, Fish hands the break right back to Rafa in the succeeding game, and as soon as lost the first point of the tie break on serve to go down 1-0, the match was over. Not only did Fish hold a 3-2 lead in the 3rd, serving for 4-2, but he also broke back after going down one love in games. How many times can he really expect to break Nadal in a deciding set?

Fish has done a lot to dodge the label we gave him a few years back when he was all pudgy and before Stacey G came along (“embarrassment to America”), but it is rather sad to still see such a laborious learning curve. His first time in any big spot is a guaranteed loss. Oh he’ll spank Feliciano Lopez in some little event nobody’s watching, but when we need him, playing A in Davis Cup, he blows it. Look at how long it took Fish to get a singles win off good buddies Blake and Roddick. Not until he was 27. Not against Nadal in the first 7 tries. Once against Roger — Mono Roger. And so in his 1st try at the YEC, his failures have been par for the course.

Fish is a backhand player. When Nadal, and today Tsonga, give him good looks on the backhand, he is a fool not to go for winners. Fish might have lost the belly roll, but baseline to baseline will never fly against Nadal. Tsonga, an aggressive guy, is gonna be all over those backhands that Fish just rolls back. So it was. Today Tsonga bested Fish 7-6, 6-1, so now Mardy is 0-2 with only 1 set in the bank. His odds of beating Federer Thursday are nil and even if he does, he is still likely headed home early. Or for Fish, right on time.

It’s a shame since a lot of younger players will be in the mix next year, like Del Potro for one. It took Fish 30 years to work out 1 YEC opportunity. We wouldn’t rush to pencil him in for any others. Too bad he doesn’t have the makeup to take advantage of such opportunities.

Later today:

Federer: – 250

Nadal: + 175

So Roger is a sizable favorite over Rafa in what will be their 26th career tilt. Must be the surface, Federer’s lifetime unbeaten streak against Rafa indoors, and his current 14 match unbeaten streak indoors. The man still rates on a fast, windless court. Still, we wouldn’t touch this action. Nadal is quite a dog. Though we expect Roger to come through and for Tsonga and Nadal to battle it out for the other semi-final berth from their group.

As for Andy Murray’s dud against Ferrer yesterday, we understand he is lame and that there’s intense pressure in front of a UK crowd, but crying injury is bad form. We thought it was an Uncle Toni press affair, sans the accent.

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Rafael Nadal (above), who will be sunning and swimming rather than participating in Davis Cup today.

Months back when we mused about the tie that begins today in Austin, Texas between USA and Spain, we predicted that Nadal would ask out, or that he’d be tired from a long season, and either way, would bolster the chances of Courier’s kids in their second tie under the 4 time major champion and 2 time Davis Cup champion.  We also predicted that the match would be played on a very fast track, which would also enhance the USA’s chances.  Everything about the scheduling, it would seem, has come to benefit the stars and stripes, at least in the pre-tie workups.  The selection of Austin as site by the American team was extremely fortuitous, especially if Andy Roddick was on the fence about playing.  Austin is Roddick’s primary home base and is where the Roddick developmental school is located.  A stand-up guy like Roddick would be hard pressed to skip an event like this in his own backyard, so the venue was extremely well selected by Courier.  Roddick is the greatest singles player in the history of the American Davis Cup team.  Wimbledon quarter-finalist Mardy Fish will be playing second singles in the tie, and 2 time and defending Wimbledon doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan will play doubles for Team USA.

The Spaniards will be trotting out world #6 David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco in the singles, as was reported this morning by ESPN, contrary to reports that Feliciano Lopez, fresh off an impressive Wimbledon run, would play in the second singles spot.  Lopez defeated Andy Roddick in a 3rd round upset at SW-19, but it would be hard to imagine the Spanish lefty besting Roddick in successive matches in the same month in best of 5 set tennis on courts that favor Roddick.  As for Spain’s other lefty, Nadal had the following to say about the tie and the ITF:

“The problem is the ITF, my opinion,” said Nadal, on June 27th. “They don’t want to change nothing. They are never able to change nothing on the calendar, nothing in the format of the Davis Cup competition. And some thing they are doing bad, because the best player of the world, a lot of times we are not able to play.

“For me is hard not go to United States and play for my country,” he added. “For somebody can think, ‘Well, he only is think about himself. He is playing his own things. Doesn’t matter about the Davis Cup.’ It’s not my case. … I cannot be in every place. I cannot be competitive every week of the year. My body needs to rest.”


Nadal seems particularly sensitive to criticism regarding Davis Cup, which has more or less organized their schedule the same way since the dawn of time.  Nadal frequently skips this round as it comes so close to Wimbledon, but his rationale about top players not playing would not seem to apply to the top player, Novak Djokovic.  Nadal seems to be talking about Roger Federer, who has hardly played at all in the last 5 years regardless of where and when.

We don’t think Nadal needs to be defensive about his commitment to Davis Cup.  Nor do we think any player who has helped his nation win in Davis Cup needs to explain their rationale for skipping a tie.

By the way, The Tennis Channel just reported that Feliciano Lopez will be playing second singles today at approximately 6 pm against Mardy Fish.  We haven’t looked at the head to head matchups, but we think it’s a bit of a flavor of the month type of decision on the part of the Spanish squad.  Verdasco practices on American hards most of the year, and is the more able player.

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Mardy Fish’s lovely wife Stacey Gardner (above), who we’d be surprised to see in such good spirits tomorrow on court 1 when her husband takes on Rafael Nadal.

The big 4 on the men’s side have found their way to the quarter-final round for the 2nd straight major, and we’d be pretty surprised if they don’t all press ahead, making it two straight major semi-finals in which Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, and Murray participated.  Let’s review the latest lines from Caesar’s Palace:

2011 The Championships at Wimbledon Mens Quarter-finals


Rafael Nadal:  – 600

Mardy Fish:  + 350


Andy Murray:  – 1200

Feliciano Lopez:  + 600


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 350

Roger Federer:  – 600


Bernard Tomic:  + 550

Novak Djokovic:  – 1000


In what is fortuitous scheduling for 6 time champion Roger Federer, the great man takes on 12th seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga up first on centre court.  Should we consider Federer will win, in what could be a tough match–probably the most “even” of tomorrow’s quarter-final matches–then we are counting the few hours of extra rest he will get over probable finals counterpart, Rafael Nadal, who is up second on court one versus American Mardy Fish.  So we are jumping ahead.  Should we not?  Maybe we’ll be sorry tomorrow, but we think not.  Federer is 4-1 lifetime versus Tsonga, and in his only loss, if truth be told, Fed seemed a tad disinterested after getting out 5-1 in the final set in 2009 in the quarters at Montreal.

Federer did not take a lesson from the experience, eventually playing a very disinterested US Open final against Del Potro, which he would lose after leading 2 sets to one–the only time Federer has ever lost a major final after winning 2 out of the first 3 sets.  Perhaps Federer had that in mind when he next met Tsonga, in an Australian semi which was an absolute clinic, 2,3, and 2.  Or perhaps, Tsonga’s balky knee and back were the reason he provided Roger so little competition, as were the rumblings fro Melbourne.  The fact is, Federer has taken 10 of 12 sets from Tsonga lifetime, and holds serve with tremendous ease against the Frenchman, a fact that bodes poorly for Tsonga on grass.

But how do we skip Roger through to the final though, when Djokovic still will stand in his way?  Well, we don’t think the Djoker has the swing of things yet on grass.  There are 2 supreme grass courters right now, and they are Federer and Nadal.  Federer has been playing the big game of late, moving in with ease, making multiple volleys on one point, drop shots, is ripping the backhand, and his forehand is moving quickly through the court.  Djokovic did not have a grass court warmup, and he isn’t quite in a league with the guys who can skip such a usual necessity.  We think it comes down to Federer getting a lot more looks on Djokovic’s serve than vice versa, but we’ll hold off from giving more on that until that matchup becomes a reality.

Speaking of the big game, was that Nadal playing it against Del Potro, for perhaps the first time in his life?  Indeed it was.  If Nadal plays like that the rest of the way, he’s a virtual lock to repeat.  If he plays like he did against Muller (who does have a win versus Rafa at Wimbledon in the books), then we see Federer getting his name on the chalice for a 7th time.  Nadal hit some 60+ winners, was only broken once, hit 13 aces, and played excellent tennis up at net in the round of 16.  So he went off for a little MRI.  Of course it showed no damage.  Are we suggesting Nadal is faking?  Let’s just say he’s quick on the trigger finger when it comes to trainers, and the crass mention of injuries as excuses, before and after he wins and definitely, when he loses.

We’ve seen this script played out before.  Mardy Fish may be 10 pounds lighter than the last time they tangled, but he is still zero for his lifetime against Nadal, and with good reason.  Fish can not hang with Nadal on the baseline and it’s a baseline game.  When he rushes the net, Nadal usually has the goods to pass Fish.  And don’t bring up Mardy’s aces versus Berdych.  So he struck 25.  Against Berdych.  Nadal is so far better of a returner than Berdy that Fish could turn around and go relatively aceless against Rafa.  You know we are notorious for going underdog, and for going against Nadal, but we think Fish is a terrible bet in this spot.  Has he ever really played well in a big match?  And in going back over the series, sure there have been some close sets, but Nadal has won 12 out of 13 of them.

Murray/Lopez has been all Murray in the past, and we expect it to continue.  Lopez can hurt Murray with his serve and the big lefty forehand, but the patient Murray always rides out Lopez’s hot streaks against him until they flame out.  We like Murray in 4, and in 4 matchups so far, Murray is yet to lose.  Let’s be frank.  While Lopez’s best surface is grass, he is a good cut and a half below Murray.  The only way we see this working for Lopez, or Fish for that matter, is if the ankles and/or knees/feet of their opponents fail.  And even then, we don’t see it.  Sure Murray goes out to centre court with a lot of pressure on him, but this isn’t Andy Roddick circa 09 that he’s facing.  Roddick has the ability to play enormously safe tennis, and usually does.  He lulled Murray into a sense of security in that match, and then stormed the palace gates.  Lopez is not the disciplined champion that Roddick is by any stretch, though he is the only man in the field left besides Roger with a win over Nadal on grass.

But tennis is all matchups, and Lopez matches better with Nadal than Murray, like Fish matches way better with Djokovic than Nadal, and has played him to many a nailbiter.  In tomorrow’s matchups, we are heavy with the favorites.  Bringing us to the intriguing Tomic/Djokovic matchup.  On paper, it’s all Djokovic.  Gun to our heads though, we might like the young Aussie.  He’s got a grass court pedigree, and in beating Soderling, we take from that his obvious capabilities.  Murray is a guy who practices on these lawns more than any other guy, because of Davis Cup.  We don’t necessarily feel the magic here with regard to Djokovic, who in our mind, has a lot to prove still on grass.

Are we going with Tomic tomorrow?  No.  Djokovic has lost all of 1 match this year, recall.  But we might like him as much or better than any of the other dogs, considering he’s playing a dog who has rolled over and quit in big spots in majors before.  And Tomic doesn’t have a lazy bone in his body.

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American tennis prodigy Donald Young (above).

Donald Young, the Atlanta native by way of Illinois who perhaps had the greatest junior career of any American in recent memory, had his best ever win way back in 2007 as an 18 year old at the US Open, in the 2nd round at Flushing against Richard Gasquet.  It was a walk-over.  So Young was gifted into the 3rd round there that year, still his best major outcome, stormed out against Feliciano Lopez in round 3, won the 1st set, dropped the 2nd, and then dropped a close tie-breaker 7-5 in the 3rd set in which every fan watching knew that the breaker’s outcome would decide the match.  Young provided some incredible highlights against Lopez in that match, like when he backed up to the fence and then lept like his idol, Michael Jordan, to return a smash from Lopez that somehow went for a winner.

Young must have a favorable matchup with the hard serving Lopez.  The next year, in 2008, Young defeated the Spaniard at Indian Wells.  Lopez was ranked world #32 at the time, and until about 8 PM EST tonight, that meager  result was still his greatest win.  Young, who won the Easter Bowl, the Orange Bowl, Junior Wimbledon, and Junior Australian Opens was the youngest ever junior world number one, and is still the only black junior number one.  As a pro, the contrast in terms of success has been stark.  We’ve seen him play a few good random sets, and frankly, he’s lost most of those.  Going toe to toe with Nikolay Davydenko for 25 minutes and then petering out is not the mark of the coming of the next great American.  Nor is almost taking John Isner to a tie-breaker, or going 5 sets with James Blake at the Open and losing.  The best result other than the Gasquet walkover and the IW Lopez victory was probably an obscure win over Alejandro Falla.







We are big Young supporters, but he has quite honestly been making a fool out of us.  He needed to hit a home run sooner or later.  We weren’t about to press him when he was 18, and that was the last time he showed the tennis world much.  We didn’t press him at 19.  Or 20.  We even said that we thought he deserved to be in the main draw at the AO in January, having watched his ranking climb to around 100.  We feel like we were the only ones watching him.  And as tennis fans, we fully understood that he has exhausted all of his free passes into the majors.  He qualified.  Good for him for earning his way and not having to hear any talk of who that spot should rightfully have gone to.  But Marin Cilic totally dusted him in round 1, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, ending any magic carpet ride before it began.  Young deserved to lose.  He did not bring it, could not get into points with Cilic, who dominated DY with his power, leaving the DY criticisms about his slight frame and lack of power, not only valid, but resounding.

So we were very proud to see Young defeat Andy Murray today, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in one hour and 33 minutes.  The very slow IW Plexicushion, which we feel is an utter embarrassment of a hardcourt, is not a good court for Young, in our estimation.  Sure these awful plexipaved courts, topped out with max sand to further slow an already dampened ball, have favored counter punchers like Nadal in Australia, and Canas versus Federer here, but they also can favor the very big hitter who has the power to hit through the court or still get max pop on their serve, like Karlovic today, like Tsonga in Melbourne, like Federer in Melbourne versus Murray.

Playing safe against Murray is not the strategy that’s best.  Murray is going to dink and dunk you, is one of the kings of safe play himself, but he just did not play the big points well enough today.  You are only as good as your second serve, and that’s probably Murray’s greatest weakness, after his passive style.  Murray claimed only 28% of his second balls, and was broken 4 times in the match.  Young may not have hit a ton of winners, but he surprised us with his ability to hit through the court, which kept the pressure squarely on the Scot.  In the end, Young held a 74-62 advantage in total points, despite hitting just one ace and dumping in 7 double faults.

Young played the bigger points better today than world #5 Andy Murray.  That’s a step forward for the American, who we really want to see good things happen for.  Style aside, we have always regarded Young as a very talented kid with a diverse game, and nice touch.  The pressure of being junior #1 and American prodigy status has only made more difficult his transition to the pro game, and we hope today’s win is a sign that he is finally starting to figure some things out.

Young couldn’t hope for a kinder 3rd round matchup.  Next up will be #25 Tommy Robredo, a guy who doesn’t have the type of weapons to scare anyone.  A few years back when Robredo was in the top 10, my friends and I dubbed him the top 10 player you’d most want to play if you absolutely needed a win.  Opportunity knocks.

The ball’s in Young’s court.  Hopefully, he keeps doing something with it.

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

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


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