Galo Blanco


168245563One handed heir apparent, Grigor Dimitrov (above), about to cut a deadly slice from beyond the tram line on Tuesday.

In October of 2012, world #1 Novak Djokovic came upon talented upstart Grigor Dimitrov in an early round match at Shanghai, on a liberal hardcourt (where Djokovic is hands down the best in the business, despite losing the 2012 USO final to Andy Murray), and made short work of the lad, then ranked around 50-something in the world.  It went to the king, 6-2, 6-3, over the squire, but the kid played better than the score line indicated.  As you may know, we’ve had Dimitrov marked as prime stock since his junior days, and whenever we are asked who will carry the mantel as the next great one hander, we say Grigor Dimitrov.  Even at 18 and 19 years old, rarely has the kid stepped on the court and not flashed the brilliant potential we associate with him.  Dimitrov is in a class of comers, with Milos Raonic (who made for one half of an interesting if unsuccessful doubles pairing here with Dimitrov this week, coincidentally) who you know we love, and Jerzy Janowicz, who has an electric game and a fluid serve motion reminiscent of the king of swing himself, Pete Sampras.  We’ve taken to Raonic and Janowicz because they play the game on their toes, and their countenance is aggressive.  But with Dimitrov’s arrival, we find it not only refreshing but proper and rightful to see a one hander compete at the highest level in this era, and one who we think is destined to win majors.  If Janowicz and Raonic and their big time serves are the new kings of swing, then we’d like to anoint Dimitrov as the new king on the backhand wing.  His Tuesday tussle with Novak Djokovic would be an excellent barometer of the kid’s flat out superb skills on that wing, as Djokovic has the best backhand in the sport, but could not take Dimitrov in BH to BH rallies–  on clay–which is extremely notable, since the higher bounces favor 2-handers.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/skistar-mercedes-cup-semi-finals-odds-analysis/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/one-handers-figure-prominently-in-day-2-legg-mason-young-americans-looking-good/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/isner-nadal-odds-dimitrov-other-odds-on-americans-from-roland-garros-tuesday-vegas-odds/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/grigor-dimitrov-rises-in-the-mens-game/

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

We thought that Djokovic was far more impressive off the forehand side, and dictated play much better with the forehand, which has improved so much, along with his heart and grit, as he has ascended into the stratosphere with his game.  Good news for Dimitrov, especially since he does not have an imposing forehand.  That wing will need to improve dramatically in order for him to one day claim the top spot, which we think he is destined to do.  As for the grit and heart, he already has it.  Despite serious cramping, Dimitrov bucked up late in the 2nd set on Tuesday, and found his way to match point, though he had a 10 or so minute stretch during which he could barely move.  We must also note that Djokovic was more or less good to go, after 2 weeks of rest that followed his spanking of Rafael Nadal at the MMC, handing the Spaniard what was only his 3rd loss ever on French clay (counting MMC and Roland Garros).  We had our own questions about Djokovic’s ankle going into the MMC, but after his fine form and 2 weeks recovery, there are zero questions that still persist.  Now if Djokovic, the former king of quit, and by our count, the only top player to retire at 3 of the 4 majors, could learn to turn that weakness into a strength, then so too can Dimitrov with the forehand, which, after all, is a tennis shot.

Especially in the case of a Dimitrov, as we do not really usually assume improvement, and when we do, we don’t do it lightly.  We never assumed James Blake was going to have his big break through, and we even knew he’d still lose that match to Agassi in the QF’s at the USO in 2005 when he was up 2 sets and on fire.  Good thing we didn’t assume greatness for Blake, because if we had, we’d still be waiting. Dimitrov however is a rare breed.  This no Bernard Tomic.  This kid gets up to play matches, comes with a plan, and believes he can win.  Even if the plan seems rather lacking in sense, like going backhand to backhand with Djokovic on slow dirt.  Or believing he could play with Rafael Nadal, as an 18 yr old at AMRO in Rotterdam, and playing him closely in a  7-5, 3-6, 6-3 loss in which he was not afraid to go after Nadal’s (who was then #1) forehand, which most players are terrified to do.

On that note, we have a bone to pick with Milos Raonic, who repeatedly approached the Nadal backhand at the MMC and got burned, winning 3 of the 1st 4 games and then losing 11 of the last 12.  We aren’t gonna say Raonic’s development has stalled or taken a hit, as talent needs to develop and breathe and can not usually be measured strictly week to week.  That’s why we are measuring these 2 against top talent instead.  Raonic’s gameplan was flawed, and we felt, lazy.  A Spanish team (Raonic coach Galo Blanco who we usually have high praise for) should understand that tall players that go after Nadal’s forehand, in rallies or on the approach, are having success, since they deal well with the high strike zone and have the power to do something with his topspin, whereas giving Nadal a target on the backhand, which he can direct with the top hand, is really the only backhand he hits for winners–passing shots.  To that end, Raonic also quit on that match, and had we paid to see it, we’d have been very angry.  The listless play bordered on lack of sportsmanship.  By the way, Raonic was abysmal on 2nd serve that day, which we also could not understand so well, since Raonic gets so much action on his 2nd ball and since Nadal returns serve from so well beyond the BL.

By that measure, Dimitrov took Nadal to 3 sets at the MMC, was in every point, was unafraid, and had a real shot to win at 4 all in the 3rd.  Theoretically it is the Raonic type matchup that Nadal recoils from and the Federer type matchup he embraces.  But Dimitrov is a much better player than Raonic right now, despite Raonic’s ranking and wealth of weaponry.  That Raonic can’t get near executing an Isner type strategy against Nadal is perplexing.  That Dimitrov can execute the Federer type strategy against Rafa (which not even Roger can do) is enormously encouraging.  Dimitrov has a real it factor, and moments do not intimidate him, nor do shots or reputations.  Why does Dimitrov’s backhand hold up so well?  We see him as an extremely early ball striker, reminiscent of Blake in that regard, but far better at it on clay, probably closer to an early to mid prime Gustavo Kuerten, or as we ponder it, perhaps even Ivan Lendl, though Lendl was a forehand player.  Dimitrov also shows a lot of patience in backhand exchanges, and relishes them, unlike Federer, save for a few times in his career, like against Davydenko in Melbourne in 2010.  Dimitrov seems to have tremendous bite on his slice, which stayed out of Djokovic’s strike zone even on clay.  Anyone watching closely enough might have noticed that in Federer’s last two major victories over Djokovic, in 2011 at Roland Garros and last year at Wimbledon, that slice played a major factor.  As far as Dimitrov, he understands when to go to the safe, deep cross corner topspin backhand, coming way over top of the ball, and then, at 2-1 and 30 all in the 3rd on Tuesday, he zaps the backhand down the line after he had pinned Djokovic into the opposite corner.  Bravo.  And this is after GD nearly pulls out that tie-breaker while cramping, and loses it, which would have broken many a player, young, veteran, top ten, etc.  It was the best point we’ve seen all year.  Mark it down, and do not discount the pressure of the moment, as if he misses there, he is down a BP to the greatest returner in the game and his odds of winning reduce dramatically.  Because giving that break back right there after the game he put together to earn it in the first place gives Djokovic whatever he needs, as even at 2-2 that match is probably over.  Djokovic is just that good.  Check out the play of this kid, especially on the backhand side, in this clip below:

We totally agree with the call, “this is magnificent!”, which comes at 11:29 of the video when Dimitrov hits the particular down the line backhand that we already described above.

Now if you still are over there questioning Dimitrov’s ability to improve, just consider how strong his serve has become.  Djokovic, for our money, is by far the best returner in the game.  Dimitrov aced him 13 times on slow clay, and held his nerve on several critical 2nd balls placed deep in the box, a skill that Milos Raonic has lost track of.  Dimitrov won 63% of all his service points, 52% on 2nds, and saved 10/12 BP’s.  If his serve can get to that level on clay, then his forehand can go a lot farther, as top dogs like Djokovic’s and Azarenka’s has.  Elite class players are always developing their game (recall Federer adding the forehand dropper), and right now Dimitrov is pre-prime, though still poised to move from #28 into the top twenty with nice showings in the coming weeks, already up more than 20 spots now than where he was at the end of 2012.  Dimitrov should also expect his best results come the fast court legs of the tour on grass and American hards (as a junior, Dimitrov won Junior Wimbledon, the Junior USO, and the Orange Bowl).

The obvious comparisons, from hairstyle to sponsor to the one handed backhand is Roger Federer, and that they were both coached at the junior level by Peter Lundgren doesn’t diminish the comparisons, though Dimitrov seems to learn from all his coaches, which have also included Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou and current coach Michael Tillstrom.  We think the Federer comparison weak stylistically if not substantively.  Federer is a forehand player and Dimitrov is a backhand player.  Dimitrov does not manipulate backhands into inside out forehands.  He doesn’t have to.  But we think he will be able to in time.  When he does, look out.  This kid is marked for greatness the same way Roger was, which might be their greatest commonality.  That, and his ability to put points together, which might even be a stronger skill set than Roger’s, especially pre-prime, have us very high on one handed tennis again, which as any purist understands, is the most dynamic and talent affirming style there is, and which is noticeably absent from the game these days due to the game’s over-homogenization at the hands of safe baseliners, safe baseline coaching, clay, slow hardcourts, and thick grass.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/australia-plexicushion-bad-for-tennis-the-state-of-one-handers-and-the-game/

If you’re wondering about Djokovic going out so early at a Masters Level tourny, recall that Querrey got him at the Paris Indoor, which there was no shame in, considering that Djokovic rebounded by claiming his 2nd career Year End Championship title.  The last time it happened at a Masters Level tourny on clay?  Date back to 2006 when Federer took out a very green Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo.  Speaking of dating…

Unknown-1Yes, that is Dimitrov with “serious girlfriend” and career slam champion Maria Sharapova.

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

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)

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,

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

Federer (above), arms raised in triumph.  Because of his win and Nadal’s loss early this week, he will have a better chance to raise the arms 3 weeks from today at Roland Garros.

With his 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory today over world #7 Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer has claimed the Madrid title for the 3rd time in his career, becoming the first man to ever win the Mutua Madrilena title on its controversial blue clay.  For Federer, it was also his 20th Masters shield, his 74th career title, and his 3rd shield of the year, in what has been a very strong campaign so far.  But in what may be the best development of the day, Federer has passed Nadal in the rankings, and will likely hold the 2nd spot through Roland Garros, which means that Federer should have an easier draw than Nadal, and may possibly avoid being in Rafa’s bracket.  If that’s the case, then Djokovic and Nadal, the tour’s two chief cry baby complainers, would possibly have each other in the semi-final at Roland Garros, where they could literally kill each other, if we’re lucky.  We’ll get back to them later.

As for Roger, what a week.  In the opener, he played in one of the year’s most entertaining matches, so narrowly defeating the comer, Milos Raonic.  We billed that match for you and it was probably even better than advertised.  We always have loved betting tennis because the difference between players, even disparate players, is often way slimmer than the odds would purport.  Like today.  There really wasn’t much separating Berdych and Federer, and the big man had a lot of chances late, jumping out to 0-30 on the 1st 3 games on Roger’s serve in the third set.  Berdych also broke back at 5-4 when Roger served for the match, then hit 3 aces to dig out of 0-40 in the next game, before Federer broke and served it out for good.  These matches this week, a grand Serena, stirring upsets of Djokovic and Nadal, and Federer throughout, saw a high level of tennis on display.

Even better perhaps than today’s match, in which both players had positive winner to UFE ratios, was the Federer-Raonic affair.  Federer was down 4-6, 5-5 (30-40), and on second serve, Federer came in, a tough proposition with Raonic passing him all the live long day, and had to come up with an extremely difficult half volley, which for him landed on the back of the line, sliding just a bit to force Raonic into a forehand error.  Federer then worked the hold, and at 4-6, 6-5, in the 21st game of the match, finally won a few points off Raonic’s first serve.  In the 1st 20 games of the match, Federer did not win one point off of Raonic’s first serve.  Incredible, really.

We have to say how impressive Raonic is, yet again.  This kid has the best flat forehand in the game today.  Federer, thinking he had a good play in approaching to the Raonic backhand, got torched.  He was only 15 of 29 at net, and yet, as one of TTC’s best voices, Robby Koenig said, he got the point he absolutely had to have.  Because if Raonic gets that break, he serves out the match and wins 6-4, 7-5, and Federer is still 3rd tomorrow.  He also has the best serve in the game right now, and has only really scratched the surface.

The Fed camp must’ve readjusted their gameplan going into today’s match with another big man with big strokes.  Federer only came in 5 times today, which was the better play, to make Berdych have to go side to side a lot.  Not that Berdych was complaining about his footing and movement on the blue, like some.  Just because he isn’t the most mobile guy.  For that matter, the only time Raonic was really exposed by Federer was on drop shots.  His laterals were tremendous.  So the work for he and Galo Blanco, and we are sure they are already back at it, is digging forward to play droppers and short slice.  One last bit on the Berdych match as well.  Berdych was slow to a drop shot in his last service game, and his forehand clipped the tape and popped long.  That little play does not adequately separate a -330 favorite from a +250 dog.

But Roger loves Madrid, loves the altitude, which adds a little zip to the ball, and also like those blue courts.  And if he didn’t, he still worked out, far far too classy to complain about a tournament so good for the game.  Djokovic and Nadal should take a lesson.  First Djokovic.  He trashed the blue clay, and also trashed the ATP, and said that the former president, who ok’d the blue, was only thinking of himself.  Now maybe it’s me, but I am having a hard time figuring out how the former ATP president personally benefited from these blue courts, unless he took a bribe from the manufacturer.

Look, we all know the ATP is shit.  We may question the dubious stats that Mutua Madrilena released about the blue clay being 27% easier for players to see the ball on, and 21% easier for fans to pick up the ball than on red clay.  While dubious to us, we must also be honest and say we did think it made for a striking court and visually pleasing tennis.  Probably because the courts played fast and we didn’t have to snore through war of attrition tennis for once.

Spray painted blue clay, recently spray painted at that, is obviously going to be quick and slick.  Instead of whining and crying, Djokovic and Nadal, who have dominated the game playing war of attrition tennis, should take the changes as a compliment.  Even in Spain, they are tired of the same players and styles dominating.  Every decade or so they will speed or slow the courts.  They slowed the courts because big serves were prevailing “too easily” and now we see they are speeding the courts because guys aren’t hitting winners.

Djokovic’s rants were classless.  And in his 2nd match against Wawrinka, it was Wawrinka who was frustrated with the court, smashing his racquet to bits on a changeover.  But Wawrinka is also too classy to complain.  As for Nadal, who says he’s never playing on the blue again, well, he should be more real.  Nadal wouldn’t miss a match, let alone a tournament on clay if he was dying.  He played at meaningless Barcelona in a 500, when Djokovic and Federer haven’t played any 500’s on clay this year or last.  When Nadal goes into his yearly, um, slide, it’s always because of cumulative effect, the toll of his matches.  So why play last week?

Because he’s a greedy, whiny moron.  No one really honestly says what’s going on with Nadal.  Nobody calls him out for bad sportsmanship when he stalls, or shadow boxes, or does his dumb laps or takes his little penguin steps, and fails to play to the speed of the server.  We’d love to see him skip a tournament in his home nation on clay, but it isn’t going to happen.  So why cry?  He lost one match on clay in a year, and the time he loses, against a friend of his who finally gets to beat him after 14 previous losses or whatever it was, he has to complain.  What a glaring lack of sportsmanship.  The guy was up 2 breaks, 5-2 in the 3rd, and 15-0 when he put an easy smash into the net bottom.  From there he got swept out like trash.  That’s the issue, not the clay.  Like Billie Jean King said of the surface, and of the complaining, champions adjust.

The first woman to win on the blue was Serena, who pretty much invalidated Azarenka’s banner year in about 55 minutes today, with a 6-1, 6-3 win over the now shaky new queen.  In all likelihood, Azarenka was probably really done for in about 25 minutes after the 6-1 first set drubbing.  We bet Azarenka, theoretically, and that was a bad bit of business, as we knew well it might have been.  We said as much.  In retrospect, with Serena laying waste to the competition on similar green clay in Charleston @ the FCC, we perhaps should’ve known better.  But we still think for Serena, success on clay today doesn’t necessarily translate into success on clay tomorrow.  But moving up from #9 with a stout win means she will play an easier draw at RG.

Here’s a nice stat for Serena Williams that we saw today and which earns her even more kudos.  She has now beaten 13 world #1’s in her career, the 3rd most of all time.  If you can name them all, we’ll owe you a bit of our own clay, a smoke-able number.

As for Berdych, you are still a winner, friend.  You get to go home with Ester Satorova.

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

Mutua Madrilena Masrers Series 1000 — Madrid, Spain (approximately 2 PM EST, TTC)

Roger Federer:  – 350

Milos Raonic:  + 225

…….

Fed leads 1-0, taking a tight 3 setter from the kid at Indian Wells.  Raonic played the big game against Federer, and pounded serves and forehands, to get up a set.  We knew Federer can be susceptible to the big game, but not for sure whether Raonic could get to Roger with his big game.  In the end, we were satisfied that Raonic can indeed.  The match, in our minds, came down to fitness.  Raonic was gassed after winning the first set breaker 7-4.

The kid has been playing very well on the clay over in Spain, taking out Andy Murray and very narrowly losing to warrior David Ferrer.  And he trains in Spain and his coach, Galo Blanco, is from Spain, so the comfort level is there.  Federer is yet to play a tournament match on clay this season.  Madrid’s blue clay and indoor setting means for faster clay, and that is going to bode well for big hitters such as these.

We aren’t touching this, though we can’t wait to see it play out.  Either way the outcome will not surprise us, unless there’s a blowout.  But guys that hold serve don’t get blown out, so don’t be surprised if this is another close affair.

Sorry to be brief, but this match had to be noted.

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)

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.

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

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