Grass Court Tennis


Jerzy-Janowicz-Wimbledon
Jerzy Janowicz (above) on the attack.

All England Club 2013
Ladies Semi-final July 04

Kirsten Flipkens: + 130
Marion Bartoli: – 160
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Sabine Lisicki: – 150
Agnieszka Radwanska: + 120

_______________

Men’s Semifinal July 05

Juan Martin Del Potro: + 500

NovaK Djokovic: – 800

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Jerzy Janowicz: + 375

Andy Murray: – 500
….
I would certainly hail Jerzy Janowicz, should he hoist the trophy come Sunday noon. That kid is going places. Looks a little Sampras-ish. But we think it will be King Novak who wins the day. At any rate, and these rates are fine, we would take JJ tomorrow. Look for him to finish off Murray where Verdasco we knew, would not. Verdasco is like the white James Blake. All talent and near misses, the both of them. Janowicz has the right game for the lawn, and Murray is gonna have to get down if he wants to get through, which may not be easy, considering the back has seemed balky, that same back that has plagued him since early 2012. Say what, you say. Yes. We were shocked to read Chris Clarey on the eve of Roland Garros telling us Andy Murray was skipping because of a back injury which first affected him 14 months ago. We don’t like when players get their rhythm amended near the time of a major, especially with the RG/SW-19 quick turn around, the way Murray’s was. No way around that Murray was not playing competitive tennis at the highest level last month. We don’t like it. The pusher injuries began 14 months ago with Murray, it seems, and more to come, which puts a real damper on Murray’s long term plans to win the French Open, oh pity Britain. Murray should not fold up the tent on RG yet, especially since he can hit as many shots as he wants there and he just loves hitting shots, just not winners.

We think Murray might get the game took to him Friday by the Polish Lightning Bolt. If not, then Djokovic should school him proper Sunday, because seems to us better inclined and better primed to take the match, which is what is called for on grass after all. Though Djoker’s got his work cur out with him with JMDP, and don’t think we don’t love JMDP on that money line, especially since we saw JMDP unleash bomb after bomb on Novak less than a year ago on these very courts in taking out the King at the Olympic fare. Janowicz, to us, should have had the +5 and JMDP should be much much much lower, because Djokovic could very easily lose here in this spot. But we think Djoker needs this to cleanse the stench from his RG semi chokefest very badly, which will overcome.

As for the ladies, not gonna say much. Respect Lisicki, the big hitter, yeah, Bartoli not so much, but we love both dogs there too. Bartoli, a 2 hander, hates having variety thrown at her, hates having her rhythm and time disrupted. Which is Flipkens description–old school, crafty, grass court tennis. And that’s why we like Aggie too, because of the craft. This is Aggie’s best ever chance to do something, let’s be real. None of the big 3 is here. She needs it, and she has always played very well when she has needed it, we thinks. Would be a sensational coup too if Aggie hoisted the heavy metal, considering how lightly she packs. Just being real, son.

So nice to see the grass reward the bold (and Andy Murray) as it traditionally does, and for so many reasons, like the lack for the lack of prep on the stuff (can’t practice on the grounds prior to the tourny) and the onus on attack, volley, good old ‘do you have the balls to take it out of the air, far from the baseline?’ tennis. Essentially what we are describing is…TENNIS!!! So let’s make Halle a Masters 1000 and let the Olympians play their tennis at SW-19 regardless of the silly host country from here on in and perhaps we can start to undo some of the damage that plan A only Sharapova drones and straight up pushers like 90% of all 2-handers out there and their fearless leader, precious oh precious Rafael, and Florida and Chris Evert’s dad and Brad Gilbert and Plexicushion and clay have done to this game.

It was wild.

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

images-1Nadal and Federer (above), after Nadal saved 2 match points to defeat Roger in Rome in 2006, in their only 5 set match on clay to date.  Federer was 92-5 that year, in one of the most dominant single seasons in tennis history.

FORO ITALICO — INTERNAZIONALI BNL D’ITALIA (ROME, ITALY)

LADIES’ FINAL — 7:30 AM EST

Serena Williams:  – 450

Victoria Azarenka:  + 325

__ __ __ __ __ __

MEN’S FINAL — 10 AM EST

Rafael Nadal:  – 450

Roger Federer:  + 325

…..

Serena leads the h2h 11-2, is 1-0 on clay (Madrid, F, 2012, 6-1, 6-3), and has never lost a set to Vica on a specialty surface/soft court (grass + clay = 4 easy wins in 8 easy sets).  Obviously that is the knock on Azarenka, who is vulnerable to drop shots and balls that go back behind her, things she is not vulnerable to on hardcourts.  Nadal leads the h2h 19-10.  We’d give Roger more of a shot here than Vica, as again, it’s not often to see such a huge plus by either name, but we are expecting both favorites will come through.  If Fed is going to beat Rafa on clay this year, he should try to save it for RG.

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)

Venus (above) looking very serious in Luxembourg.

BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open — Final

9:00 AM EST (9 PM, TTC)

Venus Williams:  – 400

Monica Niculescu:  + 300

………

We can’t be happier than to see Venus with this easy opportunity in Luxembourg City tomorrow.  We of course hesitate here for a moment because we may have just jinxed her, and we have noticed that Lady V has played a lot of tennis this week, which she may not exactly be as used to as she was in her prime, or even just a mere two years ago.  This was a great week for Venus on the court though, beating the impressive but heavily acne-ed German Mona Barthel (yes, Venus slipped her the bagel), top seed Roberta Vinci (a shout for the Italian one hander), and German Andrea Petkovic.  Frankly, while the head to head sits at love love, Niculescu is a poor world #70, she is a bona fide journeywoman, and this was in all likelihood, the best week in her life.  Venus could not have asked for a better matchup in this final.  We also think Niculescu played way over her head earlier in defeating the heavily favored Daniela Hantuchova.  Niculescu may come into this spot with stars in her eyes, and she could be already satisfied at this run.  Or maybe, she’s super motivated to win her 1st career title.  That may be safe to assume, but she is playing Venus Williams here.

We don’t consider this at all similar to Williams-Rezai in Spain a few years back.  Rezai stunned Venus on the clay, after a great week, and we thought that Venus was unprepared to play on that Sunday.  Rezai is a very competent clay courter, theoretically, when she can be located on the face of the earth.  And clay does not suit our Lady V.  But indoors do.  Venus sits at world #41 right now, and with the win, she would re-enter the top 30, by our estimation, on Monday.  Should she win, it will be the first singles title for Venus since Abierto Mexicano, way back in 2010.  It would also be Williams’ 44th career singles crown.

WTA Kremlin Cup — Final

5:00 AM EST (TTC)

Sam Stosur:  – 115

Caroline Wozniacki:  – 115

………

Please.  Who thinks this is an even matchup?  Stosur leads the h2h 3-2, but she is obviously the much better player, the true champion, the contender with real weapons, whereas Caroline Wozniacki, The Dutch Miss, is the pretender, the chump, the so-so face with the pop gun game.  We would never lay money on Wozniacki, and if you follow us you know why.  Wozniacki is a joke.  Let’s be real.  Her time, which never really came, is now past, and until she makes serious coaching, training, and scheduling changes, she will remain a laughingstock.

ATP Kremlin Cup — Final

7:00 AM EST (TTC)

Andreas Seppi:  – 200

Tomaz Bellucci:  + 160

………..

Seppi is the better fast court player, and we are especially impressed with his play on grass over the last few years.  We feel that translates to indoors.  Bellucci is a clay court specialist, a very poor man’s Rafa, right down to the corkscrew lefty forehand, the grinding, and the incessant running.  But we aren’t comfortable with Seppi as a favorite.  Remember that our philosophy is to make the better bet and that we look for positive money lines.  Speaking for ourselves, we’d probably take a cheap flyer on Bellucci, even though Seppi is a better player.

If Stockholm Open — Final

9:00 AM EST

Tomas Berdych:  – 180

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 150

……..

We feel like Berdych does everything a little better than Tsonga, and is much stronger mentally.  We’d not be surprised if this match is similar to the one they just played in Beijing, in which Berdych won in straights.

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

Nadal (R.) and Marc Lopez bite the doubles trophy at Indian Wells on Plexicushion.  We contend though, that Plexicushion and doubles has taken a bigger bite out of Rafa.

To what do you owe this infrequent ripple across the page?  We are so busy of late that we’ve neglected most all things, even tennis.  But those of you who know me know it has been seldom if ever that we pass on a chance on to pick up apart Rafael Nadal.  And more seldom probably is it to even get a legitimate opportunity.  Nadal has been great, frankly, in the last 3 years.  He’s won a Wimbledon and a US Open, he’s won 3 French Opens, and competed hard in 3 other major finals.  Nadal was not a good, but a great number 2 last year, and in all likelihood, was more of a 1A for the 8 or 9 months of the season.  But that was last year.

We’ll always find a way to criticize Nadal for being a pusher and playing that weak, safe defensive style, and while he played great through the French Open in 2012, for a pusher or anyone else, and was a virtual human backboard, he played way too much tennis.  Too many matches as a product of winning so much, but he also could have taken it easier at many points early to mid season, which includes pushing it in doubles as well.  We don’t think it too coincidental that Nadal and Marc Lopez played the doubles at Indian Wells on Plexicushion and won there, and that Nadal was basically out of the game 2 months or so later.  Nor we do find much coincidence in Federer beating Nadal in the semis at IW, or in losing to Murray in a walk over a few weeks later in the semis at Key Biscayne, where he also played doubles.

For Nadal in singles, the points are way too long, and there were too many of them.  I don’t know the actual numbers, but it certainly seems to me that Nadal plays a ridiculous number of deuces, and that he may be the King of Deuces as well as the King of Clay, but for the latter, who knows how much longer he’ll hold the crown?  Because his serve is not super strong in and of itself, he really has to fight hard in his service games.  The fighter that he is, he is trying to win all of his return games too and he is in most of them.  But the net cost we see now is the right patella.  Didn’t any reasonable tennis fan know that Nadal’s problems were going to come to a head?  This knee thing has been amply foreshadowed.  Let’s face it.  There have been very few losses in Nadal’s career where someone wasn’t questioning one knee or other.  That goes back to the style of play.

Too much of the wrong kind of tennis when it comes to health and longevity on clay and Plexicushion, our  “favorite” surfaces.  Plexicushion, the surface that is probably even slower than most clay nowadays, but has the same amount of general wear and tear factor as any hardcourt surface, including surfaces where you can actually hit a winner.  One of these Aussie Open finals has to have the need of the roof already, and we think even then Rod Laver will play horribly slow.  But that’s the bullshit behind Plexicushion that major corporations and entities like manufacturers and tournaments and associations want people to believe is way easier on the joints and at absorbing less heat.  Right.

We’re just of the notion that the tennis is better when people can hit more than the occasional winner.  Also, faster surfaces promotes better, more diverse tennis and tennis styles as well.  It seems that Nadal could return to the tour on Plexicushion, the surface that has done the damage to Nadal’s knees in recent years, if we are to take him at his word that he is returning at the Abu Dhabi 250-ATP event there the last week in December.  Nadal, who just last week refused to commit to the Australian Open and said that he had no idea when in 2013 he would return, because he wasn’t playing until the knee was “fully healed.”  So Nadal has changed his tune completely in the span of one week, and when pressed about his status he confessed to Spanish reporters that he has not done any on court work yet and has no plans to anytime soon.

Nadal is going to be evasive, sure.  If it were me or my player, I wouldn’t want people to know the exact  health status because that could be a competitive advantage.  But it seems to us that a guy who hasn’t picked up a racquet since Wimbledon and who is still not practicing regularly or on court is not making a good decision by coming back to play at Abu Dhabi, on a court just like the ones that exact the greatest toll on his knees.  We are now expected to believe that Nadal, who is probably only exercising in a swimming pool at this point, knows for a fact somehow that he will be playing in the UAE on December 26th or 27th?  It’s preposterous.  We  question both the flip flop in stance, as well as to pick Abu Dhabi, seemingly out of the blue.  Nadal is a guy who is best when he is playing a lot.  Last Monday, he dropped to world #4, as Olympic gold medalist and US Open champion Andy Murray moved up to #3.  But David Ferrer is a good 2000 rankings points behind him and is gimpy himself at the moment, so Nadal really does not have to worry much about rankings/seedings just yet.  What’s best for Nadal is a balanced schedule that includes him playing when he is healthy and resting when appropriate.  If Nadal is on the court soon, he should think about coming back this season.  The Spanish are in the mix for another Davis Cup and there is also the YEC, where Nadal has yet to win or even final.  Nadal’s rhythm and confidence comes from playing a lot of tennis.  We’d have trouble recalling any big event that Nadal has won off of an extended layoff, and really, we can’t see how Abu Dhabi and then Qatar has worked that well in recent years as Nadal’s warmups to Melbourne.  Disagree if you will, but what we do see with Nadal’s early schedule is a lot of Plexicushion pounding before he even sets foot on Aussie soil.

We feel that Nadal’s style is both physically and mentally exhausting, and missed months and majors are the cost.  Toni Nadal, professional sports most well known uncle, has intimated many times that he does not control Nadal’s schedule, that the player makes the schedule despite his best input.  Let’s take that at face value then.  Nadal has not won a non clay event since Toray, Japan in 2010.  He has not won on hards or grass in 2 full years.  Nadal, as good as he is when he is at his best, has reverted back to a clay court specialist, bottom line.  We think that Nadal is very weary mentally, and more or less afraid to roll out to the Paris Indoor and the YEC because he has no confidence on quicker hards or indoor surfaces, when in actuality, he should view them, if healthy, as having nothing to lose at.

Paris and London, two cities that get their fill of Rafa in June and July, do not offer the same large participation bonuses as do the Arab princes in Abu Dhabi and Doha.  So there is absolutely no motivation for him to come back until the U.A.E., though that stretch seems to get his knees off to a bad start every year.  So Nadal, again has chosen a bad schedule for the wrong reasons, whether he is chasing points, or meaningless doubles trophies (they are in fact actually significant though when taken in light of the additional toll to his knees), or money, which he probably has more than enough of at this point.

We hate to seem like we are counting people’s money.  That’s not what this is about.  Moreso, we see Federer and Djokovic playing extremely wise schedules, even missing their home tournaments in Basel and Serbia in the past, so that they are able to play important events such as the YEC.  And they are both YEC champions in part, because of it.  Nadal has never really rolled into the YEC healthy or on a high note, and that is in part due to short sighted scheduling, even more important to Nadal since he is a total pusher who has absolutely nothing when he’s flat, and has never been able to remain fresh through October and November.  Recall that Djokovic used to show up to the YEC as dead as a dead dog’s dick, but the Djoker has a smarter team that has made the necessary adjustments, and now we see him playing his brand, full of energy, in mid October and beyond.

While Nadal shows up at Halle where he partners up with Marcel Granollers, and ends up defaulting in the singles and doubles after a long three set doubles affair against Michal Mertinak and Victor Troicki.  The next week, he gets destroyed at Wimbledon by Rosol, who has not been heard from since, and four months later, the guy is not yet on any tennis court of any kind.

As much as we don’t like Nadal, his absence is bad for the game.

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Balls struck by the Andy Murray backhand on the Saturday preceding the US Open (above).  Notice those string marks.

As you know from our page, we’ve taken Andy Murray very seriously since he hired Ivan Lendl.  We weren’t in love with what we considered a bit of a backslide, pardon pun, on clay, after what we thought was a really strong showing, especially against Djokovic and Nadal at Rome and Monte Carlo in 2011.  He didn’t do much to build on that this year, and we thought it a bad sign.  Although, losing to ultimate warrior David Ferrer in the quarters, who has his number on clay, is not at all a bad showing when you still make the quarters.  We thought Murray was going to be the first Brit to hold a trophy on clay since the 70’s on the men’s side (albeit a lesser trophy), and we still do.  But obviously that didn’t happen in 2012, and it doesn’t really matter, since Murray won Olympic gold and his first major at Flushing, in dramatic 5 set fashion over nemesis Novak Djokovic.  And finally, there was a couple of finals in real pressure cooker spots where you could say that Murray, Andy Murray of Great Britain, was the guy who wanted it more, who kept it together when it all could have went south.  Good for him.  Beating Federer at the Wimbledon Olympiad, a tired Federer or whatever, was still his biggest win up til then.  Perhaps he needed that second 5 setter versus Federer to get out all the mistakes and nerves.  Seemed that way.  Perhaps the partisan nationalist crowd was a factor.  That also seemed to be true.  But Murray played the better tennis and deserved to walk out with the win.  Anytime you beat Djokovic and Federer in successive matches, you deserve to hold the trophy.

At the US Open, Murray played an excellent semi-final against Berdych, in terrible conditions due to wind.  Frankly, we think the wind aided Murray a great deal.  Berdych was poised to dictate that match on his forehand, sans the wind.  Even Murray, an excellent returner, could not have dreamed for more opportunities on second balls than the wind afforded him on Super Saturday.  And Murray didn’t wow us against Marin Cilic, who was thisclose to taking the new champ out in the quarters prior to his coronation.  But it takes some luck, some nerves on the part of the competition, some upsets, and it takes resolve under pressure, which Murray showed when down to Cilic, in the wind versus Berdy, and in the wind versus Djokovic in that final, and when Djokovic had stormed back from 2 sets to the bad.

Murray has the game to win majors and put it all together this summer in 2 very big spots.  Is he a better player than any of the big 3?  No.  But he had never defeated Djokovic (0-2 prior to the Open final, both matches at Melbourne) or Federer (0-3 prior to the Olympic gold medal match) in a 5 set match prior to this summer, and now he has beaten each on their respective favorite surface.  Well done indeed.

Does it mean we expect to see Murray leap frogging better players at the top of the game?  No.  Djokovic deserves the ranking.  He went to 3 major finals, won one, and reached the Wimbledon semi.  He is still top dog.  Federer gets to play the rest of the season on his beloved indoor courts where the wind doesn’t affect his toss or his groundstrokes.  Just recall his performance against Murray in the Wimbledon final once they covered Centre Court.  We don’t see Federer losing too many matches from here on out, and he may do enough to end the year at #1.  Federer certainly has the YEC in his sights yet again.

We also see Djokovic learning some really important lessons this year, as it is far different as the hunted than as the hunter.  We think Djokovic became perhaps a little too impatient on all surfaces this year, a little too frustrated this year, outside of Melbourne, in spots where he was record clutch just about everywhere in 2011.  While the attack mode plays best at Wimbledon, and we did like Djokovic to win there, frankly, Roger taught him a few tricks of the trade on grass, and failed let Djokovic dismantle the Federer backhand, as Federer has been an ace at stepping around the backhand in his most recent matches with Djokovic.  And if Djokovic gets a windless day a few Mondays back, or if he wins that first set when up 4-2 in that breaker, he probably hoists his 2nd Open trophy.  But he didn’t play well enough or get enough breaks.  So what we see coming of it is that Djokovic goes into hyper work mode, as he did toward the end of 2010, when he broke through his plateau against Nadal.  Djokovic is going to be the driving force in the men’s game next year.  We are confident of that.

Murray and Robson (above) at Hopman Cup in Perth, 2010.

Murray is going to be a serious player at the hardcourt majors and Wimbledon for a long time to come.  We thought Murray practiced very well leading up to The Open, and had the pleasure of watching him from the first row in a session against David Ferrer in which he hit the ball as hard as anyone we’ve seen hit it, leaving the string marks on the ball as pictured above.  Murray has a lot of power when he hits his shots with momentum, and a lot of touch when he sheds that trademark temerity and approaches the net.  Now, he uses those talents.  Then there’s Murray’s bronze medal mixed doubles partner, Laura Robson, who on Sunday was nearly the first British woman to take home hardware since Virginia Wade did 30-something years ago.  We remember Robson as a 13 and 14 year old prodigy on the outer courts of SW-19, thinking about the enormous pressure on her, the whole pride of Britain thing.  And we didn’t see all that many gains for almost 5 years.  But now, we see a kid who at 18 is on target to make the top 10 on the soon side.  Robson took out Clijsters at Flushing in round 2, and we get the notion that Clijsters was also playing her emotions in that spot, her final USO match, final career match and whatnot.  But nobody is rooting for Robson there so it isn’t a great spot for the kid either.  Frankly, a lot about Robson reminds us of Clijsters.  The backhand, for one, is a real weapon.  She steps in and rips that 2-hander with control.  But Robson, at 5’11, has a great serve and seems like one of the best candidates in the women’s game right now to hold her serve consistently.  Then there’s that big lefty forehand that she can crush flat or corkscrew with topspin, a shot that smaller players will have a lot of trouble with when it gets up high.  And Robson moves forward with ease, goes side to side and defends gracefully, and keeps her composure far beyond that of a normal 18 year old, even in tennis.

Robson has climbed some 250 spots in the last two years since she began training at the Mouratoglou academy in Paris.  BTW, Mouratoglou also coaches Dimitrov, who has made decent strides since beginning that partnership, and is also a recent addition to Serena Williams coaching team, as well as being linked romantically to Lady S.  Since joining forces with Williams, Serena has won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, and the US Open.

Last week, Robson had a great run in Guangzhou at a 250 level event, defeating Zheng Jie (#22), Shuai Peng (#47), and Sorana Cirstea (#30) on her way to a final berth in which she almost came from 6-3, 5-3 down to defeat then world #53, Su-Wei Hsieh.  Eventually she lost to Hsieh 6-4 in the 3rd, but it was still a banner week for young Robson.  Hsieh is a tricky two hander who had handled Robson in their previous meeting, 7-6, 6-4.  Hsieh is a mature 26 year old, who went up to world #39 with Sunday’s win.  Robson, prior to that match, talked about how hard Hsieh was to read and how difficult it is to get a rhythm playing against her.

Obviously Robson is finding a way to problem solve on the court.  After the stunning upset of Clijsters at Flushing, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for her to let down in round 3 against Li Na.  When she was up a set and a break on Li and then lost the break and a 2nd set breaker, no one in the house was expecting her to pull out the win.  That win, sending Robson to her 1st round of 16 as a pro, was hard fought and well won, and marked her taking out two major champions in successive matches.

Robson, who started the year at 2-8 and did not get a win on the main tour until Miami at the end of March, is now 29-23, and in looking over the players above her, we see that she is poised to make a big move up the rankings this fall.

42    42    Arvidsson, Sofia    16/02/84    SWE    1355    25
43    41    Wozniak, Aleksandra    07/09/87    CAN    1350    23
44    44    Pironkova, Tsvetana    13/09/87    BUL    1325    22
45    48    Cornet, Alize    22/01/90    FRA    1325    27
46    47    Peng, Shuai    08/01/86    CHN    1315    23
47    46    Niculescu, Monica    25/09/87    ROU    1306    21
48    45    Suarez Navarro, Carla    03/09/88    ESP    1281    26
49    49    Halep, Simona    27/09/91    ROU    1225    22
50    51    Cetkovska, Petra    08/02/85    CZE    1215    20
51    50    Hradecka, Lucie    21/05/85    CZE    1199    21
52    52    Tatishvili, Anna    03/02/90    GEO    1162    30
53    43    Scheepers, Chanelle    13/03/84    RSA    1120    26
54    54    Govortsova, Olga    23/08/88    BLR    1120    26
55    55    Kuznetsova, Svetlana    27/06/85    RUS    1082    15
56    58    Jovanovski, Bojana    31/12/91    SRB    1080    29
57    74    Robson, Laura    21/01/94    GBR    1073    26

http://www.wtatennis.com/page/RankingsSingles/0,,12781~0~1~100,00.html

We are not impressed with anyone on that list above, except for Robson.  We’d say there are some players ripe to be overtaken right up to Wozniacki at number 11, and we think Robson can leap frog a lot of these ladies with a strong end to the year.  Spots 28-41 are all people Robson is going to be beating regularly, with the possible exception of Sloane Stephens, though that may be debatable.  And Robson has virtually no points to defend as she moves through the remainder of the outdoor hardcourt season and then goes indoors, where she is obviously suited to the speed of play.

We were never big Murray fans and we think you know that to be the case.  Still, we’ve been on Murray as a big time threat, except for at Roland Garros, since he brought Lendl aboard.  Robson is a lot easier to like than Murray.  No tantrums.  No hype outside of the Isles.  And no maddeningly passive strategies, though Murray, especially with Lendl as his coach, has better figured out when the time is to let it rip.  But of all the young women we watched this summer, Robson did the most to impress.  Tough break drawing Schiavone in the 1st round at Wimbledon, but we’d bet the house she’d win the rematch on grass, where she has practiced a lot, as she is already a linchpin of her nation’s Fed Cup team.

Simply put, if you are a weak minded female, or one with no weapons, then Robson will have your ranking soon enough.  Between Murray and Robson, Britain is poised for their best run in tennis since the pre-modern era.

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Last week in Toronto, Venus Williams put in her best week of singles work since before the Sjogren’s disease, falling to Li Na in the semis, the eventual champion.  Great to see Venus playing good tennis, with depth and precision off both wings, and her trademark cat like quickness moving inside the court.  Venus told a reconfigured ESPN panel of tennis announcers (about time they shook things up, but Jimmy Arias?  Really?) that she first started to feel like herself in London for the Olympics, even though she went out in the 2nd round of singles, in straight tie-break sets to the very hot (you have a dirty mind if you are not thinking tennis!) Angelique Kerber.  Venus told the panel that despite that loss, she felt like she had her groove back, and “thank God because it’s the Olympics and the Olympics are so so huge.”  And then, ho hum, another Olympic doubles gold for Venus and Serena, making for 3 Olympic golds, all totaled, now in her vast trophy case.

The Olympics as huge is not always a concept we particularly embraced.  Like when Elena Dementieva tried to pass off her major-less career as something more because of gold in Beijing, saying that it made her a celebrity in Russia, and blah blah blah.  I mean, that still is not too impressive to us, as we don’t think too many players were all that upset to lose out on that gold.  But that was Beijing.  It is a shame about Dementieva, who anyone with any heart at all had to feel bad about by the end of the day, and her failed plight for a major.  She really was a very notable big time player, making many major semi-finals, losing the French Open final in 2004 and the US Open final that same year, and twice losing in the doubles final at The Open, to boot.  But how bad can you really feel for a player who can barely break 85 MPH on a first serve?

The Olympics at Wimbledon is another story entirely.  Especially, when played so close to um, Wimbledon at Wimbledon.  What we have seen in tennis this year was an incredible phenomenon with what was essentially an extended grass court season for the top players, who did not need to scurry back to clay or hardcourts in between SW-19 and SW-19.  A lot has been made about the cheesy purple cloak around the grounds of The All England Club, and we’d make the point that definitely, Wimbledon did more for the Olympics than the Olympics did for Wimbledon.

We’d also have to note that conditions are different at SW-19 a month after the major and that those conditions played a role at the Olympics.  Like slippage, for one, and brightness, for another.  We’ve never seen Wimbledon so bright and sunny.  Or so slippery.  We’d say that a guy like Tomas Berdych, a former finalist, going out early, constantly losing his footing, in that match with Steve Darcis, who we think had never beaten a top ten player before, was certainly affected very greatly by conditions.  As dozens are routinely at Roland Garros every year.  You have to deal with conditions.  Period.  Darcis was the more mobile player, he had his footing, and you could really see, in that match, that the ease of motion we associate with the one handed shot played heavily into Darcis’ favor.  Since the lawns were very chewed from the major and hadn’t had time to replenish naturally, the groundskeepers had to lay new sod down and that sod didn’t always hold best, especially on the outer courts.

When Serena laid waste to Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match, all the more impressive because Serena, between claiming her 5th Wimbledon crown and her 1st singles gold medal, went out to Stanford and grabbed another title at the Bank of the West, doing all that extra travel, and pulling the surface switch twice, from grass to hards back to grass.  Serena was rightly hailed for her double gold, and the American media, usually at odds with Lady S, came a crawling back to her camp.  Indeed, they had found amid their bias a minute’s break from bashing Serena as a poor sportswoman, except for her dancing that is, to make these arguments that she had never played better, was a woman among girls, and all the other nice stuff they only get around to saying when we are in heated competition for medals with the entire world.

The same standard by which the US media has feted Serena has been used to denigrate Andy Murray for his most impressive showing at the London games.  It’s simply not fair.  Murray is 0-4 in major finals and almost all are quick to point out that if he was going to beat Roger Federer in a Wimbledon final, then he picked the wrong one to do it in.  Nothing could be more obvious.  But to label him a modern day Nicolas Massu?

The Olympics are a huge accomplishment, especially at Wimbledon, and a tremendous feather in Murray’s cap.  For one, Murray proved he can beat Federer in a best of 5 set match.  Prior to the Olympic gold medal match, across three matches, Murray had managed to take just one set off Federer in best of 5 set play.  And two of those matches were blowouts.  Murray also proved that he could beat Federer on grass in best of 5 set play, joining a very select club.  A mature Federer has only lost to Nadal, Berdych, Tsonga, and now Murray in that type of setting.

Murray blew out Roger in the gold medal match, handing the great man his most lopsided straight 3 set loss since the Roland Garros final in 2008, when Nadal steamrolled Federer, with whom Mono still lingered.  We don’t know if Federer has ever been blown out like that on grass.  Murray deserves many kudos for this showing.  Federer had also announced his intention to compete in the London games, and obviously win the gold medal, during Wimbledon in 2007 and 2009.  We loved Federer coming in to the event, feeling that Federer is even more dangerous when he has the confidence to announce his intentions.  Especially when those intentions are stated so far in advance.  We’d also note that on the eve of Wimbledon this year, Federer considered himself the favorite, and then had his best semi-final and final showing at a major since his last win, which was Melbourne in 2010.

The press has cited Federer’s fatigue going into the final because of the semi-final marathon with Del Potro, which went to 19-17 in the 3rd set.  It was a factor, for sure.  But this talk of Murray owing his gold to Delpo is just silly.  First off, Federer did not take care of business.  He threw in a nervous service game and got down love forty at 10-9 when trying to serve it out.  Does the final play out differently if Roger gets done with his work 17 games earlier than he did?  It’s a moot point because it is on Roger.  Murray saw fit to dispatch Djokovic quickly in that spot, and he was the fresher for it and it was well deserved.

We’d also like to point out that for some of the players, guys like Roger, Murray, Djokovic, and Del Potro, who stayed on grass the entire extended season, from mid June through the Olympics, we really got to see how it played out between the very best players on the very best of surfaces.  For that, we are so grateful for the London Olympics having the foresight to play tennis at The All England Club.  As we always tell you, the Wimbledon champion for that year is the champion of all tennis, today, tomorrow, and obviously, historically.  It is why they call Wimbledon “The Championships.”  Grass accentuates all that is truly great in the game: the graceful, the bold, the mighty, and the true talent, skill, and artistry that can only be mastered with hands and footwork, and not marathon grunt work.  Wimbledon, the opposite of Roland Garros, favors grace over grunt.

So many times over the course of the event we heard our man Justin Gimelstob exclaim that we were watching “the perfect execution of power tennis.”  Like with Tsonga-Raonic, Federer-Isner, and Federer-Delpo.  For Murray to play aggressively enough to win an event staged at Wimbledon, beating the guys who he did, means not only did he up his usually meek game considerably, but that also, he played perfect counter attack tennis on a very fast grass track.  Did anyone notice the forehand redirect he hit, in the 2nd set, business end, versus Djokovic, which was essentially a half volley he hit for a winner from the middle of the baseline?  And only dropping 7 games to Roger Federer?

Sorry, but that’s major.  So give the kid his due.

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