Harry Hopman


Stacey Gardner (left, above) and Ester Satorova.

Originally we were going to light up The Tennis Channel for it’s diminished coverage of our beloved Hopman Cup, which is a celebration of tennis, a multi-national competition sometimes decided by our dearly beloved mixed doubles–how novel–and the greatest of New Year’s pick me ups.  It is true that TTC only televised three sessions of the Hopman Cup, but in it’s quest to cover American tennis primarily, and with the blah team of Mardy Fish and Bethanie Mattek-Sands representing America, could we really blame them?  In this day and age, if you can’t find just about any tennis online live, you have no business criticizing the The Tennis Channel anyway.  But criticizing Fish and Sands?  That’s a cottage industry.

Well, if you hearken back to last year when John Isner–a winner–and Sands partnered up to win Hopman Cup XXIII, you couldn’t have been too displeased with Sands, who perhaps had no business tussling with Justine Henin, but who did pull her weight admirably in perhaps sharing with Isner in her greatest tennis glory.  And was it not a sight to see Justine Henin returning serve to John Isner?  Let’s face it, Sands is a middling player at best, a blight on our Fed Cup team, a high socked, neon dyed chubby little picture of bad fashion with the girliest popgun forehand in the women’s top 55, but she is not a disgrace to American tennis.  The girl gets doubles, understands well her limitations, and therefore uses the net, approaches as much as possible with nice touch at net, and again, she came through as much as one could expect her to last year to get USA her sixth Hopman Cup.

It’s not her fault that her meager game gets trotted out so regularly to horrible results by Mary Joe Fernandez.  That would be the USTA’s fault.  So when the Czech sounded the American death knell the other morning, and Sands got obliterated by Kvitova, as she should, and when Fish got abused by Berdych, as expected, we put no blame on Ms. Sands.  After all, the Americans were up a break in the second set of the mixed, and it was no fault of Sands that Mardy Fish blew about ten volleys in 4 games and netted four crosses in the exact same damned spot in the net.  As our mate Fred Stolle aptly pointed out, if Fish were tired from being beaten so badly by Tomas Berdych, that was not an excuse for dead legged tennis in the mixed, crossing like a kamikaze to blow volleys that the 12 year olds over at the NYJTL make regularly in the school yard.  Fred Stolle, who we only get down under and occasionally during mixed package major season, the first seven days of the majors, when we are very lucky.  Fred, why couldn’t you have stayed with ESPN back in the day and that hack Cliff Drysdale have gone?

Fish Fish Fish.  The worst thing anyone could possibly do is to put their faith in Mardy Fish in the big spot.  Now you might say, well, didn’t Fish win the bespeckled tennis ball with a driven Serena a scant few years back?  Yes.  But Serena is so great that she can make Mardy Fish a winner for a week, something we’ve yet to see anyone else do.  She carried Fish, she banged unreturnable serves to the men and women, and her presence on just about any doubles team has generally always produced medals and champion trophies.  It was lucky for Mardy that Serena likes bling so much, was healthy, and so motivated to get another blinged out tennis ball from old Lucy H.  For when Fish had the opportunity to take home the gold, he lost in five sets to…Nicolas Massu.  And he’ll never live that down.

And the excuses abound.  And that’s just tiresome.  Like hearing about Mardy Fish’s ankle all summer.  Let’s face it.  Nadal is more heavily taped up on a day to day basis by a lot, and he only wins majors.  While Fish is rationalizing to the cameras on Hopman Cup that at least Bethanie got in some matches.  Again, Sands is not the dominant player here.  When she won, it was Isner, and when Fish won, it was all Serena.  But can’t Fish state a grand intention for once, even if it’s only at Hopman Cup, where he is a past champion paired with the defending champion?  Instead it’s always like, ‘well maybe I can make the quarters.’

So we aren’t upset that America lost, considering the roster, and that so many other rosters were much much stronger.  Had a special eye on Bulgaria with our lad Grigor Dimitrov, the best up and coming one hander in the game, and Tsvetana Pironkova, Wimbledon’s mistress–quite a team.  BTW, Dimitrov did not look like a prodigy but rather, a prodigy realized, when he spanked Mardy Fish 6-2, 6-1.  Loved France with super talented one hander Richard Gasquet and two-hander Marion Bartoli, an utter hack but taken with Gasquet, a very diverse tandem.  And the Czech obviously were going to be heavy favorites because they were loaded, with Kvitova a given to win and Berdych sitting very pretty.  If the Americans could have actually stretched it out TTC would have shown us more tennis, but they still had the good grace to televise the final which we happened to catch last night at 4 AM, and despite the lack of drama due to the sweep and the no mixed match which would’ve been a hot contest, we got to see the dominant left hand of Kvitova, the dominant serve of Berdych, and the flair of Gasquet, one the game’s best shot makers.  Gasquet took the backhand early and made many beautiful backhands up the line, made incredible forehand return winners, making for a very interesting match which Berdych took 7-6 (7-0), 6-4.  Berdych is in fine form.  His return game was clicking, popping several huge forehands for winners in his own right, and even on the tacky blue plexicushion, we felt the indoor conditions made the court play extremely fast.  It was bang bang tennis, and both guys should get credit for going for shots, coming forward, and pursuing the attack.

A nice bit of warm spirit after the contest was when Bartoli came down to console Gasquet after the match, and when Kvitova came to congratulate and celebrate with Berdych.  This is a great competition and always has been, in the name of the great Harry Hopman who coached from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Gerulaitis, and who stressed the serve, the overhead, and getting to net and sticking your racquet out.  Unfortunately from a sentimental aspect, the event has had its last run at Burswood, but is sounds like the Hopman Cup is moving to an even better venue in Perth’s new arena.

It’s no real comfort to America, but Fish goes home with Stacey Gardner, so obviously these losses aren’t sweated too heavily.  And Berdych to Ester Satorova.  Damn.  We should’ve had a battle of the tennis babes featuring those two.  But there’s still time.

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

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

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

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https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/marathon-man-mahut-returns-to-play-doubles-after-world-record-longest-singles-match/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/marathon-record-man-isner-falls-easily-in-2nd-round-wimbledon/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tune in to TTC tonight.

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

Serena clutching her singles championship trophy on Rod Laver (above).

Unfortunately for the tennis world and for American tennis, Serena Williams, still not properly healed from a foot injury suffered at a World Cup viewing party in which Serena stepped on broken glass from a coffee table, has pulled out of the prestigious Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth, scheduled for the 1st week of the New Year.

Serena, a two-time Hopman Cup champ, was scheduled to partner with John Isner.  The Hopman cup is the only tournament aside from the majors that features mixed doubles.  Serena, now out since Wimbledon, fears missing her second major due to the very unfortunate injury she suffered while watching soccer of all things.

No replacement has yet to be named for Serena, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Isner ends up playing with another Georgia product, Melanie Oudin, who played the Hopman Cup last year.

http://www.fastlinesports.com/2010/11/23/serena-williams-withdraws-from-hopman-cup-2011/ 

the Hopman Cup gets its name from legendary Aussie coach Harry Hopman who coached the Australian Davis Cup team at the height of its prominence during the Rosewald, Emmerson, and Laver years.  Hopman then moved to Long Island, NY and was instrumental in the development of John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, Patrick McEnroe, and Peter Fleming.

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