Hopman Cup


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.

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

Ryan Harrison (above) on the red clay of Roland Garros.  At 19 years and 11 months old, Harrison will be the youngest competitor in this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final round.

American “number one” and world #9 Mardy Fish has withdrawn from this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final tie in France, citing exhaustion or fatigue.  For the tie, which will be played on outdoor red clay, Captain Jim Courier has called on world #66 Ryan Harrison to fill in for Fish.  This marks the first time that the 19 year old Harrison will compete in live singles for the United States Davis Cup team.  While French Captain Guy Forget said earlier that Harrison is a future prospect at this point, and not an established player, we feel he may be underestimating this weekend’s USA squad.

We can’t fault Courier here with his pick.  You know we like Courier very much as DCC, and we haven’t really criticized him yet.  We’ll make a minor criticism here.  Courier opted to play Mardy Fish in the doubles with Mike Bryan, pulling Harrison when he felt America had best go for the definite doubles victory over Federer and Wawrinka, and they got the win.  But in watching how Fish “hurt his partner”, according to our old friend Fred Stolle, when teamed with Bethanie Mattek Sands at The Hopman Cup, when his lazy play cost America the match, we grew very irritated with Fish as a doubles player as well.  Fish had played earlier that day in Perth, and we guess he was exhausted.  Though that is no excuse.  We thought Courier should have gone for Isner in that spot.  Isner was hot, and he’s the guy that’s won a few doubles titles lately, and not Fish.

Then Mardy Fish goes on and has a pretty pedestrian start to the year.  Then he gets flipped by Juan Monaco in Miami, one and three.  I’m sorry, but that’s a poor effort.  Mardy Fish has got to do better there in that spot.  On hards, in Florida, heavy favorite.  Okay.  We lost a few theoretical units on Fish, so we are perturbed.  But who is surprised?  At any of it?  Fish is not a strong nine.  He comes up small routinely.  And it’s not as if he is so exhausted because he’s been winning titles left and right.  To get grossly abused by Juan Monaco last week, and to have his soft forehand totally exploited, was unimpressive to say the least.  We are happy to see this withdrawal.

Does Fish perhaps have Mono?  Well, we wouldn’t like to see it.  But we’d hate to see even more if Fish, claiming fatigue this week, ends up at Sabadell next week, ready to roll.  Because that would belittle the Davis Cup and mock America.  We think Fish should’ve gone to France.  He has to get ready for red clay by playing on clay, and nothing is better than a good couple of best of five set matches.  We think Fish is setting himself up for a poor clay season, which again, will not be surprising because it’s Mardy Fish we are talking about, and he’s bound to disappoint.

Ryan Harrison is a perfectly scrappy and quick player, and is well suited to the red clay.  We’re comfortable saying this, even though we are having trouble finding any wins of his on European Clay.  He won the Houston championship, upsetting James Blake, another all time dog.  Small time pressure player.  Courier had Harrison on the last squad and had him hitting with the team at points last year, and Courier is very comfortable with the selection.  Harrison is going to be thrilled to get into to this tie, and he is going to do what he does, which is scrap and retrieve and limit the errors, hit the occasional winner, and flash a decent serve game and good hands at net.  We think Harrison is setting up for a nice clay court season this year, and it will start this weekend.  Getting some real big matches in over there is going to do worlds for him, and at #66, he is on the bubble for Masters Series events coming up, and may have to play in to a tourny through the qualifiers.  This type of match play can be just what the doctor ordered for both Harrison and the US team.

Harrison is going to be a very good player, as perhaps Guy Forget is suggesting.  But the kid is a good player now too, and he may be a matchup problem for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he will play on Friday.  Harrison is going to get a lot of balls back on this damp court.  Tsonga is going to have a long day if he tries to muscle through the court.  And you know Harrison is going to play his balls off.  That’s his nature.  It’s been only by a slim margin that he lost recent matches to very hot players like Federer, Murray, and Raonic.

We don’t think Tsonga or Simon are in that class.  Harrison, yet to have a truly big notch on his belt, will also have a good opportunity in the reverse singles against Simon because they are mirror image players, and grinders sometimes have matchup problems with guys who grind really hard against them, and we feel Simon is that type of player.  Harrison has young legs and a young spirit, and despite his lack of notches, you can tell he’s a true competitor and a smart player.  He has also improved a great deal.

As for Fish, who will ever forget the absolute American nightmare at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he lost in the gold medal match to Nicolas Massu, losing after leading two sets to one?  Then the problem was that Fish was fat.  Now that Fish slimmed down and got with Stacey Gardner, he thinks he can play rally tennis and hits way more shots than he used to.  He had to improve his footwork and did.  But he still has to go for winners, and we don’t always see it.  The more tennis he plays, the more air seems to creep under that forehand.  Not a good thing.  And if he is tired coming into clay season, how can he expect to survive it and prosper?

Obviously a lot is thought of the French squad.  Vegas has them as the second favorite in the world group at (+400), second only behind champion Spain, at (+275).  But Vegas was counting on Gael Monfils to be the French B player, and with him on slow dirt in France, that is a lot to handle.  As it is, Harrison will go in and start things off against Tsonga in the first match on Friday morning.  We like his chances, and we aren’t as scared of France in this spot as we could be.  Everyone is going from hards to clay in this tie, and since America also did it in Switzerland against Federer and Wawrinka, we think they are in good shape.

It’s also nice to have the Bryans back together.  The Bryan brothers have never lost in the Davis Cup on clay (9-0) and are truly the linchpin of the American squad.

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

Mardy Fish (R.) with Jim Courier on Saturday, with whom his improved standing impart lies.

We’ve always liked the things Jim Courier has had to say, first as a commentator on USA Network, and now as Davis Cup Captain.  Starting with his first major remarks, way back to last year, when he captained his 1st tie in a suit and tie on a horribly kept clay court in Chile.  When asked why he didn’t cheer much, and why he wore the  real suit over the warmup suit, Courier said that his guys didn’t need a towel waver, a cheerleader.  What they needed was strategy, and that was why he was there.

Courier is more than strategy though.  He is a winner, a rock for our squad.  Recall in his first ever tie against Chile when Isner was robbed of a point in a return game in the 5th set of a rubber that would have given him 2 break points, when he had none previously.  But 15-40 became 30 all and within minutes, Capdeville had the break and Chile had the rubber.

Courier showed no emotion at all afterward, and did not so much as question the call that could have spelled out America’s demise.  What he would say was that in a 5 set match, Isner has to return serve much better.  No one, he said, could expect to win a match without earning a break point, calls or no calls.

That has been the difference between the McEnroe and Courier squads.  Courier is honest.  He doesn’t play the buddy game with guys who might need a kick in the ass.  Like Isner, who, on a worse clay court than in Chile, and against a better opponent in Roger Federer, managed 3 breaks of serve on an impressive 12 opportunities on Friday.  Isner is that much better, yes, and his Davis Cup experience has furthered his development.  Hard to imagine Courier’s affect on him in any but a positive light.  For that matter, we think it little coincidence that Mardy Fish has played so well since Jim Courier became captain, making his first ever YEC last year.   Courier was emotionless after Isner’s epic win.  He was almost stoic.  Courier was the person in that horrid muck bandbox who believed in Isner’s ability to win most.  And why would he celebrate any win in a tie that was still in its first day, far from over?

Courier knows winning and understands the urgency.  So when he inserted proven doubles player Mardy Fish, after Fish’s 4 hour and 20 plus minute rubber on Friday, to play with Mike Bryan, the move smacked of USA’s realization of the immense importance of that doubles match.  Very un P-Mac like.  We were never big fans of little brother, ever, whether as a player, a coach, broadcaster or what have you.  We will say that it wasn’t a question of work ethic.  And that P-Mac stepping in to coach Andy Roddick after he and John Roddick split, was also very good of him.  Though, with Roddick’s importance to DC, he didn’t have any real choice.

We think substituting Fish for Harrison was the right move and suggested it here on Friday.  Well, Fish or Isner, for that matter, since the last time Fish played tired doubles he left Bethanie Mattek-Sands hanging out to dry at Hopman Cup.  We also think Courier is the type to have less of a problem making that call than buddy buddy Patrick McEnroe, and that if he thought Fish tired, he’d have used Isner instead.  McEnroe was always very proud of the fact that players played for him, a big problem in DC and Fed Cup.  Part of the reason they played for him, he felt, was because he didn’t really ask them to do too much.  We see that point, knowing full well some top players have shied away from the international team competitions.  Others have played and then thrown their country under the bus.

But if we are to closely examine this, the players want to play and they want to win.  So if Courier facilitates that, then he is a good captain who will keep guys interested.  Let’s be real.  Fish and Isner both just had career weekends playing for country.  And if the Williams sisters were able to be whole last weekend and had it been a hotly contested tie, Venus, Serena, and all of the nation would have wanted them to take part in the doubles, they being the all time team they are.

Obviously this weekend was not a banner one for Federer, whose abilities were limited by the poor quality of the surface.  If you saw the doubles Saturday, you may have seen an absolute rarity: Federer swinging and completely missing on a ball (backhand).  We’ve always maintained and always will that clay is strictly low rent, and tends to work better for lesser talents.  That said, Federer needed to adjust to the court.  The player who did was Isner.  Isner played big man tennis and was prepared to do so from the start.  He stuck with it even after going down a set.

Was Roger unprepared?  We think so.  It seemed like he thought he could roll out of bed and win.  Last year we began to criticize Roger for his lack of participation in DC, and noted that Tsonga and Berdych, who defeated the great man at Wimbledon in successive years, both play a lot of DC and may have been better prepared because of it in a 5 set format.  This year, players who do not participate may find themselves without Olympic eligibility.  Federer, who has never won a DC, should be amply motivated to add the distinction to his otherwise stellar resume.  But he looked listless over the weekend at Fribourg, which might suggest that he was only there to satisfy Olympic eligibility requirements.  In fact, we thought it an extremely poor showing by the entire Swiss Tennis Federation, from planning to execution.  Why would they choose to play this tie on indoor clay?  Surface selection is the responsibility of the home team’s captain.  Severin Luthi, captain and Federer co-coach, put his team at a disadvantage by choosing a surface so incompatible with  its best player.  We do not espouse the logic that Federer would excel on that clay because he is Federer, likely the 2nd best clay courter of this era.

What is fact is that Federer had not played on clay since early June, some 9 months.  Federer went deep at Melbourne, and has been resting.  He hasn’t been practicing on bad clay as Isner and Fish have been, since their early Australian ousters.  Courier knows a thing or two about success on clay, and is the first American in the modern era to win 2 French Open titles, doing so in back to back years.  He is vocal about America and its lack of success on clay in recent years, and has confronted head on the perception that America doesn’t practice on clay enough to be successful, by practicing his guys hard on dirt.  If Federer looked unprepared, then Isner looked completely prepared, hitting several kick serves that bounced up over Federer’s head.  He knew the court and he liked the surface, and said so after the match, citing how slow courts actually work to his advantage because he has more time, tennis’s most precious commodity.

Luthi is a very poor DC captain.  He failed to enlist Federer in DC for so long, and now that he has him, has failed to get anything out of him.  Next to Courier, Luthi looks out of place in his Yonex tennis reds, but that is not the only reason he is looking bad next to Courier.  This tie should have been played in Federer’s home town, Basel, on hard courts where Federer has prevailed as champion 6 times, including last fall.

On a bad court, it takes more than just cursory practice to adjust, especially when switching surfaces.  While Federer has proven in his peak prime that he can go clay to grass without much warmup, he is no longer peak prime Federer and he wasn’t switching over to grass, where he has 6 Wimbledon titles.

Luthi seems to have benefitted much from his association with Federer, but has Switzerland benefitted that much from the association?  Luthi has kept his captaincy we feel, ironically, due to his friendship with Roger, while not even getting Federer out for Davis Cup.  The buddy buddy approach is not one you will see from Courier, and had it really worked best with Roger, we doubt he’d have hired Paul Annacone to do the heavy lifting.

America will play France in the quarter-finals on the first weekend in April.  While Roland Garros may be the venue, we expect the French to choose an indoor hard court.

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

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.

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Serena Williams (above), happy after obliterating Victoria Azarenka last night.

Well, in short, yes.  But as the betting type, we feel that some sort of case can be made for Mardy.  Mind you, not with our money, but farbeit from us to stop you from taking an American flyer on this rainy Sunday.  Before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga packed it in last night with an injured forearm, in the games he won, he followed an interesting blueprint which is probably the best way to attack the new king.  Basically, he did just that–he attacked the new king.  He struck serves at 140 mph, second serves that kicked up into the body at 110-115 mph, used his big forehand to push Djokovic beyond the baseline, and then got to the net.  Now the more than casual fans out there are probably worried about that game plan for Mardy, knowing his forehand is not in Tsonga’s league.  But as we are all probably sick of Killer Cahill at this point, he did make an excellent point about last night’s match, when he suggested that Tsonga had a real problem in backhand to backhand rallies with Djokovic, and that he should try to avoid those rallies, and be content to not lose points on that wing.

Fish is a backhand player, and his 2-hander, while safe, is much better than Tsonga’s.  If you’ve been watching the Olympus Series, you have to know that Ernests Gulbis outhit Fish on that wing at the finals in LA.  Gulbis is a high risk player, and he tees off on that backhand like he’s the second coming of Marat Safin.  But Fish wins that match if he doesn’t turn his ankle, nontheless, because his game is so solid and steady these days.  For guys in the top ten, aside from Djokovic’s all time great 2-hander, Fish’s is probably best.  Which is why Djokovic has had so much “trouble” with Fish in the past.

You think we’re crazy.  Fish is 0-6 for the career against Djokovic, and in his one matchup with the hulked up super invincible new Novak, he got steamrolled 6-1, 6-3 in Miami.  The record is actually a little worse than that, because in that 0-6, not counted was another loss suffered by Fish for America against Djokovic at Hopman Cup.  Here are the bright spots for Fish though.  That Defensepro tacky rubber courts in Miami are total shit.  Those courts are the tackiest, worst, slowest hardcourts in the world, even worse than Plexicushion, and they play slower than the red clay at Hamburg and Roland Garros.  Fish is a very good fast court player, and Montreal is playing very quickly.  Djokovic, playing unreal, obviously, is still a way better slow hardcourter, and really has not won much on fast hards, aside from one YEC.

That’s all about to change, obviously.  But Fish has earned his bread here by going backhand to backhand himself, by packing in to the net, and by outlasting guys.  He made 30 trips to the net against Tipsarevic (still looking for his first ever tournament victory at the age of 27, if you could believe that), and he totally broke down Wawrinka, whose beautiful one handed backhand usually holds up very well, even on clay, which is his best surface.  Fish has always played well on moderate hardcourts against Djokovic, nearly beating him twice at Indian Wells, and in their matchup at Hopman Cup.  Fish even administered a bagel to the Djoker once upon a time at Indian Wells, and has made two masters finals so far, one at Indian Wells versus Djokovic, and one last summer on the ultra quick track at Cincinnati, losing to Roger.

So we don’t like Fish here, considering him about the equivalent of a lamb before the slaughter, but at these prices, and considering that it is highly unlikely that Djokovic not lose a few matches this year at some point, and that he also entered the doubles this week, maybe you might want to put a few units on Mardy today and then pray like the Dickens.

Rogers Cup Masters 1000 Series Final — 3 PM EST (Montreal)

_____________________________________________________________________ 

Djokovic:  – 1200

Fish:  + 600

——

Serena:  – 360
Stosur:  + 280

……

Lady S looked best last night when the odds makers believed in her least.  She dusted Azarenka last night, who came out hard, but went out with a wimper.  Simply put, she is the shizz.  Serena is now 14-2 in her comeback, and today she goes for her first 1000 level win since coming back.  The hard part of the week, Azarenka, is behind her.  But Stosur is a tricky opponent for Serena, who is 2-3 lifetime versus the godess, which is more success than most have had.  We don’t care.  We like Serena in the spot.  We can go with the excuse posse, but why would we?  Serena played all night matches, Serena played too much tennis too soon, Serena is due for a letdown, blah blah blah.  Serena is here to win.  This may be the most unfavorable matchup she’s had since her return, but matchups bother her a lot less than mere mortals.  Plus, Stosur has been known to come up very small in the big spot.

Serena, by our math, moves up to 28/29 with a win today.  What a summer!  Has anyone ever seen a guy play so out of his mind like Djokovic, and a girl go from 180 to 28 in 3 weeks?  We’ve watched for a long, long time and these things, we’ve never seen.

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World #58, American Bethanie Mattek-Sands (above).

With an impressive win yesterday over Italian female singles French Open Champion Francesca Schiavone, 6-4, 6-4, a day after a gritty, veteran win over French junior girls Champion Kristina Mladenovic of France, the United States is sitting pretty in its bid for 9th Hopman Cup finals appearances in Hyundai Hopman Cup XXIII.  John Isner, American giant and world #19, hasn’t done so badly himself, scoring tight wins over Wimbledon rival Nicolas Mahut, and yesterday, over Potito Starace of Italy, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.  Isner showed much grit, as he was outplayed by the crafty Italian for much of the match, and gutted out 2 breaks while down 3-1 in the third, taking 5 of the last 6 games for the win.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/hopman-cup-isner-vs-mahut-rematch-steals-stage-as-major-talent-is-on-display/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/giant-john-isner-wins-longest-match-in-tennis-history-in-1st-round-wimbledon/

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/

Though the Americans dropped the mixed component last night to the Italian team 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3) in a very entertaining match–how wild is it to watch Francesca Schiavone returning John Isner’s serve–it was the first match they have lost in Perth, and sit atop group B with 2 team wins, a 5 and 1 match record, an impressive set record of 11-5.  Tonight the Americans can clinch a finals berth, even if they are swept in all 3 matches by the British team of Andy Murray and Laura Robson, who are already eliminated from finals consideration.  The Americans will make the final, it seems, as long as the Italians who now sit with 3 match wins, do not have a total higher than the US, who currently sit at 5 wins.  An equal number of match wins and group wins for America and Italy would see the Americans play for the title since America defeated Italy head to head.

Winning a 6th Hopman Cup will be a tall order for the Americans though, who are likely to face the ace Serbian squad of world #3 Novak Djokovic, and former French champ and world #1 Ana Ivanovic, yet to lose a match of any sort between them so far at this year’s Hopman Cup.  Should the Serbs lose out to Belgium in all 3 of their matches in session 9, the United States or less likely, Italy, would face Belgium, led by Justine Henin, in the final on January 8th, 2011.

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In pretty big but separate women’s tennis development in Brisbane, it would seem that Jarmila Groth’s upset route over countrywoman Sam Stosur will have perhaps a dramatic affect on the women’s draw in Melbourne.  It was announced today that Stosur’s 6-2, 6-4 loss to Groth has dislodged her from the 4th seed at the Australian Open, and that American Venus Williams had risen from what would have been the 5th seed to the 4 seed due to the Groth victory.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/daydreaming-of-roger-and-venus-in-melbourne/

 Tune in Thursday evening to TTC for more live Hopman Cup action.

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)