Ivan Lendl


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The injured leg of Andrew McDougall (above), who was essentially recklessly kicked by David Nalbandian.

David Barbarian, um, Nalbandian, while up a set in the AEGON Final at Queen’s Club, in frustration at having been broken in the 7th game of the second set by Marin Cilic, kicked a wooden Nike placard that covered the feet of the line judge, drawing blood on the left shin of bewildered line judge Andrew McDougall, when that wooden placard crashed into his leg.  For any Nalbandian apologists that exist, and there should be few, especially considering the hell Serena is subjected to whenever she has an outburst, we would ask how they could explain away the following video:

Obviously Nalbandian tried to argue that he thought the Nike placard was moored, but with McDougall sitting directly behind it, feet probably touching it, we can not except that rationale.  Whatever happened to throwing your racquet?  Since when are guys kicking things?  It seems that this is something we can only credit to Nalbandian, who in all our years of watching tennis, is the only guy we have ever seen get disqualified in such a manner, for drawing blood to an official.  Let alone, in the final at the once very prestigious Queen’s Club, which used to be frequented by Nadal and Djokovic, but which this year barely pulled 3 players from the top 10 (Murray, Tsonga, Tipsarevic).  Even when our boy John McEnroe flipped out and smacked a cooler of Gatorade which spilled on the King of Sweden, he wasn’t DQ’ed.  Some thought that was funny.  Today’s incident was in no way funny at all.

While we can think of 8 tremendous #1’s who’ve won here (Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Lendl, Roddick, Hewitt, and Nadal), 7 of which are Wimbledon champions, we’d have to say that the club is at a low point, as should be David Nalbandian after that act of savagery.  People in tennis definitely took note of world #2 Rafael Nadal’s decision to play Gerry Weber at Halle this week, the first time he had ever committed to a grass court event outside of Merry Olde.  Queen’s has looked completely drab since losing Stella Artois as a sponsor a few years back, and if you are watching Halle, where the main court is state of the art, complete with a retractable roof which slid closed when the sky greyed on Saturday in seconds, you’d have to say that Halle is the superior production.

Having Raonic, Nadal, Federer, and Berdych, among others doesn’t hurt, but the quality of the environment is obviously a factor in why people are playing Halle over Queen’s, when Halle was widely considered the inferior week to Queen’s until now.  From what we can see, the courts seem quicker at Halle as well, which, for tennis purists and grass court fanatics like us, means that for a rare week we get to see classic bang bang tennis, with more balls being taken directly out of the air.  It’s also nice to see a court where the ball stays low, allowing dynamic one handers like Federer, Haas, and Kohlschreiber to do damage on the backhand wing.

Halle had a magical week, featuring Federer-Raonic III, which was again decided by a third set breaker, and really, hinged once again on the scantest of margins, a mini break to Federer, who had really not managed a thing on Raonic’s first serve again.  We’re not surprised.  You know how we feel about the kid.  As for Roger losing to Tommy Haas today, we are very surprised.  Federer has looked listless in finals here in recent years, also very uncharacteristically losing to Lleyton Hewitt in 2010.  Seemed like he put the cart before the horse today, a day after blistering Mikhail Youzhny, and looking quite like the old champ.

But the result at Halle, with Haas, an exciting grass courter and dynamic player, returning to form is great for the game.  Unlike at Queen’s, where Nalbandian acted reprehensibly.  And for that matter, the British crowd, who applauded him, after a weak apology.  Sure, they wanted to see more tennis and that is understandable, but once that match is called, how can you applaud a guy who injures an innocent?

And how does Nalbandian pull this stunt up a set?  Complete disgrace.  We’d like to know why the tennis world is so silent on this debacle in its wake this evening?  Nalbandian should be suspended for Wimbledon.  The ATP is sending the wrong message if they allow him to play.

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The deadly Milos Raonic serve (above) which produced 14 aces today.

We are kicking ourselves this morning after just having seen Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic upset world #4 Andy Murray at Sabadell in Barcelona, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Last night we had identified the match in which Raonic was +300 as a potential upset, though we were reluctant and did not pull the trigger. We were of the mind that Murray, after going toe to toe versus both Djokovic and Nadal last year on the dirt, and with the addition of Lendl to his camp, simply moved too well for a Raonic on clay at this stage.

On clay it is very hard not to take the better mover, but clay is changing. How many times in recent years have we seen power surprise us on clay? We all recall Sunday Bloody Sunday, our affectionate name for the day on which Soderling outslugged Nadal. We’ve also seen big men like Del Potro and Isner excel on clay, both seriously tussling with Nadal in DC and Isner taking Rafa to 5 sets at RG, the only time that’s happened.

So after a breezy first set of tennis in which Murray did not get a single sniff on the Raonic serve, we knew it was uphill sledding for Murray, who simply could not dial in for any real traction. Raonic has very wisely gone about his business since leaving the American “hardcourts”.

Not many North Americans rolled out to MC last week but Raonic was there, and though he lost in the 2nd round, he got 2 matches in. Spaniard Galo Blanco should be a tremendous asset in preparing the kid for clay. The coach has been that this year. Taking Raonic to Spain to train has been a successful tact for many looking to beef up on clay, including Andy Murray, today’s loser, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won at Roland Garros after a hard spring spent training in Spain.

Raonic has improved laterally, but what the kid does best aside from serve is think the game and keep to plans. As much as a 6’6 kid improves his side to side, you aren’t out laterally moving Andy Murray. The kid hit serve bombs and loaded forehands, playing the match on his own terms. Once he had the 1st set, you got the sense that Murray was in big trouble and he was.

Raonic is an excellent front runner and he has legs on clay, winning four matches in straights this week, 3 against specialists (Falla, Andreev, Almagro).

We had him against Almagro, liking the line very much (+200). Too bad we hesitated last night. A little too much credit we afforded Murray, who we had pencilled in for Sunday’s final.

Now we know that Raonic’s style, well described by our man G-Stob as “blunt force trauma”, is ready to keep on red clay. Raonic may even play through to Sunday’s final, especially since at the moment, David Ferrer is struggling mightily with Feliciano Lopez (6-7, 3-3). Raonic has trouble with the pesky Ferrer, though we would like to see that matchup revisited, especially with Raonic playing so well.

Raonic’s victory today was his first ever against a top 5 opponent. First of many to come. We look forward also to seeing Tipsarevic-Nadal today. We took a flyer on Tipsy at a whopping +1500.

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Ivan Lendl (above, R.) makes time for new pupil Andy Murray.  But will he make enough time?

We’ve been meaning to admonish Andy Murray a little.  Perhaps it was good we waited, in light of the news that he was banged up in Miami.  We’re still gonna admonish him, but if he was nursing a hip injury it would explain why he didn’t execute on his game plan in Sunday’s Miami final against Djokovic.

We didn’t see much from Murray there who was extremely lucky to be in that final.  We know Murray likes playing on this surface, theoretically.  But he hasn’t played nearly as well in Miami on the Defensepro surface as he has on Plexicushion, where he has made 2 Australian finals and in one of the semis dominated Rafael Nadal.  Defensepro is the slowest hard surface at any of the stops on the tour.  Floridians like their hardcourts to be gritty and sandy.  All of their players seem to be In the mold of their matriarch, Chris Evert.  Pushers until the end.  Though Evert did it all on the court as well as anyone and these little girls and boys just seem to embody the pukey pusher stuff.

Theoretically, Murray is ideal at pukey pusher.  In actuality, he does better when he dictates and goes for his ground strokes.  He doesn’t get any free points at all on that slow of a court and that’s too few for anyone.  So a guy like Tipsarevic, who takes some initiative, can do damage.  But Murray goes classic grinder, letting it get to where he was a set and a break down before really grinding it out.  And in doing so, he comes up a little lame on what looked to be his left side, probably off another back footed forehand.  He seemed to tweak his left hip.  Still he pulled out that match and won his next on a Nadal retirement.  Who is surprised by that (but that’s another story)?

So Murray, we thought looked good in that match based on Nadal’s gimped out knee.  After looking at how Djokovic dismantled Murray in that final, we’d like to reconsider.  Murray might have been hampered in that match.  Could Djokovic have dominated like that for so long if Murray was right?  Probably.  But the last few matchups have been very close.  Djokovic is the king of slow hardcourts after all though.  His winning in a route over anyone could not come as all that surprising.

But Murray seemed abnormally frustrated in that match to us.  We are thinking he was not right.  Even so, he’s had a healthy year so far and he has made the final of the year’s only major.  The Lendl philosophy has been omitted from certain matches, like his loss to Guillermo Garcia Lopez at Indian Wells.  He played classic pusher tennis, thinking his gameplan could be simple enough to just direct toward the Lopez backhand.  Too simple indeed, and though it worked against Tipsarevic in South Beach, the effect of the grind left Murray too lame for Djokovic.

Lendl is there to remake the Murray forehand and embolden the kid to do more than push.  Though he’s not really there there to the point were Cahill is sub coaching a bunch.  Cahill and Lendl have very different philosophies.  Lendl is also there to improve the gameplanning.  Just directing to a guy’s backhand seemed to be the Cahill strategy, and that’s about the speed of a Cahill blueprint.  That style will however suit him well on clay where, in our minds, he has improved a great deal.  Murray seemed to play all his matches on clay with  confidence.  He made the semis at Roland Garros.  He looked to have a real shot against Djokovic in Rome where he took the 1st set 6-1.  That was one of the best sets he played all last year and one of the best anyone played all year.

So hard to predict how he’ll come into the clay season.  He seemed last year to really find his footing on clay, but he did get in a nice rhythm with matches.  We think that this year his success on clay will be tied to Lendl.  Lendl was an excellent clay courter, winning 3 FO titles.  If Lendl is there running the show then Murray can do a lot of damage.

That’s a far cry from where we are usually at with him.  At one point we were convinced he’d never pan out on clay.  But now he is probably 4th or 5th best on clay with a much more realistic shot at taking out a Titan in the big spot.  Lendl is perhaps the biggest winner in coaching right now with 8 majors.  Lendl gets Murray so well because he also liked to ground stroke people to death once upon a time.  Lendl was one of the first players to start passing up volleys in favor of big forehands.  Bad tennis.  We hate to see that.  Happens every few seconds in the women’s game, and almost that frequently in the men’s game.

To be very honest though, while Murray is a fine talent, he is not the Lendl doomsday stroking machine.  Lendl’s poor short game and shaky transition skills prevented him from ever winning Wimbledon, which served him right for essentially starting the trend away from complete tennis.  Murray, a pretty good doubles player, actually does have great hands at net.  But as we’ve said of Murray’s hands at net, they are more like the tree falling in the forest.  How would anyone know about them if he never actually uses them?

Hopefully Lendl will give the kid an honest appraisal of what it takes to win Wimbledon, a sort of ‘the error in my ways’ speech.  The irony is rich.  Wimbledon being so big for Murray, as it was for Lendl, who won everything but.  But first, Lendl has to get the kid primed for clay season, a far easier task with Murray’s skills seeming to really click on clay last year, but hard enough via cell phone or skype.

So we’d really like Murray on clay, a bit more than on grass anyway, if we knew that Lendl was actually going to be there.  After Murray spent a month with Lendl prior to Australia, his forehand looked cleaner than ever.  the last few weeks though, his forehand looks more like another Adidas star, Caroline Wozniacki.  While we said recently that we’d be happy to take zero for our over/under on Murray career majors, we could also see him winning big on every surface.  It’s that close.

We know Lendl sees it too.  He wouldn’t roll out of bed for just anyone.  He was after all completely absent from the tour almost all of these years since retiring.  But if he still has that yen to be away from the game as much as he has been since taking Murray’s reins, then he is the wrong man for Murray, who’s youth is fading fast.

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Guillermo Garcia Lopez (above), slicing and dicing Andy Murray with the one hander, all the live long day.

It was our viewing pleasure to watch the pride of the isles, “the best world #4 of all time”, Andy Murray Saturday in his latest travail.  On successive Saturdays, Murray excited us with his losses, and we say to that, kudos!  About the best #4 nonsense, know that is no title we attached, but rather, something that we think Doug Adler’s partner of late, Sam Wilder (?) has been trying to make stick to sell soap probably while feeding into the great Andy Murray hype machine.  We don’t like Murray.  Never did.  Never will.  But sometimes we have to root for him, like when he plays Nadal.  Since we have to root for him at times, we’d like to see him play the kind of tennis he needs to in order to win.  We’d like to see him lean forward when he strikes his forehand, so that the shot has the full weight of his momentum.  One thing these guys should learn is that cute does not win big.  Must we recall Federer getting cute with Nadal on that drop shot toward the end of the second set last year at Roland Garros?  Or Federer blowing a threw the legs volley against Safin down under in 2005?

Cute doesn’t win.  So when Andy Murray draws a guy in and that guy is to be a lame duck at net on a conventional pass, and Murray tries to throw up a fancy lob when he has an entire alley both cross court and up the line, well, then there’s a moment where you say to yourself that Ivan Lendl in the kid’s box has to take that out of the playbook.  The opponent, GG Lopez, is not exactly a little man at 6’2, and going with an offensive lob in a night match subject to desert winds, is simply not very bright.  This play, one of the very few in the entire match dictated by Murray, which he lost when Lopez slam dunked the lob into the crowd, was everything wrong with the old Andy Murray, which he has supposedly shed like bad skin.

We know better.  It’s very hard to squeeze a yellow streak out of player.  Make no mistake about it.  Djokovic was a pussy, and that was a mental issue, and not a tennis issue.  Djokovic plays brave tennis.  His body and mind had to leave the pussy behind, and they did.  Murray is a different story.  He has never played brave tennis.  He’s a puke.  And since he is so good against the average guy, he rarely has to play brave tennis, and so he really only tries to play brave against Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer and aside from some small successes and moral victories, he hasn’t been getting it done against those guys.  The Lendl I know was like Djokovic.  Didn’t play soft tennis, but he was soft, and so he found a way to become hard.  Murray is physically hard.  He’s a great athlete, and at any given event, may be the best conditioned guy present.  Lendl is trying to adjust the kid’s style of play, because as our good buddies Justin Gimelstob and Doug Adler always say, backboard tennis is simply not good enough at the top level.

So TTC cameras kept showing Murray’s mum and Lopez’s team, but I don’t see Lendl anywhere.  This Wilder (?) guy talked and talked like Lendl was in the coaching box though, or, as if Lendl is God’s gift to coaching and that now Murray is a veritable terminator.  Then the cameras focus on Darren Cahill, decked out like a clown in crazy colored Adidas attire, and the announcers casually mention that Lendl isn’t there, again, and so Murray wanted Cahill there, because he can call on any coaches in the Adidas stable.  Now, we joked last week that Cahill was perhaps the only coach around worse than Murray’s mum and so that’s the guy he chooses, the worst pusher hack coach available, who we could imagine telling Murray it was a good idea to pussy foot around with Lopez and hit lots of balls to his backhand and keep the rallies going because a guy like Lopez will break down.

Clearly it was what Wilder (?) thought, who kept implying, broken record, that Lopez was not going to be able to sustain the level, and then almost creaming when Lopez went down love forty in about the 6th game of the 1st set.  But Adler gritted his teeth, clearly not a good match chemistry wise with this annoying fuck, and when Lopez had dug out of that hole and when about an hour later, had a 6-4, 6-2 victory, we were as gratified as Adler at the fact that a classic one hander, a shot maker, had stepped up and that backboard tennis wasn’t good enough, not even against the world #98.

While we don’t like Murray, we are past the point of hating him.  His tears in Melbourne 2010 sort of humanized him for us in a way, and we get all the pressure that comes with being perhaps the first Brit since Fred Perry to do something in the game.  We’d have been thrilled regardless of who the pusher was and who the glider was on Saturday night.  But Lendl is off globe trotting to exos while his boy, in a week’s time, went from hot back to hangdog.  And Cahill, who comes from a different school of thought than Lendl, if you can call it that, is presiding over this horrible loss.

Lopez played brilliant tennis.  He had reasoned out that Murray’s game plan was not to try to win, but to make less errors than his opponent.  So Lopez did not make any errors.  Lopez went backhand to backhand with Murray and did not break down.  When he could take the ball early, he ripped the one hander and had Murray scrambling.  When he couldn’t, he sliced the backhand, totally neutralizing Murray.  He even hit a clean winner off a slice backhand, which was possible because Murray guessed the wrong way, and Lopez was all over it.

A lot of times, really big name guys don’t get totally into the commitment aspect of coaching on the tour.  It seems like Lendl is that type of guy.  You can’t even describe Indian Wells as a minor event if you tried.  5th major?  Nonsense.  There are four majors, and that 5th major talk is frankly disrespectful to the history of the game.  But how is Lendl not here for Murray?  Murray needs a full time coach.  We never sound any alarms when guys lose in the Masters Series, because for all of that nonsense ‘kinda major’ type talk, it was just one match.  But we see some things breaking badly for Andy Murray, and he needs to pay attention because he is not a major champion and he is very unlikely to change that at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.  His youth is vanishing, and we feel, given his propensity for the yellow streak, he is far from a lock to win any major ever, and may go out with a fat zero by his name.  If we had to bet on a number of majors for him in fact, we’d happily take zero.

Less of a problem for our lefty love, Petra Kvitova, who somehow lost to American Christina McHale last night.  Kvitova has the hardware, for one.  For her, a slump is more permissible.  Sure, she hasn’t played great tennis, and has little business losing to McHale, but McHale is making her name as the American Radwanska after all, is she not?  We don’t think it’s more than a little slump.  It’s not like an Ivanovic slump where she wins the major and then goes underground.  Kvitova won Wimbledon, then didn’t have the ideal summer, but ended the year as the veritable number one, winning the YEC and the Fed Cup, virtually unbeatable the final 9 weeks of the year.

We think Kvitova might have figured on winning down under, and that loss to Sharapova was a bad shock to her system.  In our minds, she was a big favorite in Melbourne, and she had been virtually untouchable coming in, and could not have been quivering at the thought of taking on that field.  We can’t argue against Azarenka right now, who has definitely proved she earned the ranking.  But we will remain resolute that Kvitova is the better player of the two, and we’d expect that to begin to bear out again on clay the way that it had on indoor hards at the end of 2011.

Kvitova is a better clay courter than Azarenka, and probably, like a lot of people, she can’t wait to get off these tacky American slow hardcourts.  BTW, just saw Mardy Fish get finished off by Matthew Ebden.  Good of Mardy to put a youngster on the map like that.

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Australia’s Serbian born Marinko Matosevic (above), playing for his first ever tour final berth today in Florida.

Can’t say as we’re surprised and not delighted by the morning’s result, with Roger claiming his 5th career title in Dubai, and his first since 2007 with a 7-5, 6-4 victory in 1:37 over Andy Murray. For Roger, the title is his second of the year, second consecutive title (Rotterdam), and 72nd career tournament victory. Yeah, we were all over the action this morning, as we hinted last night, as it is certainly a most rare opportunity to lay the theoretical shekel on Roger Federer at so close to an even money line (-135). It was also most rare, of late, when Andy Murray had occasion to break the great man, in the 18th game of the match. Federer allowed 3 break points today, and saved two, but that was well more than yesterday when he neither faced nor allowed any against Del Potro. In fact, prior to Murray’s second set break of serve, the great man was not broken since the quarters in Rotterdam, a six match streak without being broken.

We’ve definitely noticed that Federer’s serve is beefed up, not just in the last two weeks either. Annacone has definitely impressed upon his liege the importance of making serve games stick, which was the hallmark of his former liege, Pistol Pete. As for the Federer-Murray matchup, the rivalry has seemed to dip decidedly towards Roger, with him taking 5 out of the last 7, all on hards. In fact, all 15 of their faceoffs have come on hards. What a dream it would be to see the two go at it on grass, and since the only grass event they play in common is Wimbledon, we’d be happy to take it at SW-19. As for Murray, Ivan Lendl’s new liege, the partnership has definitely been bearing fruit, and we’re surprised at how quickly. A testament to both men.

But tennis is so much in the matchup of styles, and while Murray has seemed to have made strides against The Djoker, over the course of 18 months, has seemed to reverted a bit against Nadal and Federer. Especially stuck in our craw were his semi-finals against Nadal at Wimbledon and the USO where he went down meekly in 4 sets. Andy Meekly, um, we mean Murray, is a guy we are anxious to see against Rafa, because we think Lendl joining the fray on the side of the Scot could have an impact in what is otherwise a one way Nadal fest. Both major semis were major disappointments. Murray, up an early set and a break at Wimbledon, where the crowd is his, came apart at the seams, and what’s worse, couldn’t recover in a 5 set match. Then in Flushing, where he has beaten Nadal in the same spot, seemed dead on arrival, making way for the epic Nadal-Djokovic rematch.

But what do you expect of a player who allows his mum to devise his game plan against Nadal? Now that Lendl is weighing in, we’re of the mind that Murray will give Nadal less of the off speed stuff he devours, and more pace, which pushes him back. If you noticed positioning back at their Wimbledon semi, when Murray drifted back of the baseline for good, which was around the 2nd game of the second set, then the match turned.

Because Murray and Federer send so much off speed stuff back at Nadal, he can easily pick his spots versus those players. But notice how Djokovic goes at Nadal with power and it works. Then there are no spots to pick. Both players really need to hit hard at Nadal at all times, and for some reason, the mighty coach Annacone hasn’t incorporated the play into Roger’s permanent Nadal play book. But back to Dubai, where we caught a whiff of content off Dandy Andy 2.0 off of the stunning upset of Djokovic. Perhaps the kid saw some of his press clippings, about the revenge on Djokovic and all that fluffy nonsense. And we can’t recall when Murray has ever beaten two such fine opponents as Federer and Djokovic on back to back days. Then there’s Rog, who went to Rotterdam for the first time in 9 years, then to Dubai. Why would he add a tournament like Rotterdam to his schedule? Because he wanted a win under his belt. Now Federer has two wins under the belt, with the unlikely win today.

Another guy with two wins on the year is David Ferrer, who Justin Gimelstob accurately described earlier in the week as the guy who gets the absolute most out of his talent out of anyone on the tour. Indeed. Ferrer is a gamer. But in this matchup, Verdasco seems to have some life. He leads the head to head 7-6, and is one of the few men to have an advantage over Ferrer on clay, where he is 6-3. Verdasco has not won a tournament in two years and Ferrer looked dead at times last night against a week opponent in Santiago Giraldo. Here are the odds:

2012 Abierto Mexicano Telcel Mens Final — 10 PM EST

David Ferrer: – 260

Fernando Verdasco: + 200

…..

We like Verdasco and this positive money line. Even though he’s coached by know nothing Darren “killer” Cahill, probably a slight downgrade from Andy Murray’s mum. Remember, this is a matchup and tennis is all in the matchups, and Verdasco here has the edge. In Delray, on another dubious hardcourt, there are two matches on tap, and we like the underdogs in both. Here are the odds:

2012 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships — Semi-finals

Marinko Matosevic: + 130

Dudi Sela: – 150

__ __ __ __

Kevin Anderson: + 165

John Isner: – 210

……

We are going with Matosevic and Anderson here. Say what you want about Dudi Sela, and we love a good little one hander, as you know, but this guy is not a good favorite. Though Matosevic had not won a match before showing up in South Florida this year, he’s gotten on a roll here, taking out past Champion Ernests Gulbis along the way, and he’s a lanky guy whose serve seems to be clicking.

Anderson scored a decent upset of Roddick earlier in the week. These two giants play close matches, lots of breakers and whatnot, and we feel, despite the rankings, that Anderson, at this time, is the sharper returner. Whomever gets the traction going in the return game is going to rule the day. We’ll say that’s Anderson, despite our regular interest in Isner.

In fact, we will be betting for Anderson to go on to win his second career title tomorrow here in Delray Beach.

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