Jie Zheng


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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Does Novak Djokovic even break a sweat these days?  We thought, with Gael Monfils (above l. with Djokovic), who is a human backboard as his opponent last night, that perhaps the king would work up a lather.  Not the case.  Djokovic made it a perfect 7 for 7 against Monfils, who could not even call upon any extra energy from a French crowd, on his way to a 6-2, 6-1 complete drubbing that saw The Djoker get off court in little more than an hour. 

How exactly is the kid doing it?  Well, making matters even more difficult and impressive, he is not even doing it with his serve.  A rusty Djokovic was broken in 2 of his first service games in Canada in his 2nd round contest with Nikolay Davydenko, who has as favorable a matchup as any with the world’s new entrenched no. 1.  Djokovic was down 4-1 in the blink of an eye to the shady, scandalous Russian, before turning that set around and leaving him in the dust.  Djokovic then made short shrift of Marin Cilic, before annihilating Monfils, despite hitting only one ace in that match.  This guy’s game is so solid that he doesn’t need to win any free points against a guy who can virtually rally back and forth all day, essentially throwing Monfils a bone at 6-2, 5-0 to prevent another bagel.  Djokovic has dispensed a stunning 9 bagels this year, and is now 51-1, looking for number 52 tonight against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. 

Nadal, even at the top of his form, was not dominating people like this on a neutral surface, with these type of score lines.  Federer?  He was in 2005 and 2006 so watch what you see here closely.  This is the best tennis played anywhere in 5 years. 

Tonight, Tsonga will try to get a set off Djokovic.  If he is successful, it will be the first set taken off Djokovic this week, and only the 4th set The Djoker has dropped this summer.  Tsonga did get a set off of him in the Wimbledon semi.  Bravo.  And Tsonga is 5-3 lifetime in the head to head, but you can throw that out the window.  At this moment in time, Djokovic is unbeatable.  We don’t think we’ve ever had occasion to say that about anyone.

Rogers Cup Mens Semi-final — 8:00 PM EST (Montreal)

__________________________________________________________

Novak Djokovic:  – 500

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 350

——

Rogers Cup Ladies Semi-final — 6:30 PM EST (Toronto)

________________________________________________________

Open

—————

Serena:  – 140

Azarenka:  + 110

Current

————-

Serena:  – 130

Azarenka:  even

Serena has had a gutty week with 2 consecutive comeback wins that weren’t handed to her.  She had to figure both matches out and did, and both took over 2 hours.  It’s a lot of tennis for our girl, but she may have played down to the level of her opponents, which may seem crazy, since both ladies, Zheng and Safarova, played unreal matches.  But neither is a major threat to win hardware.  Azarenka is, and she has Serena’s full attention.  Serena leads the series 4-1, but we know she has a healthy respect for the one dimensional but hard hitting Belarussian, now number 4 in the world.

It’s not often that you will see a – 130 next to Serena’s name.  Probably worth jumping all over either way.  In her comeback, she’s shown that same ability she has always had to come from behind, so she could get out slow and still win.  Or, she could come out on fire and walk.  Does Azarenka have a shot?  It’s hard to say she doesn’t.  She’s probably the best calibre of opponent Serena’s faced since last year.  But that doesn’t mean she’s worth chancing here.

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Grumpy as we are, and as big as they come in terms of our patronage of Roger Federer (struggling above), there’s just no way we can sugarcoat this.  Any of it.  By the way, great job (that’s sarcasm) by ESPN, finding a way to not televise one of the best nights of live tennis in both the men’s and women’s games when they are the exclusive rights holder, going instead with boxing or little league baseball or NASCAR or poker or whatever it was they were trying to pass off as programming, and will do so again today, finding new ways to submerge our game in a cesspool of Americana.  But we were able to, thank God, pick up the feed to both matches live online, at the suggestion of one of our readers, who has a cool live streaming tennis site, and another site we found with a Google search.  http://watchonlinetennis.com/ and www.fromsport.com have been saving my life over here, and we are currently watching Stosur and Vinci live in the first ladies quarter-final from the Rexall Center in Toronto.

There are multiple feeds to every match available, and for Roger/Tsonga, we were lucky enough to find Robby Koenig’s and Jason Goodall’s feed.  Goodall asked Robby what was wrong with Roger while the players were snapping practice serves.  Koenig was pointed, essentially lambasting Roger for having “no plan B”, for continuing to go for his shots when they aren’t working, and for not showing a lot of fight, particularly in his Wimbledon loss to Tsonga.  We have to agree.  In a best of 5 set match, one has plenty of opportunities to change the momentum in match.  Slow the pace, speed the pace, call the trainer, take a bathroom break…do something.  I mean, we say what we want about Nadal, obviously, but we have to hand it to him for being able to change a match’s momentum.  In his last 2 major finals alone, Nadal changed the momentum at the end of the 1st set at Roland Garros that basically sewed up his 6th title there, and did so again, admirably, in defeat, to get the 3rd set from an unbeatable Djokovic at Wimbledon.

Roger?  It almost seems like he wants off the court at times, rather than digging in.  Sure he dug in against Nadal, 2 hours into the match, against his greatest rival, when the match was all but over.  But against Tsonga, up 2 sets to love, he just slid back down the mountain like an avalanche.  Okay, so we are in a mood and tough of on Roger here obviously, but we won’t apologize for it.  Was he due to lose a match at a major after winning essentially 175 and losing zero when up 2 sets?  Fuck that.  For us, it marks a different Roger.  And to see Roger in a return engagement with Tsonga here last night, watching him drop the first set in a breaker without facing a break point, and to, in the end, see the great man fall to the same guy not named Nadal or Djokovic in 2 of his last 3 matches?

We’ll come back to that.  Paul Annacone came in, and we know what he’s about.  I wouldn’t say he hasn’t made a difference.  Roger is hitting more aces, and has his serve percentages up since Annacone came on board.  Roger is serving and volleying more, and he’s winning a high percentage of those points as well.  Overall, he is getting to the net more and finishing pretty well there.  Last night in the second set, Roger’s set, he finished 12 points at net, and on this fast court, Tsonga could only get in 3 times.  These aren’t the problems.  For Roger, it’s pressure serving, and not bearing down on break points, a plague in big spots for him going back to the FO final in 2007 when he blew 18 chances, the Wimbledon final against Nadal in 2008 when he did not break serve at all (and let’s face it, Nadal’s strength is not his serve), and the 2009 extended fifth set final when it took him about 5 hours to finally break Andy Roddick’s serve.

It’s a much different denouement for Roger than for Pete Sampras, the closest comparable.  When Pete began to slide, he packed in to the net much more, often looked like a dead man walking, and was frequently passed like a sitting duck.  But Pete’s serve rarely faltered, and the great man could still muster up big man tennis when he served.  And he could still catch lightning in a bottle, showing enough flashes of brilliance to get him his last USO title as an unseeded player at the age of 31.

When just about every set is going to a breaker, and one successful chip and charge could be all you need to grab a mini-break and thus the set, then you can still look dead as a dog on certain points and win.  Like John Isner.  The guy looks spent, but pulls out big serves, deft volleys, and huge forehands when he needs them, and often, it’s all he needs.  Obviously Annacone has stressed this style to Roger, who seems content to abandon it.  And speaking of big forehands, these alarming trends could be stopped cold if Roger stepped up and took control of points with his forehand, rather than allowing guys to pepper his backhand, Nadal style, until the wing breaks down and he’s shooting and spraying the ball long and short and wide. 

Roger had a golden opportunity here.  Nadal was vanquished, paving a smooth road to the final, which Roger needed to make in order to defend his points.  Cincinnati is coming up, a place where Roger aabsolutely loves the court speed.  Roger is the two-time defending there, and he’ll need to defend those points too.  But moreso, it’s a place where he has probably looked the best overall in the last 2 years, bar none.  If he is not himself there, then what we have come to know of Roger being himself might be by the boards.  Today’s action below.

Masters 1000 Series Men — Montreal

________________________________________________

12:00 PM EST

———-

Mardy Fish:  – 160

Stanislas Wawrinka:  + 130

———-

2:00 PM EST

———-

Tomas Berdych:  – 170

Janko Tipsarevic:  + 130

———

5:30 PM EST

———

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  – 360

Nicolas Almagro:  + 280

——-

Novak Djokovic:  – 1000

Gael Monfils:  + 600

—–

Canadian Open Ladies Championship — Toronto

____________________________________________________

1:00 PM EST

———

Galina Voskoboeva:  + 400

Victoria Azarenka:  – 600

———-

3:00 PM EST

——–

Agniezska Radwanska:  – 125

Andrea Petkovic:  – 105

——–

7:00 PM EST

——–

Lucie Safarova:  + 400

Serena:  – 600

……..

By the way, huge props to our girl Serena on a most gutty win last night over Jie Zheng.  Though it’s more easily willed in the women’s game due to diluted talent, Serena has been able to will some impressive victories since coming back, after having bad starts.  At Stanford against Bartoli, the French women we despise so much was dominant early on, blasting serve after ugly serve, and making us think perhaps she had Serena’s number.  And then Lady S pulled it together, reeled off about 8 consecutive games, and walked away with her first title since the comeback.  Last night, Zheng looked to be timing the ball like Ted Williams, and you might have said to yourself, ‘well, Serena’s gotta lose sometime.’  But Serena kept coming, doing whatever it took.  Shots on the run, groundstrokes on the line, a magical lob, angles that stretched the diminutive Zheng off the court, ridiculous passing shots.  That was probably the match she needed to win in order to claim her first Masters level event since she has returned, with Clijsters, Zvonareva, and Kvitova all losing this week.  And Kvitova’s loss, 6-1, 6-2 to Petkovic, is a further blight on the women’s game that should bolster even further the confidence of the Serena camp with The Open approaching.  I mean, could anyone imagine the last 3 Wimbledon’s Mens Champs getting dusted like that in their next action after SW-19?  Wouldn’t be happening.  If and when Serena dusts Safarova this evening, she’ll face Azarenka/Voskoboeva in the semis tomorrow, and then the Stosur vs. Radwanska/Petkovic winner in the final.  If our math is right, a winner’s trophy here could see her crack the top 30 in Monday’s rankings.

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Rafael Nadal (above) after stunning 3 set upset, suffered at the hands of Croat comer Ivan Dodig.  For Nadal, who was outplayed, it was the first time losing in the 2nd round of a Masters 1000 level event since 2008 (Rome, Juan Carlos Ferrero), and the first time doing so on North American soil since 2007 (Cincinnati, Juan Monaco).

Rogers Cup — Mens Masters 1000 Series (Montreal)

_____________________________________________________________________

12:00 PM

———

Tomas Berdych:  – 275

Ivo Karlovich:  + 185

1:00 PM

——-

Stanislas Wawrinka:  – 200

Kevin Anderson:  + 150

2:00 PM

——

Novak Djokovic:  – 900

Marin Cilic:  + 500

4:00 PM

——-

Janko Tipsarevic:  – 180

Ivan Dodig:  + 130

5:00 PM

———

Mardy Fish:  – 175

Ernests Gulbis:  + 125

5:30 PM

——–

Victor Troicki:  + 110

Gael Monfils:  – 150

7:30 PM

———

Roger Federer:  – 275

JW Tsonga:  + 185

———-

Richard Gasquet:  – 200

Nicolas Almagro:  + 150

……

Rogers Cup — Women (Toronto)

_________________________________________________________

1:00 PM

——

Andrea Petkovic:  + 150

Petra Kvitova:  – 200

——–

2:00 PM

——–

Roberta Vinci:  + 200

Ana Ivanovic:  – 300

——–

MJ Martinez Sanchez:  + 250

Victoria Azarenka:  – 400

——-

3:30 PM

———-

Maria Sharapova:  – 600

Galina Voskoboeva:  + 400

——-

Vera Zvonareva:  – 150

Agnieszka Radwanska:  + 110

——–

7:00 PM

——-

Serena Williams:  – 1200

Jie Zheng:  + 600

——

Francesca Schiavone:  – 185

Lucie Safarova:  + 135

……

Andreas Haider-Mauer at the US Open (above).

Rafael Nadal:  – 7000

Pablo Andujar:  + 1900

________________________________

Antonio Veic:  + 350

Nikolay Davydenko:  – 600

_______________________________________

Sam Querrey:  + 110

Ivan Ljubicic:  – 150

_______________________________

Xavier Malisse:  + 450

Fernando Verdasco:  – 700

____________________________________

Mardy Fish:  – 190

Robin Haase:  + 150

_________________________________

Jeremy Chardy:  + 200

Gilles Simon:  – 300

____________________________________

Marcos Baghdatis:  – 145

Leonardo Mayer:  + 105

____________________________________

Albert Ramos:  + 800

Robin Soderling:  – 2000

___________________________________

Andy Murray:  – 3000

Simone Bolelli:  + 1200

________________________________________

Arnaud Clement:  + 130

Michael Berrer:  – 180

___________________________________

Alexander Dolgopolovic:  – 650

Andreas Heider-Mauer:  + 375

______________________________________

Tobias Kamke:  + 400

Victor Troicki:  – 700

_____________________________________

Lukasz Kubot:  – 130

Carlos Berlocq:  – 110

______________________________

Alejandro Falla:  + 350

Florian Mayer:  – 600

_____________________________________

Kevin Anderson:  + 175

Juan Ignacio Chela:  – 250

_______________________________________

Lukas Rosol:  + 350

Jurgen Melzer:  – 600

____________________________________

We’re not going to go through the women, but if you are interested you should check out the odds becaause there are some seeming ridiculously high favorites according to the money lines.  We especially, are in long with Jie Zheng at plus 700 to Petra Kvitova at minus 1500.  As for the men, the good bet is the big underdog as well, as you’d have to love Andugar, who can bring you back $91 on a $5 wager if there’s an upset.  Mardy Fish, in action, with a good chance to make at least the 3rd round.  Nice story.  Chardy/Simon, in the all French battle.  Arnaud Clement, still doing it, and probably with those dumb goggles and head band.  Long shot parlays would rack up the dollars if the stars aligned and a few long shots hit on the same ticket.  By the way, Dolgopolov Jr. is way too heavily favored.  Haider-Mauer might only be world #88, but he took Robin Soderling to 5 sets at the US Open and he’s had a very good year, and at 23, could be poised to climb.  He’s also a natural clay courter and Dolgopolov is not, and hasn’t had the type of good season we were looking for after his magical Australian season.  And good for Sam Querrey, who finally won an important match.  We hope he does it again tomorrow, again as underdog.  BTW, we are pulling hard for Kevin Anderson, shot maker, tomoorrow, and we are very impressed with Sergiy Stakhovsky, the big, lean one hander who won his first round match by making passes and tough volleys.  We think he’ll be fun to watch in the doubles tomorrow.

Look for it all on the mix channels.

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