Jim Courier


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American “number one” and world #9 Mardy Fish has withdrawn from this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final tie in France, citing exhaustion or fatigue.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)

America’s de facto singles A player, John Isner (above), newly outfitted by Lacoste (way to play it, big man!)

Giant John Isner was the bigger man today, stunning Roger Federer 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the second rubber of the 2012 Davis Cup’s World Group 1st round.  The win by Isner gave America a 2-0 lead in the tie.  Earlier this afternoon, Mardy Fish finally came up big for America, coming from two sets to one down to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka in 5 sets, 9-7 in the 95 minute 5th set.  While Fish-Wawrinka was laborious at best, Federer-Isner was downright jaunty in comparison.  Isner was able to take care of business in under 3 hours and notched his first victory over Federer ever.  The win was actually Isner’s first ever against any of the top four, previously 0-2 versus Federer, still 0-7 combined against Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal.

As Roger might be telling the media back in Switzerland right now, the record doesn’t tell the whole tale.  American tennis fans have had to take notice of Isner’s impressive display against Nadal on Spanish clay in 2010 in DC, which was as far as Nadal was pushed on the surface since the Sunday Bloody Sunday 4th round massacre he suffered at the hands of ball crusher Robin Soderling at RG in 2009, still Nadal’s only loss at the French Open.  And what about Isner’s performance against Nadal at the French last year, where he became the 1st man to take Nadal to 5 sets, and led in sets 2 to 1 before the Spanish comeback?

Isner is capable of some pretty big tennis, even on clay against the very height of the competition.  Aside from Djokovic, the only man able to beat Nadal at his own game on clay, the strategy seems to be to go right at Nadal, as Soderling and Isner do.  It’s not as though the big man is looking to trade shots on clay.  He is looking for knockouts, and looping spin often lands right in his strike zone.  Despite Federer landing some punches today on the red clay at Fribourg, he played tentative tennis.  Federer put 50 of 51 second serves in play, but did little with the ball on second serve in his middle game, creating enough opportunities for Isner to manage three breaks of serve, which proved to be more than enough.

Isner must be credited for playing so aggressively on clay today, and as habit.  On points the match was incredibly close, 126-120.  Probably not much of a coincidence that Isner took 14 points at net to Federer’s 8.  Isner has shown a penchant for knowing what it takes to have a chance against much quicker guys on clay, given his size and comparative lack of mobility.  Isner saved 11 0f 12 break points against, made 34 service winners, and out-winnered Roger on the forehand (28-22) and backhand (9-6) wings.  Let’s face it.  If you have more forehand winners than Roger, you are well on the way to having him beat.  Also impressive was Isner’s 7 first ball return winners, and that he won the total winner count decisively (85-66).

Back to the speed of the match for a moment.  While we appreciate that both men like to play fast, from the middle of the second set out, the match had a very Wimbledon/Tsonga like feel, obviously a problem for Roger.  Federer does not do enough to change the momentum sometimes in downhill contests, as this one was.  He seemed content to let this match sail by.  Big servers have stuck it to Roger in big spots over the last 3 years, and when these guys (Soderling, Tsonga, Berdych) get on their rolls, the match seems a fait accompli.

While Roger has to do more in the return game, go for more, mix it up more, stall more, take a timeout directly prior to an opponent’s serve game, take a stroll along the back fence or whatever, we are more concerned with praising those due right now.  John Isner played a phenomenal match, played the whole of it on his toes, and deserved very much to walk away the victor.  We have been touting Isner as America’s best big match player for some time now.  This guy is incredibly calm at all times, plays opportunistic tennis, and maximizes his chances.

We’d also like to offer a scant word of praise for our buddy Mardy Fish, who finally came up with important tennis in the spot, with a very impressive come from behind win.  Fish also played the bigger tennis today, and notably managed 34 forehand winners on a slow red court where his forehand tends to be rather anemic on most days.  Normally at this point in the tie, the Bryan sledgehammer would drop, and the tie would be virtually locked up.  But Bob Bryan and his swinging lefty serve will not participate in the tie because his wife has recently given birth.  Captain Courier, who has coached a hell of a tie so far, has made the curious decision as to partner Ryan Harrison with Mike Bryan tomorrow against Federer and Wawrinka, who make for a rather striking doubles team, and one who has had past success.

In our minds, both Fish and Isner are proven commodities in the doubles, and Harrison is a bit of a risk.  We hate to coach Courier’s squad for him, but it might be a wiser call to let Isner pair with Mike Bryan, especially since Isner was able to get off the court in reasonable time today.  Ryan Harrison has never played in a meaningful Davis Cup match, and so we’d be a lot more comfortable with a proven serve and volley doubles guy in this spot tomorrow with a place in the next round on the line.

Though America leads 2-0 and we could not be happier, Davis Cup often turns on or is decided by the doubles, and our ace pair, the 19-3 DC lifetime Bryans, will not be competing whole.  Should the Swiss pair win tomorrow, we can easily see Federer topping Fish in the 4th rubber on Sunday.  In that case, the tie would be decided by Wawrinka-Isner.  In that head to head, Isner leads 2-1 and has won their only matchup on clay (Belgrade, 2010).

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

Rafael Nadal (above), who will be sunning and swimming rather than participating in Davis Cup today.

Months back when we mused about the tie that begins today in Austin, Texas between USA and Spain, we predicted that Nadal would ask out, or that he’d be tired from a long season, and either way, would bolster the chances of Courier’s kids in their second tie under the 4 time major champion and 2 time Davis Cup champion.  We also predicted that the match would be played on a very fast track, which would also enhance the USA’s chances.  Everything about the scheduling, it would seem, has come to benefit the stars and stripes, at least in the pre-tie workups.  The selection of Austin as site by the American team was extremely fortuitous, especially if Andy Roddick was on the fence about playing.  Austin is Roddick’s primary home base and is where the Roddick developmental school is located.  A stand-up guy like Roddick would be hard pressed to skip an event like this in his own backyard, so the venue was extremely well selected by Courier.  Roddick is the greatest singles player in the history of the American Davis Cup team.  Wimbledon quarter-finalist Mardy Fish will be playing second singles in the tie, and 2 time and defending Wimbledon doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan will play doubles for Team USA.

The Spaniards will be trotting out world #6 David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco in the singles, as was reported this morning by ESPN, contrary to reports that Feliciano Lopez, fresh off an impressive Wimbledon run, would play in the second singles spot.  Lopez defeated Andy Roddick in a 3rd round upset at SW-19, but it would be hard to imagine the Spanish lefty besting Roddick in successive matches in the same month in best of 5 set tennis on courts that favor Roddick.  As for Spain’s other lefty, Nadal had the following to say about the tie and the ITF:

“The problem is the ITF, my opinion,” said Nadal, on June 27th. “They don’t want to change nothing. They are never able to change nothing on the calendar, nothing in the format of the Davis Cup competition. And some thing they are doing bad, because the best player of the world, a lot of times we are not able to play.

“For me is hard not go to United States and play for my country,” he added. “For somebody can think, ‘Well, he only is think about himself. He is playing his own things. Doesn’t matter about the Davis Cup.’ It’s not my case. … I cannot be in every place. I cannot be competitive every week of the year. My body needs to rest.”

http://espn.go.com/sports/tennis/blog/_/name/espntennis/id/6747099/rafael-nadal-opts-rest-davis-cup

Nadal seems particularly sensitive to criticism regarding Davis Cup, which has more or less organized their schedule the same way since the dawn of time.  Nadal frequently skips this round as it comes so close to Wimbledon, but his rationale about top players not playing would not seem to apply to the top player, Novak Djokovic.  Nadal seems to be talking about Roger Federer, who has hardly played at all in the last 5 years regardless of where and when.

We don’t think Nadal needs to be defensive about his commitment to Davis Cup.  Nor do we think any player who has helped his nation win in Davis Cup needs to explain their rationale for skipping a tie.

By the way, The Tennis Channel just reported that Feliciano Lopez will be playing second singles today at approximately 6 pm against Mardy Fish.  We haven’t looked at the head to head matchups, but we think it’s a bit of a flavor of the month type of decision on the part of the Spanish squad.  Verdasco practices on American hards most of the year, and is the more able player.

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

World #1, if far from best, Caroline Wozniacki (below).

It isn’t often that mystical clay court seasons just line up by the grace of gods, and the stars align to make the typical one-hander who likes to see entertaining, shot making tennis genius and the validation of such genius.  Well, there was 09 of course, when Roger completed the career slam.  We mean, the way Nadal got upset by Soderling, out of nowhere, meaning that the attacking player, the magnificent artist, the man himself, Roger Federer, was going to get the RG crown and the career slam.  And by the way.  We don’t throw the word slam around.  We are tennis purists.  There are career slams, and there are calendar slams.  You win them all in your career or you win them all in calendar order.  Since nobody ever wins them in calendar order to the point that it is rarely a discussion, you have a few slam conversations going on, but not many.

Might Clijsters get it?  Those looking at the woeful women’s tour and Clijsters fans had to think, with her flakiness, and the God awful women’s top 20 right now, that she can’t be counted on to play for too many more majors, but she could have been counted on heavily at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year.  Ah well.  There are the injuries that we are hearing will limit her.  We see a good chance for Clijsters to win these tournaments if she is healthy, and here’s why:  Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Justine Henin are all not playing, Kuznetsova is playing as bad as she has ever, career, Sharapova is not all the way back, and there are questions as to her ability to ever return to the top of the game, and then…we mean, we could go all day.  That’s why another clay court season for the shot mking purist was last season, on the women’s side, with Francesca Schiavone winning her first major title.  I love Schiavone–the top one-handed female until Justine Henin hopefully returns, and she has great flair, but in a healthy field, we doubt highly that we are all suffering a Schiavone-Stosur finale.  These are girls that the Williams sisters, Henin, and several others trounce on a regular basis.  In fact, Venus Williams has never lost to Schiavone in 8 meetings.   Stosur?  Must we really?  A representative top ten of the most talented women in the world, regardless of who is shuttered off in a Belgian bowling alley and who, unfortunately, cut her foot and went through so many sins with recovering from that.

We are not trying to denigrate Francesca.  In fact, we’d love her to repeat.  Considering the shoddy field again.  We have got to look at a woeful top 20 right now.  Former champ Ana Ivanovic, whose game we actually don’t quite terribly mind, is outside the top 20, which says a lot about her plight, and you’ve got one of the least talented and diverse top 20’s there has ever been.  Kaia Kanepi?  Shahar Peer?  Petkovic?  Bartoli?  Radwanska?  Pavlyuchenkova?  Please don’t get us started about Jelena Jankovic, who feel is the most incomplete player in the women’s game.  Besides being an advertisement for how not to play, she hits most of her shots off of her back foot, can not take an overhead out of the air, can not make a volley, and has no serve.  This women’s game is an insult, and perhaps then we shouldn’t take as such an insult the fact that America got dusted in Fed Cup two weeks ago, but we still do.  Pitiful.

If Clijsters doesn’t play, then we’d count 5 players when healthy and right, and maybe a sixth–Ana Ivanovic as being bigger favorites going into Roland Garros than the current field.  BTW, we count Dementieva in that group.  A lot is on injuries, obviously, but we can’t tell you we are happy a Dementieva or a Henin stepped away from the game in their prime.  You watch a Justine Henin match?  Listen, she may have cheated against Serena, but her matches were beautiful things.  Her backhand is text book.  She is a beautiful shot maker and she lit the game up for almost 2 years.  It was pretty to watch.  So we aren’t too happy, and we won’t be next Thursday when the draws come out for Roland Garros.  That Stosur was such a big favorite last year, and looks so strong again?  We apologize, but we don’t feel this caliber of player deserves to win a major.  Winning a major is special.  Will we see it from Wozniacki?  When she pulls it off with those putrid vollies, and her go is death game.  And you know what?  We like her next week.  What does that say?  Because we despise her style of play.  But this is France, and the most vile style usually wins out.

Except when Roger won it.  And the time Mac had Lendl 2 sets and a break.  Kuerten?  Here’s the thing.  He didn’t have near the shot making ability on other surfaces, so we didn’t go crazy when he won here.  We rooted for Courier and against Agassi, and f0r Federer a boatload of times, and when we were young we watched a lot of guys who we didn’t have business winning majors win this thing.  But that’s the French Open, for the women especially, and it looks like we may get a very shaky champ again, which speaks volumes about the women’s game.  If Clijsters can go hard, she is going to have a great shot to pull off the career slam, because she’s the only one around with the focus and the talent.  And so you know, we hate her counter punching style, but will concede she goes for more winners now and is easier to watch.  You see, the French Open, on special occasion, has not been the home of the shittiest tennis champion of them all.  The years when a Navratilova or a Williams or a Graf didn’t win.  The years when it was the Moyas, Andres Gomez’s, Chang’s, and Costa’s.

Would those guys, any of them, win a real major on a court that required brilliance and not doggedness?  We think not.  So here’s to our Roland Garros wishes that if a shitty woman has to be champion, let it be Schiavone, because little girls around the world may model their game after hers, and so that she can build a little legacy for a one-hander, even though she hasn’t ever beaten Venus Williams.  Because that’s a lot better than one of these hacks like Wozniacki, Jankovic, and Radwanska.  Either of those three would horrible for the game.   Zvonareva?  You know we love her, and we like the way she’s went deep at majors lately, building a resume, but we’d say she has a much better chance on Wimbledon’s lawns than on the disgusting mud at Roland Garros.

Tomorrow on the women’s side in Rome:

Wozniacki:  – 200 (bet 200 to win 100)

Sharapova:  +160 (bet 100 units to win 160, plus the initial wager) 

And:

Li Na:  + 170 (bet 100 units to win 170)

Stosur:  – 220 (bet 220 units to win 100, plus initial wager)

Here’s what we think.  Even though we hate Wozniacki, she has the game for clay, if not really any true talent tennis or weapons, and Sharapova doesn’t.  It might help Maria that Azarenka retired today, allowing her to conserve energy, but we’d have to to go with Wozniacki, who is the better mover and the better clay mover.  Mark our words.  You rarely see a match won on clay on a given day by the player who doesn’t use his feet best.  In that vain, we’d have to take the exercise and conditioning freak, Stosur, who is now building quite a little resume for herself on clay, and she’s another poorly talented but favored woman of Roland Garros nontheless.  And the loss last year?  There are Australians we know who lost their shit over it.

We’re not ready to pronounce Sharapova completely dead yet, but without the lights out serve, she really isn’t gonna hurt too many people, and RG has never been her thing.  So we are thinking Wozniacki/Stosur on Sunday, and when we see the odds, we”ll give you our thoughts.  But we aren’t buying at these rates.  The biggest favorite is Stosur at – 220?  If you are going to do something, you shoud be buying dogs.

Then there’s the men where there figures to be a compelling day of tennis, even for clay.  Lines have been shifting the last few hours, as Nadal and Djokovic are becoming bigger favorites.  As of now:

Nadal:  – 1200  (wager 1200 to win 100 plus your initial wager)

Gasquet:  +700 (wager 100 to win 700)

And:

Djokovic:  – 700

Murray:  + 450

Without getting too into the RG breakdown, we’d like to give you our quick thoughts.  Much better values in the dogs once again, especially on the men’s side.  Personally, we have seen a lot of lines, and Andy Murray is probably a plus 450 2 or 3 times only in about the last 3 years.  This guy is a very good player, and the difference in odds is steep considering the match will probably be won over a couple points.  And Nadal/Gasquet?  That’s a match where you have a guy who has never beaten the other guy, and the other guy is on his favorite surface where he rarely loses.  Gasquet just does not match up with Nadal very well, never did.  Doesn’t serve well enough.  That about covers it.  Very talented player, but nearly enough weapons.  But the little extra rest a loss for either favorite might do could go a long way in what could be very close matches, ones the odds don’t seem to respect.  We wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a long day of tennis tomorrow.  And we again hope for a classic day of clay court tennis.

Djokovic goes for his 36th straight…vying to also set up a meet with Nadal, who he could conceivably beat two weeks in a row.

Catch it on TTC.

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

USA Federation Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez with tennis power broker husband Tony Godsick (above), who is part of Roger Federer’s management team.

After three days and 8 straight sets of losing tennis, America finally got on the board, taking the first set in doubles at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart, Germany.  Too bad for our Federation Cup team, our national pride, and the state of American tennis that by then it was too late and obviously too little, as the team of Liziel Huber and Vania King still lost in 3 sets to cap one of the worst weekends in American tennis history.  Needing to win the tie to remain in the World Group of Federation Cup, from which we have never been relegated, Captain Mary Joe Fernandez trotted out an FC squad that did not boast one player of distinction, worthy enough to present a decent challenge to any members of the German squad, including world #156 Sabine Lisicki, who dusted Jersey native Christina McHale in mop up duty yesterday, filling in for Julia Georges, who would have been, at that point, risking her health unnecessarily by continuing to play in a tie that was academic, a glorified exhibition, but one that featured less talent than an actual exhibition.

That’s right.  Playing America is now unnecessary.  The Americans are irrelevant in the women’s game, led by Captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who not so long ago had her contract extended for another two years.  Has the team’s production on the court warranted an extension?  It’s debatable, but we certainly do not think so.  Fernandez, part of the dazed and confused American tennis establishment, is the first captain to ever preside over a relegated team in the history of the Federation Cup.  And we’ll give her little credit for reaching finals in her first two seasons, and losing, but more credit indeed because of the power her husband wields behind the scenes in the game, which in all likelihood, in combination with her profile as an ESPN tennis personality, is what got her the gig.  Because she certainly didn’t win the job on the basis of her success as a player or coach.  In 2010, we especially fault the American squad for losing the championship tie on “hardcourts” in San Diego to Italy.  But in part thanks to Fernandez, California doesn’t have any real hardcourts anymore, and so the ladies played on a track of soft blue foam (the dreaded Plexicushion) that gave the Italians as much of an advantage as the prior year when America could not take one match at Calabria, Italy on outdoor red clay.

How do we get around to blaming Fernandez for everything from California’s putrid tennis courts to the quality of our Fed Cup teams that have failed miserably and continue to do so, to the point that we are out of the world group?  Easily.  She’s the captain.  Not only has she been the captain for 3 years, but before that, she sat at then captain Zina Garrison’s obese elbow for a good year, playing Stan Laurel to Garrison’s Oliver Hardy.  We are tired of it all.  Fernandez obviously endorsed and worked with a Garrison led group that produced zero in terms of titles and developed no meaningful players.  That’s what we mean when call her part of the establishment, for you do not get the captaincy if you do not support the horrid regime that came before you, and the horrid surfaces that big business looks to slap down.

The nonsense about Serena and Venus not playing?  We’ve had enough.  The Williams sisters, when young, led us to our last two Fed Cup titles in 1999 and 2000.  Then they lost interest in the FC, their commitment to it, and the competition.  People want to blame the sisters for that, who had been there and done that.  Part of the whole ‘Let’s rip Venus and Serena for having fashion lines and enjoying the limelight’ craze that swept the nation and still reverberates in some circles.  What people do not get is that the sisters never burnt out on tennis, and continued to play their asses of at majors, in singles and doubles, regardless of any and all outside factors, even when injured.  For players who have won the Federation Cup, or the Davis Cup, there is no legitimate criticism that can exist should they have reasons for skipping the competition.  And while we have criticized Roger Federer in this space for skipping Davis Cup regularly, despite being coached by Swiss DC captain Severin Luthi, Roger obviously has himself a plan to win majors, and Davis Cup runs counter to that plan.

So our body of incompetent tennis minds here in America, with which even we are associated (proud USTA members, LOL–the deals on tennis tickets are too good to pass up!), chooses Garrison, another loser, to guide our squad.  Why?  Because they thought that hiring a black woman would give them a leg up on convincing the Williams sisters to play.  That’s just plain racist.  Frankly, the Williams sisters have a lot more respect for great tennis minds than they do for black women.  Just ask Asha Rolle.  Instead of blaming the Williams sisters for making choices appropriate for their careers, the USTA should have been working a lot harder on developing talented players like Venus, Serena, and Lindsey Davenport–who aside from the Williams sisters, is the last American female to win a title of any sort, as far as we can recall.  And she won it as a ghost, fresh from retirement, further highlighting America’s lack of meaningful young talent.

Yesterday comes news that Venus Williams has withdrawn from Rome and Barcelona, citing her lack of readiness.  There’s no real time table on Serena, and while we know she will return, any projection would be optimistic considering the travails she has endured since cutting her foot.  At least she is up and about (click on the link above to see her and a friend on South Beach recently).  So basically, we are stuck with this piss poor Fed Cup squad and its captain.  Mary Joe Fernandez is not a winner, but is a better politician than Garrison.  Patrick McEnroe, a much worse tennis talent than both, also owes his job to television, politics, and probably a healthy dose of nepotism (his brother lobbied for his appointment, though John John probably wouldn’t have him on his list if you asked him right now, after seeing the state our game go unchanged for years) .  These are the people in whose hands the national tennis program and developmental programs rest in.  Thankfully, Patrick McEnroe has stood aside and Jim Courier, a real winner, has taken on the captaincy of the Davis Cup squad, and is off to a great start, defeating Chile in tough conditions.  As you can tell, we don’t give Patrick McEnroe any credit for squeezing 1 DC title out of a team that boasted a 1 time #1 in Roddick, 2 perennial top 10 guys in Roddick and Blake, and the #1 doubles squad–a huge advantage in team competition.  We should have won more.  But at least McEnroe, roundly criticized, even by big brother John, had the sense to pick fast tracks to play on as the host nation that are advantageous to Americans and our style of tennis.

Fernandez gets no credit.  She’s been around this team for 4 years and we’ve seen all we need to see of Oudin, McHale, Vandeweghe, and the like.  People want to shower MJF with praise for spotting these players, but these players would go unnoticed anywhere else, with good reason.  They have no talent.  They are grinders who can not even play on clay.  Pop gun players who can’t serve and have no true tennis talent.  What is the population of Germany?  How is it that our top player can’t take a set from any decent German woman?  How is it that none of our players could even make the German squad, who was also competing to avoid relegation?  This is not a Steffi Graf in her prime led German team.

McHale, for a nice run she made at Indian Wells last month, will get some buzz, but if she is the young face of our game, we need a makeover.  Fast.  Forget Venus and Serena.  Act like they don’t exist.  Oudin?  Since that summer where she played way over her head, she hasn’t existed.  We need new blood, new ideas, new coaches, new courts…and a new captain.  Probably the best young American, Alison Riske, who separates herself from her poor pusher peers with her big serve, is not a product of the USTA, but rather, a kid who came up playing in the Pennsylvania high school system.  Exactly John McEnroe’s point when he denigrates the work that his brother is doing, the state of the American game, and the homogenization of the American game which is now one dimensional baseline half tennis.

Since Fernandez won’t be fired, especially with a new pact in hand, here’s some advice for her: pick Decoturf, a surface which will speed up her players’ 80 mph 1st serves and slow groundstrokes.  It’s the national surface for a reason, and Americans play better on it than any other nation does.  And feature the girls with actual potential, like Lauren Davis, Riske, and Sloane Stephens.  McHale and Oudin haven’t exactly done wonders for the nation.  Riske at least has a bigger game and a bigger frame with which to cover the net, and Davis and Stephens have expectations in place, and are used to dealing with expectations, as they are the only true budding pros we have of note.  We’d also probably put a veteran doubles player like Craybas or Mattek-Sands (when healthy) with Huber and work on locking up at least 1 match in every tie.

For future reference, the captain does not need to be a woman, and if it is, it needs to be a woman with a real winner’s pedigree, which means, probably not an American.  Richard Williams has produced the two greatest American women of our time.  He should be on the short list.  As should Monica Seles, who is a fixture in the game and who actually commands the respect of young players based on her merits.

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

Captain Jim Courier, John Isner, Andy Roddick, and the Bryans (above, from left to right).

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/patrick-mcenroe-resigns-davis-cup-captaincy-courier-declares-interest/

This weekend Andy Roddick finished what he started in impressive fashion, thumping the 2004 double Olympic gold medalist Nicholas Massu on Friday, and then clinched the tie early Sunday with a come from behind four set win against world #165 Paul Capdeville on a very impressive slow red clay court in Santiago, Chile.  Roddick, widely panned for his clay court prowess, was broken exactly once in each match.  That’s not to say he played dominant first strike tennis.  Roddick, who has grown tremendously as a player on clay and as a guy who thinks a match out–2 of his lesser abilities historically–showed off both skills on Sunday.  After dropping the 1st set to Capdeville on grotesque and horribly slow red clay that groundskeepers watered on changeovers, Justin Gimelstob, who The Tennis Channel was too cheap to send to Santiago, said from an LA studio (so low grade!) that Roddick had let his opponent grow too comfortable and would have to change his tactics.  Such a pronouncement 3 or 4 years ago would not have sat too well with the close Roddick observer.

First time captain Jim Courier did not bat an eyelash.  In fact, the proven winner and distinguished major champion, showed nothing but calm the entire weekend, even when Roddick’s opponent Capdeville, in his match Friday versus Isner, seemed to at worst cheat and at best display questionable sportsmanship at a critical stage of the fifth set on a break point which he lost.  Isner hit a winner from the back of the court which Capdeville did not play, claiming he heard an out call.  Right.  We were extremely annoyed.  It was a classless move on the part of the Chilean, an obvious ploy that we’ve seen tried on occasion by the desperate, but which we can’t really recall a big league chair buying.  Enter Friday’s clown show.  The chair called the ball a let, and Isner who couldn’t buy a break point all match, literally, until that point, didn’t get another.  Gimelstob once again provided the dead on commentary, reading our minds by taking the poor returning Isner to task.  G-Stob called Isner’s return game a glaring weakness, noting that the big man could not cry about calls when he generated so few opportunities for himself.  About 1 game letter, Isner began to cramp, and once his legs had tightened up, he was basically done, but he did manage 4 holds in the decisive 5th set, and with the stolen break, would’ve won the match.  In fairness to Isner, the kid shows tremendous promise, has steadily improved since taking the tour by storm out of the NCAA’s, and is the American who most deserves the Davis Cup Singles B role.  Unlike Sam Querrey, Isner shows excellent killer instinct, a volleyer’s touch, and doesn’t shrink from big moments.  Isner has had several breakthrough wins while Samurai Sam has yet to notch any of note, especially at the majors.  America’s only other option, world #15 Mardy Fish, is also someone we aren’t comfortable seeing in James Blake’s B role.  Fish is a very bad big match player.  If he was ever going to beat a Chilean in the big spot, it would have been at the 2004 Olympics where Massu bested a then chubby Mardy for the gold.  We don’t put a lot of stock in Olympic tennis for the sake of its actual tennis importance, but as an American sports fan, we don’t give Fish the option to lose to a Nicholas Massu with gold on the line.

Back to Roddick, who stayed level throughout a tense second set that really was a must win for both guys.  Roddick blew a late break chance, shook that off, went into the breaker and then blitzed Capdeville, getting out to a 5-0 lead which carried him to the set win.  It was all down hill from there.  Roddick dominated the last two sets in uncharacteristic fashion.  He had managed only one ace through 3 sets.  Roddick, who tends to play a passive style too much these days, was on the ‘perfect’ surface for it.  He gave up the net and counter punched to perfection, hitting more winners off of his usually defective backhand wing in one match than we can otherwise recollect.

Roddick has long been due a re-appraisal by the stubborn Andy-can’t-play-on-clay faction.  He’s come through plenty of times for America on the dirt, and more times than any other American in the storied history of Davis Cup, now having clinched 12 ties (5 on the road).  And Roddick has played several fine matches at Roland Garros in the last 2 years, making the round of 16 in ’09, which is something many doubted he’d ever do.  In our opinion, Roddick might be the best player of all time who has only won 1 major, and had a guy named Roger Federer never came around, Andy would probably have several major titles.  Losing 4 major finals to Roger Federer is nothing to be embarrassed about.  Roddick is one of few guys to ever have been #1, to have won a major, a Davis Cup title, and to have been in the top 5 for 5 consecutive years.  And unlike Roger, Roddick always seems to turn out for country. 

You all know of our devotion to Federer, but you should also know we try to tell it as we see it.  It doesn’t sit well with us that Federer abandoned his country’s Davis Cup squad.  We know his arguments, and we understand them.  He needs to pick and choose, he can’t risk too much exposure in a non major setting…we get it.  But Nadal can?  A frequently hobbled Nadal usually doesn’t duck Davis Cup, and to his credit, he has a championship to show for it, as does Roddick.  Federer doesn’t take Davis Cup calls from Severin Luthi, one of his own coaches, and while the rest of the men’s tennis world is sliding around on disgusting mud courts, Federer is hob nobbing with Pete Sampras and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles (below). 

Again, we get it.  Federer is the all time mens singles major champion with the Swiss flag behind him, so what does it matter that he doesn’t have a DC title?  A tennis purist would say it does matter some.  There is no definitive greatest player of all time, and everyone from Borg to McEnroe, Sampras, and Nadal have won the DC, and in most cases, had at least one title they were the impetus behind.  The only greats we can think of that have not won the Davis Cup are the ultra selfish and loutish Jimmy Connors, and Federer.

Perhaps Federer, like Connors did, will feel the hole in his immortal resume, and come back to Davis Cup in his twilight years.  And unlike Connors, Federer is great enough to pull off such a thing and win a late DC title, maybe even into his early 30’s.  Maybe Federer has lost a bit of his ‘major edge’ because he isn’t as tested in Davis Cup lately and in the best of 5 set format as the last 3 guys who have beaten him at majors, Soderling, Berdych, and Djokovic.  As for the other Jimbo, our new skip, Jim Courier, we are ecstatic to have him (especially over the hack that is Todd Martin), and he must be ecstatic that Roddick takes his calls.   Let’s face it.  Courier is a winner.  He’s been there and done that.  Chile in a mud storm in front of the worst tennis fans this side of France while getting potentially tie deciding bad calls does not phase him in the least.  Not only does Courier play the same style, more or less, as the top American singles players, but he was a better player than all of these guys, and has greater insights about top tier tennis than the former DC coach, Patrick McEnroe, who had less talent than Courier, less desire, a lesser work ethic, less athletic ability, and we think, a lesser mind for the game in general.  We think it’s not a coincidence that the national junior program is foundering with PMac at the helm.

Next up for the US squad will be Spain in the quarters, about one week after Wimbledon concludes.  Before anyone gets around to anointing Spain, let’s all keep squarely in mind that home countries have an enormous advantage in Davis Cup.  In Courier’s first home tie as captain, he will decide the venue and the surface which as yet, is unannounced.  The surface is sure to be a fast hardcourt, and though there might be attendance concerns, in a play from the British play book, we think it would be very wise to consider Flushing Meadows for the tie, the way that Britain tries to play their ties on Wimbledon’s centre court.  America always chooses hards, and for a few years now, have only had the pick off-season, choosing slick indoor surfaces in Baltimore, Birmingham, and Austin.  You can’t really play this thing indoors in July.  Should the Americans opt for a more intimate setting, we think Cincinnati would be perfect.  The Cincinnati Masters Series has long been considered the fastest outdoor tournament in the world.  We can think of no recent Spaniard who’s had any success there. 

Also, we love the dynamic created by forcing the Spaniards to play on fast hards in the shadow of Wimbledon, especially if Nadal goes deep at SW-19.  In fact, we can hear Nadal crying about the turn around and surface switch from here.  Don’t be surprised if he asks out.  If he doesn’t, we look forward to seeing him finally clash with Roddick on a fast hardcourt, and we like our other guys as well versus the Spaniards on the hards with stars and stripes flying.

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

Next Page »