Jose Higueras

Jim Courier hoists the French Open Men’s Championship trophy (above).

Inside Tennis and The Tennis Channel are both reporting that former world # 1 and 4 time major singles champion Jim Courier will succeed Patrick McEnroe as America’s Davis Cup Captain, having beaten out Todd Martin and Brad Gilbert for the post.

Reliable sources indicate that Jim Courier — who heads a short list of candidates that includes Todd Martin and Brad Gilbert — will replace Patrick McEnroe as the next captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team.The 40-year-old former No. 1-turned broadcaster was quick to put his name in the hat following McEnroe’s resignation at the U.S. Open, saying, “Davis Cup means the world to me.  And at some point in my life I certainly hope to have that seat.  I’m definitely interested in the job, so hopefully they’ll give me a call and we’ll chat about it.”

Courier, who went a combined 17-10 in Davis Cup play in the ’90s, lost both his matches against Russia during America’s victorious run to the World Group title in Moscow in ‘95, but played the role of hero in ‘99 in Birmingham, England, where he posted a pair of dramatic five-set victories in lifting the U.S. to 3-2 victory over Great Britain. In one of the greatest post-tie celebrations, U.S. coach Tom Gullikson rolled around on the court hugging Courier, then single-handedly carried him around on his shoulders.

We applaud this decision, especially when considering the alternatives.  Courier, a Floridian who now lives in the city, has been our pick since we learned who the candidates were.  Todd Martin’s poor run with Novak Djokovic’s coaching team which destabilized the world # 2, set the young Serb back markedly.  Martin was brought in to help the Djoker improve his serve, but in tinkering with Djokovic’s service motion, things went awry.  Djokovic, whose serve was once considered a strength of his game, only began to regain his serving edge late this summer, months after Martin had already been dispatched.

Aside from his short tenure with Djokovic, Martin has little experience working with elite players.  While the same could be said of Courier, who has settled in as an announcer, at one time for USA Network and currently for ESPN, we have no doubts that Courier will have the player’s attention on the American team.  Courier, once upon a time, helped dispell the myth that Americans could not win on clay by winning back to French Open titles in 1991 and 1992, famoulsy upsetting rival Andre Agassi in the ’91 final.

Courier, a work ethic player with a big serve and forehand, was a guy willing to grind out, but who could also win free points and end points off either wing and at the net.  In 1992, Courier won 2 major titles, and Courier made two major finals in each of the years 1991, 1992, and 1993.  Courier, coached to his greatest successes by Spaniard Jose Higueras, who had short stints coaching both Sampras and Federer as well, may pick Higueras’ brain frequently on Davis Cup matters, considering that Higueras is now one of the USTA’s top coaches.

Courier once said that he was so determined to adapt to clay that he would practice on the surface for between 9 and 11 hours a day leading up to Roland Garros.  That’s the attitude that the American squad needs.  Young Americans Sam Querrey and John Isner would both seem to benefit greatly by Courier’s hire, as in all likelihood, they will be playing a lot of singles in Davis Cup over the next few years.  The entire American stable of players would likely benefit, including impressive young Texan Ryan Harrison and rising American Mardy Fish, who all play styles similar to Courier’s.

Brad Gilbert was apparently also in the running for the job, and we are ecstatic that he doesn’t seem to be in line for the coveted spot.  Gilbert, admittedly a “pusher”, or grinder, is uncomplicated as a coach, and has clashed with his last two big ticket clients, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.  His coaching style consists of imploring his players to just get it back, and many have griped at the emphasis Gilbert places on weight training.  Gilbert likes to say that players should only come to the net “on their terms”, which produces a very boring style of baseline tennis that encourages passive play.  That’s not the American style of play and is not a style best suited to American hardcourts.

In other quality tennis news, Rafael Nadal finally lost.  Fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez bested the world’s undisputed # 1, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 2 hours and 45 minutes in the semis of the PTT Open in Thailand.


Crack (,

Roger Federer took the courts for the first time, officially, with Paul Annacone in the perch, as Federer defeated Juan Ignacio Chela, 7-6, (9-7), 6-3 tonight in the first round of the Rogers Cup, which is being played in Toronto this year.  Nowhere to be seen in the players box was Swiss Davis Cup Captain Severin Luthi, who has been Roger’s official coach until, well, it would seem the last few weeks.  But then when we hear Koenig and Adler tell it tonight during the match on TTC, it didn’t sound like a trial coaching run for Paul Annacone.  You heard that Roger has always had a friendly relationship with Annacone because he was always friendly with Sampras and Henman, and that Roger had wanted to retain Annacone for some time, and could not because of Annacone’s duties for the LTA (England’s Lawn Tennis Association).  Annacone was a coach for the British program, the way Higueras is a coach for the American program, and as Annacone worked too, during a brief period between his 13th major, when Sampras fired him, before hiring him back to win major # 14.

Roger said that he has been talking to Annacone for a “while” and that he would have hired him sooner if he could have.  Koening and Adler remarked on Annacone’s captaincy of the British Davis Cup Team, where he had a chance to coach Andy Murray, that the team had so little talent that Annacone had to be “ecstatic” to be working at the top level of the men’s game.  As for his imprint on Roger so far, only a few points seem to have had that Annacone stamp.  Roger attacked the net while returning serve and punched a volley for a winner to set up a break mid first set, and on another point, Roger got to net and had to make two volleys, because the first wasn’t good enough.  He popped up a forehand volley a little, and then had to lunge and made a great reflex volley for the winner.  Those points seemed like they were  Annacone inspired.

Annacone talking to the British Davis Cup team (above) at a practice on the grounds of Wimbledon.

Roger looked like Roger, in his new pink and grey Nike threads.  He made a bunch of errors, but the serve looked good (9 aces), and he dictated, on his way to 8 break chances and three conversions, and a 1 hour and 21 minute victory.  It’s a good start to the Federer/Anacone era, and Paul looked pretty comfortable sitting in Luthi’s spot next to Mirka, by the way.  Good likelihood that Fed gets Nicolas Almagro in the next round, who impressively bested Richard Gasquet in late July to take the title in Gstaad, in a matchup of one handers on red clay. 


8th seed Andy Roddick looks like he might see his Wimbledon conqueror, Yen Hsun Lu when he takes the court in Toronto for the first time.  Roddick has fallen outside of the top 10, and finds himself outside the top 10 for the first time since early in 2003.  A bad development for American tennis, as we have no players in the top ten for the first time since 1973.  Justin Gimesltob called Roddick’s slide a “glitch” in the rankings system, and said that he feels roddick will be in the top ten for a long time to come.  Life was cruel to Sam Querrey, as the American, one week removed from his defense of his Farmers Classic title.  Querrey got bounced in the first round by Janko Tipsarevic, who he had narrowly beaten, from down 5-1 in a 3rd set breaker, just 4 days earlier in LA.  Querrey is off to a good start in Canada, having beaten American Michael Russell earlier this evening, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.  He faces South African shot making giant Kevin Anderson in the next round, in an interesting rematch of Querrey’s first ever final, when he took Anderson for the title in 3 sets.

Mardy Fish, who won the doubles title in Washington paired with Mark Knowles–no small feat–moved up one place in the rankings to world # 34.  Donald Young slides back to world # 104, and James Blake moves “up” to # 108.  Terrible Taylor D. checks in at # 81, and Michael Russell, # 82–good positions for the hacks they are, though Dent shows us somethingby coming to the net so much.

Speaking of the rankings, would you look at World # 45, David Nalbandian (above), who shot up after an impressive week in which he lost one set, and made short shrift of both Marin Cilic and Marcos Baghdatis in the semis and finals.  Let me give you the lowdown on Nalbandian.  He’s healthy, he looks great–like a guy who can beat anyone.  And when he’s healthy and conditioned, as he is now, he is going to be absolute hell in a best of 3.  But Nalbandian’s game is all about the pounding.  He’s a power mover.  It shouldn’t take too long before the pounding wears him out to where he’s playing long matches, which isn’t good for him.  In a good tennis match, he took out David Ferrer in 3 sets tonight, hard fought, and now Ferrer leads the head to head 6 to 5.  We’d look for Nalbandian to make a good showing in Montrel and Cincinnati, before petering out at The Open.  But it’s good to have him back nontheless.

In the women’s game, life was cruel for San Diego champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had to get across country and face Maria Sharapova in the first round in Cincy, who took her out, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.  Sharapova, now popping the serve again, is not who you want to face right now on the women’s side.  And we are very happy tonight for Christina McHale (above), who got a wildcard and made the best of it by beating Nadia Petrova today, 7-6 (4), 5-3 ret.  It would be nice to see McHale get on a roll this month before The Open.

–Crack (,

Paul Annacone (R.), looking over Tim Henman’s forehand (above).

Dear Fans

I’ve been looking to add someone to my team and I’ve decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone. As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test period. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences.

See you soon


Roger Federer made big news this week when he announced on his official website in a letter to his fans (above) that he has begun to work with legendary American tennis coach Paul Annacone.  Annacone, who had captained the British Davis Cup team from 2008 until November, 2010, most recently worked one on one with Britain’s Tim Henman–probably the last men’s player to favor the classic serve and volley style.

Annacone, a successful singles and doubles player in his day, won 14 doubles titles, including 1 major championship (Australian Open, 1985, with partner Christo Van Rensburg), and reached as high as world # 12 in singles, also in 1985.  Federer, who takes on new coaches very apprehensively, announced that he has begun working with Annacone on a trial basis, which could be considered by some as a slight to one of tennis’s top coaches, though we should recall that Annacone began to work with his most famous pupil, Pete Sampras, on a trial basis in 1995, when Sampras’ coach Tim Gullickson became too ill to work and travel with Pete.

Annacone helped Pete win 9 majors, including 5 Wimbledon titles and 3 U.S. Open titles, while transforming Pete into an even more aggressive attacker.  Annacone, a serve and volleyer who often used the nearly defunct strategy in his return game called the “chip and charge”–when you slice back a return and approach the net behind it–is a New York native who was born in The Hamptons.

Federer announced that he has added Annacone to his team, which is known to include Swiss Davis Cup Captain Severin Luthi.  The move is a stark contrast from the last coach that Roger added to the team, Spaniard Jose Higueras, to help him win the French Open.  While Higueras’ association with Federer was short lived (they worked together for a few months in 2008), Higueras is widely credited with helping Roger add the forehand drop shot to his repertoire, a shot many feel was instrumental in Roger finally winning Roland Garros in 2009, and a shot that he now employs quite frequently.

Annacone could not be more different from Higueras (BTW, Higueras coached Sampras briefly as well) in terms of tennis philosophy.  Annacone helped Pete Sampras become the best attack player the game has ever known by encouraging him to always move forward, even when returning serve on clay.  Federer, probably blessed with the best hands in the game today, hopefully tabbed Annacone to improve his net play, and the frequency with which he attacks.  Federer and Sampras are friends and frequent hitting partners when Federer is in California, where he has spent an increasing amount of time the last few years.  I would bet that Roger made this hire having considered Sampras’ input.

Though it might not have taken a genius to figure out that Roger needed to make this hire specifically, and short of that, then this type of hire.  Federer, who turns 29 this week, must be aware of the fact that Sampras won two majors (Wimbledon in 2000, The Open in 2002) in the twilight of his career (at age 29 and 31) with Paul Annacone as his coach. 

As a long time tennis fan, and as a devout Sampras and Federer fan, I have a great deal of optimism regarding an Annacone-Federer partnership.  For one, Paul Annacone was one of the slowest guys I’ve ever seen play the game, but still managed to maximize his potential by employing solid strategy: an aggressive attacking style that pressured his opponents by taking their time away, and by using the angles on the 78′ rectangle to great advantage.

When you don’t win, you lose confidence.  That’s natural.  Roger may have some nagging back and leg issues, which he cited as reasons for losing in the quarters at Wimbledon, and they may well have contributed to what has been an even worse year for Federer, to date, than 08–the mono year.  When Roger returns to top speed, assuming he’s not yet there, Annacone should be the perfect fit because he is phenomenal at making guys feel good about themselves.  Between Sampras’ last Wimbledon title in 2000 and his last Open title in 2002, Pete fired Annacone, and then hired him back after Wimbledon in 2002 where Pete suffered an awful upset to Swiss George Bastl.

Sampras had not won a tournament in over 14 months when he won his last major at Flushing versus Agassi in 2002, and one would think that his confidence would begin to flag.  It did.  That’s why he re-hired Annacone, and in Pete’s words, had Annacone not been able to resume coaching Sampras, “that might have been it for me.”

On the approach they took and on his reunion with Annacone:

We went back to the basics in our first training sessions shortly after Wimbledon.  Paul lifted my spirits from the get-go.  It was great to hear his voice again, and to tap into his way of thinking.  It mayy sound crazy, but to hear Tim Gullickson say, with a sly grin and a twinkle in his eye, that my serve down the middle was like a Green Bay Packers power sweep, that meant something.  And to hear Paul say he wanted me to go and impose myself on my rivals, that I should remember that I was Pete Sampras and they were not, that meant something too.  It meant more than I had imagined it would.

–Pete Sampras, A Champion’s Mind (P. 261)

Roger needs someone from the outside to come in and tell him how great he is and why he is so great, and some fine tuning.  Some tinkering.  I would think that Annacone, who knows a thing or two about greatness, would be salivating at this opportunity to work with Roger, considering how much a healthy Roger has left to offer.  And frankly, as a Federer fan, I can rest a bit easier knowing Annacone is in his corner.  Federer usually has a very murky coaching situation at best, and Annacone, even on a trial basis, means that Roger is getting better coaching than he ever has, including his time with Aussie great Tony Roache.

–Crack (,


Will the last remaining American male, Robby Ginepri (above), be waiving goodbye to Paris tommorow?

Court Philippe Chatrier


Robby Ginepri vs. (3) Novak Djokovic

This is a tough ask for Ginepri, on top of the tough ask he improbably pulled off on Saturday, topping former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in 5 sets.  Ginepri’s fitness after a 5 set match is not a question.  This one should come down to a big talent mismatch, as the others in this head to head have.  The Djoker is 4-0 lifetime, and has yet to lose a set to Ginepri, ever.  He even handed Ginepri the most lopsided loss in his career at Roland Garros way back in 2005, 6-0, 6-0, 6-3 in just 1 hour and 18 minutes.  This match is Djokovic’s to lose, but it’s hard to pencil in the Serb because of his poor conditioning and always say quit attitude.

(1) Serena vs. (18) Shahar Peer


Serena should win fairly handily, though Peer’s playing great tennis.  This is a very interesting matchup, especially on Peer’s end.  I hear that in Israel everything stops when she plays, like in Japan, when Ichiro has an at bat, and there are televisions on showing her playing literally everywhere.  That’s enormous pressure.  Serena seems to be in top condition, though she did have a mental lapse for an entire set in round 3 versus Pavlyuchenkova.  Serena seems to want this title though, even if she has to go through Henin and Jankovic before even playing the final.  A victory in this major would give her 2 legs of the slam, with the hardest one for her already under her belt.  Serena is playing for history.  I hate to jinx it, but history might be in trouble.

(24) Thomaz Bellucci vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

One previous encounter, which Nadal won in straights, but Bellucci took a set to a tie-breaker, and kept Rafa on court for almost 3 hours.  Bellucci has had a checkered clay court season, and though he is 22-12 on the year, he hasn’t reallly put much of a win streak together, hasn’t won a tournament, and hasn’t beaten anyone of note.  And David Ferrer completely smoked him a couple of weeks ago, a bad sign for the Brazilian in a matchup against Nadal.  For Nadal, it will be 3 best of 5 set matches in four days, and cumulative toll has always brought his level down some, with his creaky knees.  It would be nice if Bellucci took a set from Nadal, who is yet to lose one at Roland Garros this year.  And in a perfect world, Bellucci would take 3.

(4) Jelena Jankovic vs. (23) Daniela Hantuchova

Jaja versus Dani Hani…what can we say?  Hantuchova is usually loathe to win a big match, and the surface suits Jankovic to a tee, she of the Gael Monfils school of hard court sliding.  I wish I felt DH had a shot, and I know she will get opportunities because of Jankovic’s horrendous serve, but Hantuchova doesn’t seem mentally tough enough to pull it off. 

Court Suzanne Lenglen


(22) Jurgen Melzer vs. Teimuraz Gabashvili

I saw both of these players up close and personal at the US Open in 2008.  Melzer, I thought was overmatched, but scratched out an incredible 5 set win versus Feliciano Lopez.  Gabashvili was also overmatched, and played steady, but lost to Stanislas Wawrinka (by the way, we sat next to Stan’s wife–much fitter than Mirka if you were wondering).  Gabashvili has sort of caught lightning in a bottle here, while Melzer, has steadily improved to the point where he is taking out very legitimate clay courters (David Ferrer).  Melzer has arrived.  I like him tomorrow, big.  It is very unlikely that Gabashvili will have another incredible day on his serve, which carried him against Roddick.

(22) Henin vs. (7) Stosur


Not so fast, Henin bandwagon.  Stosur is going to come to play.  You wouldn’t think Paris was best suited for an Aussie, but Sam is best here on the red clay.  Henin has played well overall, but people aren’t quivering in fear like they once were.  And Henin had a tough weekend courtesy of Maria Sharapova.  I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that the classy Australian can take the Belgian waffle.

(7) Fernando Verdasco vs. (19) Nicolas Almagro


Let’s hope Verdasco wins.  It would set up a very interesting quarter-final between him and Nadal, who he is very tired of losing to.

Jarmila Groth (Aus) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova (Kaz)


Watch this match between unheard ofs, in which one will become a major quarter-finalist become the match of the day.  I wish I could tell you something about these two, but I can’t muster much.  Shvedova has a higher profile than Groth, ranked # 36 in he world.  But Groth has 2 things going for her.  She beat Shvedova at Wimbledon in 2008 in what has been their only match to date.  And Groth is hotter.

Groth (above).

All in all, I thought the Sunday RO16 matchups were way more interesting and competitive than tomorrow’s will be, but at least we don’t have to watch NBC edit our sport tomorrow.

–Crack (

Robby Ginepri–the pride of America?  He is today, after stunning 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in 5 sets earlier today at Roland Garros.  It isn’t as though Ginepri hasn’t had some success on the big stage.  Ginepri advanced to the semi-finals of the US Open in 2005, where the dream run was ended by Andre Agassi.  Ginepri has also made the round of 16 at Wimbledon, the Australian, and now the French Open twice (2008, 2010).

But Ginepri, 98th in the world last Monday, did drop off the face of the earth after climbing to # 15 in the world in 2005.  His game has improved dramatically since Jose Higueras, one time coach of Roger Federer (Higueras coached Federer and Ginepri simultaneously) and long time coach of Jim Courier, took over in 2008.  Though Ginepri hasn’t seen a great improvement in his ranking–yet.  Check out the match stats from Ginepri-JCF today, which Ginepri won after winning the first two sets, and then dropping the next two, before rallying to take the match in the fifth set.

Ferrero (ESP)   Ginepri (USA)
  1st Serve % 107 of 140 = 76 % 106 of 152 = 70 %
  Aces 5 5
  Double Faults 1 2
  Unforced Errors 46 51
  Winning % on 1st Serve 66 of 107 = 62 % 62 of 106 = 58 %
  Winning % on 2nd Serve 19 of 32 = 59 % 28 of 44 = 64 %
  Winners (Including Service) 33 43
  Receiving Points Won 62 of 152 = 41 % 55 of 140 = 39 %
  Break Point Conversions 7 of 15 = 47 % 7 of 12 = 58 %
  Net Approaches 11 of 16 = 69 % 9 of 17 = 53 %
  Total Points Won 147 145
   Fastest Serve Speed 193 KMH 197 KMH
   Average 1st Serve Speed 168 KMH 172 KMH
   Average 2nd Serve Speed 145 KMH 139 KMH

Even if Ginepri loses to 3rd seed Novak Djokovic in the next round, he should jump up the rankings.  Ginepri, the ultimate grinder, out grinded a major champion today.  Can he do it again on Monday?  That remains to be seen.  Still, Ginepri has had the most successful 2010 French Open of any American male, and is the only American left in the men’s draw.

–Crack (