Justine Henin


613494-agnieszka-radwanskaWorld #4 Agniezska Radwanska (above), as she struggles to deal with oppressive conditions at The Apia in Sydney.

One of our ones to watch, the very talented and stylish young one hander Grigor Dimitrov, makes his 1st ever tour final over the weekend.  This week, he rolls out to Sydney where he gets bounced, 1 & 3, by Fognini, a vastly inferior player.  Maybe Dimitrov, still young, doesn’t yet have mastered the art of the quick turn around.  Not exactly likely since to break into the main draw bubble at lesser tournies like these, he’s had to go the hard scrabble qualifier route to make his bones, often playing 3 matches before his 1st round match.  This, after a prolific junior career in which he won both the Wimbledon and US Open junior titles.  Maybe though.  Also unlikely that Benoit Paire, after a strong week in India would fall so flat the next week, another 1st round  casualty, this time in Auckland.  Certainly couldn’t be the problem for John Isner, already lame this new year despite virtually no match play at all.  But only in Australia is freshness and injury such a concern, though the new year has yet to see it’s 10th day.

http://www.perthnow.com.au/sport/tennis/american-john-isner-withdraws-from-australian-open-with-knee-injury/story-fnddkxkr-1226551036599

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

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/the-pervy-picture-show-svetoslava-simeonova-fabio-fogninis-girlfriend/

You must know we’re quite likely to chalk up assorted leg, back, shoulder and elbow injuries Down Under to surface issues most of the time.  I mean, is it not a little curious that Rafael Nadal, who is practicing full bore on red clay, we hear, in Barcelona, and is making bold, confident proclamations on Twitter that he is great to go, and in fact expects to have a banner 2013?  Just not in Australia, which, apparently healthy, he has decided to skip entirely. Nadal is always subject to injury from his horrible defensive style–running, endless points, infinite pounding–but there can be no denying that a 6 hour, 5 set Aussie final on Plexicushion left him staggered.  So staggered in fact that despite today claiming perfect health, he is nowhere to be found around Melbourne not 5 days before a major, the 2nd straight major he is about to miss, making for a 7th straight month without match play.

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

Rather quizzical to us that Nadal would then go play singles and doubles at Indian Wells, also on Plexicushion, but you’ll never hear us accuse Nadal of being bright.  Perhaps never more obvious were the negative effects of Plexicushion than in the IW semis, where Federer smoked Nadal easily, despite the sizable advantage the torturously slow, high bouncing surfaces affords a pusher like Nadal, for whom the basic total of his strategy is praying for high bounces.

But supposedly the Plex is so great on the joints, right?  And of course, it absorbs the heat so well, so much better than the previous surface, Rebound Ace (ever hear those myths about Rebound Ace melting in the sun to the point where the courts and the players’ shoe bottoms become one?  LOL.  Propaganda, thy name is Tennis Australia).  There is such a hypocritical dichotomy with Tennis Australia which is both insulting and disgusting at once. Rebound Ace was so great when it was in, despite widespread dissatisfaction with that.  Plexicushion is so great now, despite widespread dissatisfaction with this.  We can not temper our disdain for Craig Tiley, Tennis Australia’s major domo and the AO’s Director, who is greedy, moronic and an unabashed liar all at once.  This week,  Tiley has instructed tournaments to soldier on in the face of unrelenting heat.  Inhumane conditions, to be perfectly honest.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/tennis/australian-open-director-craig-tiley-plays-down-injury-curse-at-melbourne-park/story-fnddjf3n-1226549183121

 Drysdale, Hewitt, Pat Cash, Peter McNamara, Liz Smylie and Jason Stoltenberg were among a host of tennis figures critical of Tiley and TA.  As TA’s director of player development, Tiley yesterday accused his detractors of peddling misinformation.  Drysdale, a former TA employee, was incensed.

 “His comments show a complete lack of respect for the culture of Australian tennis,” Drysdale said. (You can read the full article at the link below.)

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/lleyton-hewitts-manager-slams-craig-tiley/story-e6frf9if-1225836305014

Tiley is a guy who wants us to believe Plexicushion plays like grass, that it absorbs heat in superior fashion, and that it is not slower than Nadal between points.  Fooling the public is one thing.  Fooling the players is another, as we see from a variety of Aussie players above.  Yet Tiley seems to challenge every negative player reaction.  Let us ask who’d be in a position to know better the true tendencies of the court?  Tiley, who is obviously over invested, or Lleyton Hewitt, who every summer has the same exact grade of Plexicushion poured in his own backyard, to spec, as the ones freshly laid at Melbourne Park?

On Monday, Wimbledon runner up Aggie Radwanska, whose game is dependent on conditioning, calls for the tournament director to ask for a suspension in play, as the temperature on court hits 50 degrees Centigrade, or 122 degrees.  After the match, Radwanska describes the conditions as essentially barbaric for all involved, from players to spectators to concessioneers.  How does Tiley spin that, pardon pun?  Below is a Youtube link to Radwanska’s press conference yesterday, in which she said, among other things, that Sydney is less about tennis and more about pure survival:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/suvival-more-important-than-tennis-agnieszka-radwanska/story-e6frg7mf-1226549614639

Radwanska was not alone.  Jelena Jankovic, extremely dependent on slow courts, basically marveled at the awful conditions.  When Na Li, a major champion and very well respected player, 1st ever and only Chinese player to win a singles major, who also displayed tremendous courage and set an awesome precedent by defying the Chinese Tennis Federation’s bid to dictate the terms of her career and her purse (quite a coup by her to bring in Henin mastermind Carlos Rodriguez too, as she always seems to be making solid moves), speaks about poor conditions, she does so for the sport at large.  As does Roger Federer, on record already saying the courts are too slow, who is not playing Kooyong as we expected.  Federer, to conserve energy, is playing no matches this year on Australian Plexicushion outside of Melbourne Park, and knowing Roger, that is another tacit indictment of the conditions.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/01/08/uk-tennis-australia-warmups-idUKBRE90705120130108 (“Kuznetsova Overcomes Wozniacki in Sydney Heat”)

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/tennis/agnieszka-radwanska-downs-kimiko-date-krumm-no-worries-at-sydney-interantional/story-e6frfgao-1226549552738 (“Tennis Stars Make Heavy Weather of Searing Heat at Sydney International”)

It is obvious that the players are not enjoying the Australian experience–even native Australians–with the season coming right at the heart of the unbearable Australian summer.

So you ask perhaps why we harp on Australia’s lamentable geography?  For one, we don’t think it’s realistic that Australia keeps their status as a major tennis nation.  They do little to justify that status on the court, the travel to and from is murder, it is by no means an economic powerhouse as a nation, they have dulled and diluted theirs and the world’s talent pool by their choice of surface, and those aspects of their geography they can control, like picking a surface that mitigates the extreme heat, they have miserably failed at.  Why?  Because they lusted after deals with surface manufacturers and put the tennis second, which is an unconscionable sin in our eyes.

We apologize to the good fans of Australia, but as always, we provide our opinions in keeping with what we believe to be the truth.

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

Ms. Big Shot and The Master (above).

2012 US Open — Men’s Semi-finals

11:10 AM (CBS)

Tomas Berdych:  + 170

Andy Murray:  – 220

__ __ __ __

David Ferrer:  + 900

Novak Djokovic:  – 1500

__ __ __ __

2012 US Open — Ladies’ Final

7:10 PM (CBS)

Victoria Azarenka:  + 375

Serena Williams:  – 550

………..

All the matches on the slate are of course weather permitting, and right now, with steady rain in the city, it would appear that in the very least, that the start of play will need to be pushed back.  Not as far back perhaps if the USTA acceded to the very sensible suggestions this week, championed especially by Novak Djokovic, that the US Open should cover its courts during rain delays.  In fact, during an angry quarter-final day of waiting to get on, having spent some 10 hours in the players lounge, a frustrated Djokovic asked why no outdoor hardcourt event anywhere in America has the sense to cover courts during rain, saving what he said would be at least 30 minutes at every delay, as is done at Wimbledon.

Perhaps Master Djokovic has not considered the economic impact of allowing wet fans to find cover and comfort for as long as possible near uber expensive bars and concession stands.  We were at The Open during a long rain delay on day one, and we did not see the grounds crew particularly in any rush to get the courts dried once the rain had stopped.  By the way, he is Master Djokovic once again, especially on hardcourts, where he has now a 26 match win streak accumulated, and where, in our minds, he picks up his 2nd consecutive US Open title this weekend, and successfully defends his 2011 hard won crown.  And the win would cement The Djoker as the best player in tennis two years going, with 5 major titles, 8 semis, and 6 finals in the last 8 majors.

Djokovic often is drawn into matches by the pesky Ferrer, who notably beat Djokovic on a fast indoor surface at the YEC in 2011.  But aside from that, Djokovic has dominated this matchup on hards, and he comes in the fresher guy, having seen Ferrer pull out his QF versus Tipsarevic in a 5th set tie-breaker.  We like Djokovic to win fairly easily today.  It has seemed impossible to get a winner by him, and his defense to offense and transition game are both tops in the sport.  All the more impressive are his accomplishments at this Open when considered that he does not get many free points off his serve.  Djokovic is by far the best player in the world, shot to shot, and Ferrer can not dictate enough points and will not be able to take enough risks to keep him at bay.

In the first semi, we’d have to like Murray, despite his 2-4 lifetime mark with Berdy in the head to head.  Berdych had too much for Federer the other night.  It was an ominous development for Roger when Mardy Fish, forever a bastion of disappointment and weakness in our eyes, defaulted his round of 16 with Federer.  While Federer could overcome having a 4-5 day sabbatical in a fast court major during his mid to high prime (Haas, Wimbledon), he can not endure a disruption to his rhythm at this point in his career.  Are we blaming Fish for Fed’s loss?  No.  Federer got dictated to by Berdy’s huge forehand, and Federer always loses when he doesn’t dictate points.  But Federer uncharacteristically spraying forehands out by 25-40′?  Let’s face up to the fact that Federer came out flat and dull.

As far as Fish goes, who else is defaulting in the sweet 16 of the US Open?  Fish destroyed Monday’s schedule at The Open by defaulting that match, and we feel the default played some role in Federer’s outcome.  Fish is now obviously out of Davis Cup for next week, which is a good thing for the US probably because frankly, we feel both Querrey and Isner are bigger threats on clay, and less likely to implode, quit, or fade away than Fish.  So much was made of Fish’s new coach, the whole Mark Knowles dynamic, and really, that dynamic for us is just this: Knowles coddles Fish because Fish is just the sort of milquetoast in need of a super soft touch, showing over the years some of the least resolve we’ve seen on any pro, including Gael Monfils, and perhaps only excepting a Bernard Tomic for his nearly criminally poor effort here versus Roddick.

We don’t care how well Fish can hit a golf ball or a baseball.  We are sick of hearing it.  Tennis players play TENNIS.  Skipping the Olympics because you have bad memories from blowing a gold medal when up 2 sets to one on Nicolas Massu?  Even James Blake could potentially offer Fish some tips on grit and on the magnitude of showing up to and at majors and events of Olympic proportion.  Disgraceful.

Then on to the female Djokovic, our lady Azarenka.  On the women’s side, her shot to shot tennis is by far the best in the game.  She painted lines yesterday, used her feet, and out-willed Maria Sharapova, as we expected but no small feat on a surface where Sharapova won her a US Open by flat over powering another much much better player in Justine Henin (2006) once upon a time.  The Open is one of the few places where Sharapova can overpower Azarenka, but since Azarenka’s defense and D to O and transition games are so flawless, and her conditioning as well, she takes her rightful place in the final tonight.  Where she will probably fall to Serena’s power game, a bitter irony.

Serena at -550 is eerily similar to Serena’s line last year against Stosur, but Serena was just back from injury last year, and so Stosur pulled the unlikely upset.  Azarenka is a phenomenal player who is extremely mentally tough now, obliterating the knock on her psyche that persisted until she put Kim Clijsters out of her misery down under and went on to destroy Masha at Melbourne in taking the crown.  But the last time Azarenka played Serena, and most of those times in fact, it has been all Serena.  There will come a day when Serena hands the mantel over to Vica, but we doubt it’s today.  Still, Azarenka is a worthy champ who has had an incredible tournament.  Hitting a drop shot at 5 all in the tie-breaker versus Stosur to set up match point?  Brilliant and gutsy, and the perfect call, since Stosur had practically sequestered herself 5′ back of the doubles alley in the ad court, where she sets up camp to avoid hitting that ragged, weak 2-handed backhand of her’s.

We’d be least surprised to see an upset in the Murray match, though we think Murray’s defensive ability will negate Berdych’s power.  The Murrays, Djokers, and Nadals of the world do not have as much trouble with power and big serving as Roger does, who is almost certain to lose now when overpowered, as he has been at majors in the last few years by Berdych (twice), Tsonga, and Soderling.  While power often wins out on a fast hard, Murray obviously countered power very effectively in the Raonic and Cilic matches.

And Murray-Djokovic would be an excellent end to The Open for the men, as Azarenka-Serena will no doubt be for the women, provided that Azarenka can get her hooks into a couple of points here and there, and get to a neutral position somehow after receiving the huge Williams first serve.  Just a quick mention of USOPEN.org radio and how fantastic their coverage has been once again here, as it also was in Melbourne and at RG.  And we especially like Matt Cronin on that coverage, who provided us more new information about Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in one set than we have gotten all week from ESPN.  Cronin’s account of the icy Sharapova-Azarenka was especially candid, humorous, and compelling.  It’s not too late to get two decent days out of that app, so download away.

Enjoy the tennis.

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

Since the headliner is scheduled first today, and is obviously the most intriguing matchup of the day and perhaps the summer, let’s begin by talking Federer-Djokovic.  The head to head right now is 14-9 in Roger’s favor and Roger is 4-3 against Djokovic since last year’s terrible 5 set loss here in which Roger blew several match points.  Here’s a good bit of information: since last October, Djokovic has lost 5 completed matches (76-5 in those matches).  Four of the losses have come to Federer, and one to Michael Llodra of all people.  In their illustrious head to head, they have met in 6 major semi-finals (3 US, 2 Australian, 1 French) and are 3-3, but all three of Djokovic’s wins have come in late afternoon (US Open) /evening matches (Oz).

Roger is a fast starter and usually thrives on being first up.  He seems to have some problems at Flushing in the twilight when the sun is escaping and night is setting.  Recall the first rate meltdowns against Del Potro and Djokovic in ’09 and ‘010.  In three early starting major semis versus Djoker (USO ’09, USO ’08, and AO ’08), Roger has dropped one combined set.  Federer has always spoken highly of the virtues of being a morning person.  He has espoused the old axiom that every hour before noon time is essentially worth 2.  We think the early start definitely favors him because it is where he is most comfortable beginning.

In watching Djokovic-Tipsarevic the other day, we credit Tipsy for pushing Djokovic and winning a set, and almost two, before eventually packing it in.  Maybe you saw Djokovic working indoors at the indoor bubble over at the NTC in preparation, and he was going very hard, crushing, absolutely crushing 2 handers.  With their friendship annd coming from the same backyard, Djokovic did not want to lose to Tipsarevic, and he anticipated Tipsy’s best match.  Good calls.  Tipsarevic was the first man to get a set off him in this event, and really, the first guy to push him to hit hard off both wings.  We were privileged enough to be in the building for Djokovic-Berlocq last Thursday.  The match was a complete joke, but we noticed something that we thought consistent from Djokovic in rounds 1-4, that he was avoiding crushing the forehand.  Lingering shoulder issues maybe.  We’ve all seen Tipsarevic play well, push great players, etc.  But let’s be real.  The guy has never even won a tournament.  Ever. 

Looking at how Federer played his last two matches, two clinics, and how Djokovic played Tipsarevic, we are wondering if the grinder among them is tired/worn from a year of grinding and basically making every final of every event but one, and if the glider among them is fresh and hitting his stride.  Because Roger has not looked this good in years, and despite a low ace total against Tsonga, he has been hitting all the spots with his serve.  Djokovic allowed something like 14 break points against Tipsarevic.  We don’t expect him to win if he gives Roger those chances.

12:05 EST

_____________________

Novak Djokovic:  – 175

Roger Federer:  + 150

The odds have been fluctuating on this match since last night, but more pertinently, in the last hour, toward Roger.  Djokovic was – 190 just a few minutes ago.  Late money is on Roger.  That’s worth noting.

Est. for aproximately 3 PM EST

________________________________________

Andy Murray:  + 210

Rafael Nadal:  – 250

Obviously we were extremely disheartened by Roddick’s performance yesterday, and his inability to even tire out Nadal, which as was noted by contributor Mr. White, at least Ferrer would’ve given Nadal a match.  We will go further than that.  We think at this point that Roddick should quit tennis.  Seriously.  All this talk of Nadal’s beefed up serve…Patrick McEnroe should note for us which player in history has started out with an anemic, basic point starter serve and ended up serving bombs and aces? 

Roddick can not return serve.  He is the worst returner in the game.  And he can’t hold serve against Nadal on a relatively fast court.  I have tremendous respect for Boris Becker.  When that guy walked away, he could still play.  But there was one guy he couldn’t beat, and that was Pete Sampras.  So Becker retired behind the sentiment that if he could not beat the best then there was no reason to suit up.  Nadal is not even the best by any stretch of the imagination, though he’s obviously no slouch.  He has had a cake draw, and it hurts Murray that the lad was taxed by Isner for 3 plus hours.  But Murray has made a living off his conditioning and has beaten Nadal in this very spot in 2008 and in 2010 in Melbourne.  Though Murray is only 4-12 lifetime in the h2h, all four victories came on hards.  Murray is playing very well on hards, taking out Djokovic and winning Cincy, and he would love to avenge a bad Wimbledon loss in the semis in which he was well on his way to a win.

1st Ladies Semi-final

__________________________________

Angelique Kerber:  + 325

Sam Stosur:  – 450

__ __ __

2nd Ladies Semi-final

______________________________

Caroline Wozniacki:  + 300

Serena Williams:  + 400

…..

We endorse no action on the Stosur match right now.  We hate Stosur as a big favorite, we hate her in a big spot, and frankly, we doubt she makes the move she has in the women’s game if the Clijsters, Henins, Serenas, Venuses, Sharapovas, Ivanovics, and Safinas are around and consistently good.  Kerber has impressed her.  We have not been surprised by her at all, and we loved her early.  Later we may venture a wager theoretically on AK.  We will not touch Stosur.

Should we even mention the late match?  Obviously Wozniazki has no business winning, and Vegas has given her no mind whatsoever.  We don’t like a – 400 line on principle because the payout is tiny.  That said, we have Serena twisted up in a nice parlay theoretically so far.  Also, we theoretically are riding with what we feel are smart bets regardless of who is favored.  Federer and Murray.  That’s why it’s called gambling.  We may even like Federer in 4 at + 550.

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

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (above), who “upset”  15th seed Jelena Jankovic today, as we expected.

As you know, we were on Radek Stepanek today, and unfortunately for us, after taking the first 2 sets from Fernando Verdasco, whom we think is a quite poor big match player, the Spaniard got out of jail, winning 3 straight sets, and 9-7 in the extended fifth.  We aren’t about to apologize.  This is the kind of action we like, and we’d go the same way if there was a rematch of these 2 on grass tomorrow.  Some of other picks did a little better.  We think that Gonzo is officially back, after popping 25 aces and playing very clean tennis against Alexandr Dolgopolov, who got stung by an abysmal draw.  Gonzo hit 50 winners and had only 19 UFE in a very entertaining match in which Dolgopolov played pretty well, save for his weak second serve, now very exposed come fast court season.

We loved Ryan Harrison and along with Gonzalez and Martinez Sanchez, we were very happy with a nice trio of wins from those dogs.  Simply put, Dodig was not the same player he was last week against Harrison, who dominated every positive category except aces.  Harrison will play David Ferrer in round 2, and we’ll be liking him again in that matchup on Thursday.  Harrison is a very tough kid, for an American.  Very atypical of the sort of tennis brats our nation has been raising.  Speaking of brats, how about that Melanie Oudin, who caught a bagel and a breadstick from Ana Ivanovic, in the route of the day.  Oudin should give it up.  How sad was that performance, in which she won a mere 15 points out of 39 on serve, and a meager 8 points in the return game?

Frankly, we are absolutely sick of seeing her touted as a rising American.  She has gotten by too long on her opponents double faults.  If we trot her out for Fed Cup again, I’m gonna puke.

We thought Lleyton Hewitt would out-tough Kei Nishikori on the grass, and he did, for his 104th career win on grass.  We also thought talented 1-hander Sergiy Stakhovsky would roll British hack Daniel Cox, and he did.  We had Isner going through, if you recall, with few breaks of serve, and we loved Dimitrov, and fully expect him to come through when his match is resumed tomorrow.  The Bulgarian 1-hander who has been called by some a Federer clone wass up 7-5, 7-5, 3-3 when darkness fell.

On the women’s side, sure we went against Wozniacki, as we will in every round until she is eliminated.  We weren’t impressed with the short work she made of Parra Santonja, and have no respect for her game or rank.  As we expected, Irina Falconi, a terrible favorite, fell easily to Stephanie Dubois of Canada, 2 and 2.  Tamira Paszek came through againt Ayumi Morita in 3 sets, and will draw suprise winner from New Jersey, Christina McHale in the second round.

And before we get to the morning’s odds, we’d just like to mention that Serena had a very tough match and seemed, by her post match comments, just happy to be there and to have won a match.  We have seen her get hot many times, and many times, off of long layoffs, notably dusting Justine Henin, and silencing the “Serena is fat” bandwagon by winning at Melbourne while fat, but we just feel like this may be a bit too much for here here, despite a favorable draw.

Serena may bow out early.  And we might be betting against her.  As for tomorrow’s odds:

Nadal:  – 12000

Sweeting:  + 3000

___________________________

Fish:  – 400

Istomin:  + 250

__________________________

Hanescu:  + 700

Roddick:  – 1500

____________________________

Paszek:  – 175

McHale:  + 125

_________________________

Dulgheru:  + 250

Kuznetsova:  – 400

……..

We think Kuznetsova’s movement is suspect on grass, and we don’t like her as a big favorite here.  McHale has a fighter’s chance in what is basically a toss up.  We hate Roddick at minus 1500, and Nadal at minus 12000.  I mean, who really wants to lay 1500 units or 12000 units to win a 100.  I’ll take my chances with the dogs at those rates.  We also don’t like Mardy Fish much at (-400), and don’t think he’s much good in the big spot.  There are a lot of 1st round matches yet to come off, and we spoke about some of them yesterday.  We didn’t mention Kristina Barrois,  a one hander whom we have a soft spot for.  We are pulling for her, a slim favorite over Petra Cetkovska.  And Bethanie Mattek-Sands is (-600) against Misak Doi.  Wow.  Another sign of how bad the women’s game is.  Gun to our heads, we’d say Hanescu/Istomin would be our long shot parlay of the day.  Maybe throw in Ryan Sweeting if we are feeling really crazy.  A 5 unit 3 team parlay there would net 4340 units, if the stars aligned.

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

Isner and Mattek-Sands (above), champions at Hopman Cup in Perth.

Roger had a little trouble with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Doha semi, who seems to come to Australia and always play his best tennis.  Tsonga, a big man, really capitalizes on the two month break and is always at his best when he’s fresh.  Sure Roger won the first set easily, and had to take the second in a breaker 6-3, 7-6 (3), but Tsonga has the game to challenge Federer, though that challenge was only slight yesterday as Federer continues in fine form.  The great man was again barely challenged this morning in Federer/Davydenko XVII.  Davydenko, who dusted world #1 Rafael Nadal in straights Friday, got dusted by the great man for the 15th time in 17 encounters, 6-3, 6-4 in little over an hour.

And we’re gonna take a sec to toot our own horn here, because in last month’s piece about Roger and Venus, we mentioned the fact that a healthy Davydenko is a bad matchup for Rafa, and well, what we saw in our crystal ball came to pass some 6 or 7 days later.  But this is primarily about Roger, of course.  The great man takes his 67th ATP tournament victory in his 95th finals appearance.  Those numbers are a testament to Roger’s brilliance and consistency over time.  Federer has been serving lights out on the Plexicushion, only broken once so far in 42 service games leading up to the final.  Today Federer won a staggering 40/51 points on serve, and faced no break points. 

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This is not to say that Davydenko did not play well.  He played to a very high level, but could never mount an offensive against Rog, who we will repeat, appears in his finest form since 2006.  With more results in and more time to analyze, it would appear that Paul Annacone has focused on Roger’s serve, and impressed upon him the absolute necessity in holding serve.  We haven’t seen Federer throw in more than 2-3 bad service games since October, and he dominated Nadal on the strength of his serve, and agressive first strike tennis at the YEC in London to end the year.

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Next stop for Fed is likely the Kooyong Classic, a well run Melbourne exo where Roger and a few other big names usually get 2 or 3 matches in.  Remember a few years back that Federer lost to Roddick at Kooyong, and then demolished him in the AO semi-final, as the great man obviously keeps a few tricks in the bag until he hits Rod Laver.  Andy Murray is also expected to show up at Kooyong, and it could be interesting to see Roger playing coy with the other Andy there.  Speaking of Murray, the lad completely out-classed Giant John Isner in the men’s portion of the final B tie at Hopman.  But thankfully, Bethanie Mattek-Sands had already clinched the Americans spot in the final with a trouncing of teen Laura Robson.  As for Isner, he only managed 2 paltry aces versus Murray, who set the tone in the match’s first game with an easy break of Isner’s serve.  The Isner serve, gigantic in terms of MPH, was no problem for the quick reflexes of Murray, who dialed in to Isner’s serve very easily, and on some returns, took the ball close to 2 meters inside the baseline and struck 1st ball return winners.  We aren’t quick to praise Murray who we despise for his passive style, but as Fred Stolle remarked, Murray delivered quite a wakeup call to Isner, and illustrated vividly the difference between world’s #4 and 19.  If Isner doesn’t play aggressive first strike tennis on the Plexicushion, which is a hard surface to hit through on, he has zero chance.  Murray moved the ball around, and the lumbering Isner was the one on the defensive.  Murray tired Isner out with side to side rallies, and executed several almost perfect drop shots that left Isner frozen in time.

In the end, no cause for alarm for the Americans, who faced Belgium unexpectedly in the final, because the group A leaders, Serbia, had to drop out of contention due to an aggravated stomach muscle suffered by Ana Ivanovic.  There are no injury replacements permitted in the Hopman Cup.  Though Henin gave quite a lesson to Mattek-Sands in the first match of the tie, clinically dispatching her, Isner shook off the loss to Murray quite nicely in defeating Belgian youngster Ruben Bemelmans.  As is often so fascinating with Hopman Cup, the tie came down to the mixed portion, where you have Giant John Isner serving to one of the greats, Justine Henin, giving away a foot and a half to the American.  Unlike Serena, who has carried the US to several Hopman Cup titles, the best female could not elevate her squad to victory this morning.  Isner and Mattek-Sands defeated the Belgian team, and we are very hopeful that they will remain paired and take a run at the mixed title in Melbourne, where the AO begins in 8 days.

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In Brisbane this morning, Andy Roddick overcame a loose second set and a very powerful opponent with a big serve, South African 24 year old Kevin Anderson, who played his college ball at the University of Illinois in Champagne.  We have seen the poor returning Roddick have big difficulty with big servers, notably John Isner in the round of 16 at the USO, and of course Roger Federer.  Anderson served big, and kept Roddick off balance with his pace, which prevented Roddick from taking control at the net.  In the 3rd set, Roddick made an important adjustment, following slice backhands in, which travel slowly and give him the time to set his feet at net.  Good to see from Roddick, who doesn’t always have a strong plan B.  Roddick took out Anderson in 3 sets, and played the majority of the big points better than his opponent.  Roddick looks to be in great physical condition, and may have dropped a few pounds.  As the match wore on, he seemed like the guy better able to be at war, while fatigue seemed to creep in for the young Anderson.  Dandy Andy will take on Robin Soderling in the final tomorrow (Soderling easily straighted Radek Stepanek earlier), and we love Soderling’s game over the past few years, and figure he will be favored going in.  We’ll pull for Roddick, but we are figuring on Soderling having too much pace and being too aggressive for the safer Roddick to stay with.

By the way, our woman Brooklyn Decker was looking very casual next to Roddick’s ace coach, Larry Stefanki, in the player’s box.  We also well await the Decker/Jenni Mostrom matchup tomorrow morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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