Kim Clijsters


Balls struck by the Andy Murray backhand on the Saturday preceding the US Open (above).  Notice those string marks.

As you know from our page, we’ve taken Andy Murray very seriously since he hired Ivan Lendl.  We weren’t in love with what we considered a bit of a backslide, pardon pun, on clay, after what we thought was a really strong showing, especially against Djokovic and Nadal at Rome and Monte Carlo in 2011.  He didn’t do much to build on that this year, and we thought it a bad sign.  Although, losing to ultimate warrior David Ferrer in the quarters, who has his number on clay, is not at all a bad showing when you still make the quarters.  We thought Murray was going to be the first Brit to hold a trophy on clay since the 70’s on the men’s side (albeit a lesser trophy), and we still do.  But obviously that didn’t happen in 2012, and it doesn’t really matter, since Murray won Olympic gold and his first major at Flushing, in dramatic 5 set fashion over nemesis Novak Djokovic.  And finally, there was a couple of finals in real pressure cooker spots where you could say that Murray, Andy Murray of Great Britain, was the guy who wanted it more, who kept it together when it all could have went south.  Good for him.  Beating Federer at the Wimbledon Olympiad, a tired Federer or whatever, was still his biggest win up til then.  Perhaps he needed that second 5 setter versus Federer to get out all the mistakes and nerves.  Seemed that way.  Perhaps the partisan nationalist crowd was a factor.  That also seemed to be true.  But Murray played the better tennis and deserved to walk out with the win.  Anytime you beat Djokovic and Federer in successive matches, you deserve to hold the trophy.

At the US Open, Murray played an excellent semi-final against Berdych, in terrible conditions due to wind.  Frankly, we think the wind aided Murray a great deal.  Berdych was poised to dictate that match on his forehand, sans the wind.  Even Murray, an excellent returner, could not have dreamed for more opportunities on second balls than the wind afforded him on Super Saturday.  And Murray didn’t wow us against Marin Cilic, who was thisclose to taking the new champ out in the quarters prior to his coronation.  But it takes some luck, some nerves on the part of the competition, some upsets, and it takes resolve under pressure, which Murray showed when down to Cilic, in the wind versus Berdy, and in the wind versus Djokovic in that final, and when Djokovic had stormed back from 2 sets to the bad.

Murray has the game to win majors and put it all together this summer in 2 very big spots.  Is he a better player than any of the big 3?  No.  But he had never defeated Djokovic (0-2 prior to the Open final, both matches at Melbourne) or Federer (0-3 prior to the Olympic gold medal match) in a 5 set match prior to this summer, and now he has beaten each on their respective favorite surface.  Well done indeed.

Does it mean we expect to see Murray leap frogging better players at the top of the game?  No.  Djokovic deserves the ranking.  He went to 3 major finals, won one, and reached the Wimbledon semi.  He is still top dog.  Federer gets to play the rest of the season on his beloved indoor courts where the wind doesn’t affect his toss or his groundstrokes.  Just recall his performance against Murray in the Wimbledon final once they covered Centre Court.  We don’t see Federer losing too many matches from here on out, and he may do enough to end the year at #1.  Federer certainly has the YEC in his sights yet again.

We also see Djokovic learning some really important lessons this year, as it is far different as the hunted than as the hunter.  We think Djokovic became perhaps a little too impatient on all surfaces this year, a little too frustrated this year, outside of Melbourne, in spots where he was record clutch just about everywhere in 2011.  While the attack mode plays best at Wimbledon, and we did like Djokovic to win there, frankly, Roger taught him a few tricks of the trade on grass, and failed let Djokovic dismantle the Federer backhand, as Federer has been an ace at stepping around the backhand in his most recent matches with Djokovic.  And if Djokovic gets a windless day a few Mondays back, or if he wins that first set when up 4-2 in that breaker, he probably hoists his 2nd Open trophy.  But he didn’t play well enough or get enough breaks.  So what we see coming of it is that Djokovic goes into hyper work mode, as he did toward the end of 2010, when he broke through his plateau against Nadal.  Djokovic is going to be the driving force in the men’s game next year.  We are confident of that.

Murray and Robson (above) at Hopman Cup in Perth, 2010.

Murray is going to be a serious player at the hardcourt majors and Wimbledon for a long time to come.  We thought Murray practiced very well leading up to The Open, and had the pleasure of watching him from the first row in a session against David Ferrer in which he hit the ball as hard as anyone we’ve seen hit it, leaving the string marks on the ball as pictured above.  Murray has a lot of power when he hits his shots with momentum, and a lot of touch when he sheds that trademark temerity and approaches the net.  Now, he uses those talents.  Then there’s Murray’s bronze medal mixed doubles partner, Laura Robson, who on Sunday was nearly the first British woman to take home hardware since Virginia Wade did 30-something years ago.  We remember Robson as a 13 and 14 year old prodigy on the outer courts of SW-19, thinking about the enormous pressure on her, the whole pride of Britain thing.  And we didn’t see all that many gains for almost 5 years.  But now, we see a kid who at 18 is on target to make the top 10 on the soon side.  Robson took out Clijsters at Flushing in round 2, and we get the notion that Clijsters was also playing her emotions in that spot, her final USO match, final career match and whatnot.  But nobody is rooting for Robson there so it isn’t a great spot for the kid either.  Frankly, a lot about Robson reminds us of Clijsters.  The backhand, for one, is a real weapon.  She steps in and rips that 2-hander with control.  But Robson, at 5’11, has a great serve and seems like one of the best candidates in the women’s game right now to hold her serve consistently.  Then there’s that big lefty forehand that she can crush flat or corkscrew with topspin, a shot that smaller players will have a lot of trouble with when it gets up high.  And Robson moves forward with ease, goes side to side and defends gracefully, and keeps her composure far beyond that of a normal 18 year old, even in tennis.

Robson has climbed some 250 spots in the last two years since she began training at the Mouratoglou academy in Paris.  BTW, Mouratoglou also coaches Dimitrov, who has made decent strides since beginning that partnership, and is also a recent addition to Serena Williams coaching team, as well as being linked romantically to Lady S.  Since joining forces with Williams, Serena has won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, and the US Open.

Last week, Robson had a great run in Guangzhou at a 250 level event, defeating Zheng Jie (#22), Shuai Peng (#47), and Sorana Cirstea (#30) on her way to a final berth in which she almost came from 6-3, 5-3 down to defeat then world #53, Su-Wei Hsieh.  Eventually she lost to Hsieh 6-4 in the 3rd, but it was still a banner week for young Robson.  Hsieh is a tricky two hander who had handled Robson in their previous meeting, 7-6, 6-4.  Hsieh is a mature 26 year old, who went up to world #39 with Sunday’s win.  Robson, prior to that match, talked about how hard Hsieh was to read and how difficult it is to get a rhythm playing against her.

Obviously Robson is finding a way to problem solve on the court.  After the stunning upset of Clijsters at Flushing, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for her to let down in round 3 against Li Na.  When she was up a set and a break on Li and then lost the break and a 2nd set breaker, no one in the house was expecting her to pull out the win.  That win, sending Robson to her 1st round of 16 as a pro, was hard fought and well won, and marked her taking out two major champions in successive matches.

Robson, who started the year at 2-8 and did not get a win on the main tour until Miami at the end of March, is now 29-23, and in looking over the players above her, we see that she is poised to make a big move up the rankings this fall.

42    42    Arvidsson, Sofia    16/02/84    SWE    1355    25
43    41    Wozniak, Aleksandra    07/09/87    CAN    1350    23
44    44    Pironkova, Tsvetana    13/09/87    BUL    1325    22
45    48    Cornet, Alize    22/01/90    FRA    1325    27
46    47    Peng, Shuai    08/01/86    CHN    1315    23
47    46    Niculescu, Monica    25/09/87    ROU    1306    21
48    45    Suarez Navarro, Carla    03/09/88    ESP    1281    26
49    49    Halep, Simona    27/09/91    ROU    1225    22
50    51    Cetkovska, Petra    08/02/85    CZE    1215    20
51    50    Hradecka, Lucie    21/05/85    CZE    1199    21
52    52    Tatishvili, Anna    03/02/90    GEO    1162    30
53    43    Scheepers, Chanelle    13/03/84    RSA    1120    26
54    54    Govortsova, Olga    23/08/88    BLR    1120    26
55    55    Kuznetsova, Svetlana    27/06/85    RUS    1082    15
56    58    Jovanovski, Bojana    31/12/91    SRB    1080    29
57    74    Robson, Laura    21/01/94    GBR    1073    26

http://www.wtatennis.com/page/RankingsSingles/0,,12781~0~1~100,00.html

We are not impressed with anyone on that list above, except for Robson.  We’d say there are some players ripe to be overtaken right up to Wozniacki at number 11, and we think Robson can leap frog a lot of these ladies with a strong end to the year.  Spots 28-41 are all people Robson is going to be beating regularly, with the possible exception of Sloane Stephens, though that may be debatable.  And Robson has virtually no points to defend as she moves through the remainder of the outdoor hardcourt season and then goes indoors, where she is obviously suited to the speed of play.

We were never big Murray fans and we think you know that to be the case.  Still, we’ve been on Murray as a big time threat, except for at Roland Garros, since he brought Lendl aboard.  Robson is a lot easier to like than Murray.  No tantrums.  No hype outside of the Isles.  And no maddeningly passive strategies, though Murray, especially with Lendl as his coach, has better figured out when the time is to let it rip.  But of all the young women we watched this summer, Robson did the most to impress.  Tough break drawing Schiavone in the 1st round at Wimbledon, but we’d bet the house she’d win the rematch on grass, where she has practiced a lot, as she is already a linchpin of her nation’s Fed Cup team.

Simply put, if you are a weak minded female, or one with no weapons, then Robson will have your ranking soon enough.  Between Murray and Robson, Britain is poised for their best run in tennis since the pre-modern era.

Crack (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)

Last week, world #1 Victoria Azarenka won her third straight event, and extended her unbeaten streak to 17-0 this year with a resounding 6-1, 6-2 victory over US Open Champion Sam Stosur.  And it was a complete smackdown in Doha for Stosur, who may have come into the match thinking she had a chance.   Azarenka sprained her ankle in Saturday’s semi-final versus Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she easily defeated 6-1, 6-1.  Azarenka’s mobility was a question mark coming in, but one that was pretty much set to rest when she broke Stosur in the 3rd game of the 1st set, and then rolled.  Judging by the last 2 hardcourt majors, Stosur and Azarenka are the top hard courters in the world, and we thought Stosur, who caved to the usual pressures in Melbourne, had gotten her game back, and that considering Azarenka’s ankle issue, she might have been due for a victory in this matchup.  Azarenka, 5-0 in the matchup head to head coming in, seemed like she might have been due to drop one, in a lot of respects.

Don’t get us wrong because we have always had a lot of respect for her, but Azarenka is opening our eyes in a way we were not quite expecting yet.  She has progressed so far from this summer, and this year, has announced that her time is now.  Good show.  We just didn’t see her as being offensive minded enough last summer to win big yet, and thought that her composure was an issue in the big spot.  While that seemed to be the case even in Melbourne against Clijsters, she pulled herself out of it, and is currently unbeatable.  Her offense has been fantastic.  She was hitting frozen ropes off her forehand all last week, decidely her weaker wing.  Also, she is not making errors on the forehand, and her winners have been finely placed.  This kid is exploding with confidence.  She is going for lines and coming that close, without missing.

She dismantled Stosur, who on paper, had a pretty good chance, if she could line up her own big forehand, running around the backhand, as she likes to do.  Azarenka did not let her control points with her forehand.  She exposed Stosur’s backhand enough to cruise, and perhaps more impressively, she went after Stosur’s forehand, and it produced errors.  Azarenka’s pace off the ground was staggering.

On a bad ankle, Azarenka did not face one break point while breaking Stosur’s serve 5 times.  Stosur’s strengths, her first serve and her forehand, were ravaged today by Azarenka.  Azarenka won 50% of the points on Stosur’s first serve, and quite frankly, she made Stosur, a well conditioned player who has some weapons, look old.  We’re gonna call it the brilliance of Azarenka.  Electric ground strokes.  You could see Stosur, so anxious to step around her backhand, and when she had the chance, Azarenka’s pace was too much for Stosur to handle, even on her vaunted forehand wing.

Last week was a command performance by Victoria Azarenka, who is now hanging bagels on people like Novak Djokovic.  After her bye, she dispatched a very hot Mona Barthel 6-1, 6-0, then had an easy time of it with Simona Halep (6-3, 6-1), and then beat up on Yanina Wickmayer, a player with weapons, 6-4, 6-0.  After the easy win over Stosur in Doha, Azarenka decided to withdraw from Dubai this week, where a weak field produced these dubious semi-finalists:  Caroline Wozniacki, Julia Goerges, Jelena Jankovic, and Agniezska Radwanska.

Funny how Azarenka had been so effusive in her praise of Wozniacki for taking the pressure off of her, crediting that as a factor in why she has ascended to the top spot.  Wozniacki, the fair haired lass, could not have taken kindly to the um, backhanded compliment.  But she has probably been too busy making Rolex commercials lately to do much about it on the court.  Why would Rolex even want her, we have to muse?  She is not a winner, after all, but the watchmaker may be more interested in signing good aryans as opposed to good tennis players.  Wozniacki did little to reach the semis this week with victories over Simona Halep and Ana Ivanovic, before Goerges sent her packing today by playing the “german aggressive style” that Corina Morariu was so impressed by.  We think that’s just a bit of code for non puke tennis, which is obviously being played by more than just the Germans.  But even puke tennis, played with a little touch, ala Radwanska in Sydney, will give Wozniacki fits.  And if she can’t take big hitters and also fails at mirror image tennis, her current game is failing her miserably.  To break Goerges 5 times and still lose is the height of um, small time.

Wozniacki has now lost to Radwanska, Clijsters, Safarova, and Goerges this year, has won no tournaments, and has only 7 match wins.  The losses, while one can not be faulted for losing to Clijsters, have otherwise come against less than stellar competiton.  Only Radwanska resides in the top ten.  The Clijsters loss at Melbourne in the round of 16 means that Wozniacki did not defend her semi-finalist points from Melbourne from last year.  Today’s 7-6 (3), 7-5 loss to Goerges means that Wozniacki does not defend her points from Dubai last year, which she won.  In short, the Dutch Miss may slide out of the top 5 on Monday, as Stosur and Radwanska, who will compete in the final at Dubai, are poised to climb.

From first to 7th in less than a month is a precipitous drop indeed.  While we may have been too hard on Rolex earlier, they have made a serious mistake by backing an unproven player.  All the other players at one time or currently in the Rolex stable (Federer, Roddick, Del Potro, Li, Ivanovic) were major champions worthy of wearing that brand.  If Rolex is gonna speculate, they must feel it’s best to do so on a vapid blonde, or so it seems.

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

Near has been, Caroline Wozniacki (above).

When the latest WTA rankings became public today, we found ourselves scanning the page a little bit, for it isn’t every week that the previous week’s #1 drops all the way down to four in one week’s time.  Then again, Wozniacki isn’t like most other #1’s.  Like the kind who earn their way there by scoring both major and minor tournament victories, and not just via the latter.  We all knew that things were going to be different for the Dutch miss when she woke up this morning than it had been in quite a while, and frankly, Azarenka, Kvitova, and Sharapova, the new top three, have earned their new spots by playing great tennis and by also dominating Wozniacki.  So finally, the rankings system is working again in the women’s game.  As the great John McEnroe explains in his book, You Cannot Be Serious, that when a player falls from #1, each slipped notch represents a great divide, and that #1 is say, so much better than #2, and #2 is so much better than #3 and on down.  Now you might be thinking, not so, when applied to the current men’s game, and not even so when looking at the top two women’s spots, even this week.  For there is obviously, at least based on Melbourne, not a great deal separating #1 and #2 and #1 and #4, having watched Djokovic-Murray and then Djokovic-Nadal.

But these men are different.  We haven’t had an unworthy men’s #1, a non major champion #1 man in ages.  And for our money, Kvitova is the real #1 on the women’s side, and she has the edge over Azarenka, whether she has the ranking or not.  As for Wozniacki, there is no question that she has been undeserving (and under serving), or that she was worthy of this startling demotion.  As a #1, she made zero major finals last year, and lost a staggering 17 times, for a 63-17 record.  Clear cut compiling, by virtue of amount played, ala Jelena Jankovic, the other most blatantly undeserving (and under serving) #1 in recent memory.  Wozniacki lost once every four and a half matches, which wouldn’t even see her reach the semis, on average, at masters level events.  And what about who she lost to?

We haven’t racked the annals of the record book yet, but we’ll ask when a world #1 of any sort lost two matches in one year to players ranked 70th or lower?  Last year, Wozniacki lost to Sofia Arvidsson (#73) and Christina McHale (#76), and only the latter has been on an upward trajectory.  Too many losses, too poor a quality of loss, and very bad losses at majors, such as to Hantuchova (#29) in the round of 32 in Paris and to Cibulkova (#24) in the round of 16 at Wimbledon, after winning the first set 6-1.  Since almost all American tennis coverage comes filtered through ESPN, heavily invested in promoting athletic personalities for reasons such as promotion, like all the players they put in their Sportscenter commercials, a group to which Wozniacki belongs, it isn’t surprising that lead female voice, Mary Joe Fernandez, was pubbing for Wozniacki hard all of last year, constantly on the stump about how well the rankings system works, and how deserving Wozniacki was.  MJF has to be so careful though, what with all her and ESPN’s conflicts of interests and all.  So when she says things like ‘winning at Indian Wells is just like winning a major’…um…take that with an ocean of salt.

While we do stand by our title, and feel Wozniacki, like Jankovic, is for all intents and purposes done at the top, she is far from done as in cooked.  Yet.  The first thing that Wozniacki needs to do, like so many in her position or a similar one, is ditch dad.  In Jankovic’s case it was mom.  Wozniacki has her ex-soccer star father coaching her, and as you can see, nowhere in that byline is the word “tennis.”

Plenty of girls have success as slap hitting pushers.  Just look at Kim Clijsters.  But Clijsters comes up with shots when pushed while Wozniacki comes up with…losses.  She needs a drastic remodel on the forehand side, and she needs to find a way to hang on to her serve in pressure situations against mediocre and top talent.  That’s a big job and it will start in practice.  As we suggested for Jankovic, we suggest for Wozniacki.  She must cut weeks from her playing schedule and add weeks to her practice schedule.  We don’t think the homely Jankovic was in demand as a model, so it wasn’t like she needed to worry about that, but Wozniacki does.  But Wozniacki is no Kournikova.  She is not so hot that people will want to take her picture when the tennis part is done.

What she does have in common with Jankovic is plain old greed.  When Wozniacki should be practicing or resting, she is playing.  When she needs to be practicing for Wimbledon, where she sucks, she is playing indoors, clearly picking up the paycheck.  When she needs to be resting the week before the US Open, she is playing New Haven, the only top player in the world who doesn’t skip it.  When she should be preparing for red clay, she is playing on green clay, which does not make you in any way appreciably better on red clay.  For the paycheck.

So Wozniacki must also exercise some common sense as well.  We understand the demands of sponsors and all this other nonsense, but those demands will lessen quickly if she is out of the top twenty next year, which can also happen.  Not that we care to see her improve.  Just being honest.  And while we’re at the honesty thing, we feel no real imperative to suggest a coach, as we might do for a player we like.  You know we were thrilled to see today’s huge, if not stunning reversal in rankings.  This kid does not play the right way.  Kudos WTA.

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

De facto world #1, lefty Petra Kvitova (above) of the Czech Republic.

We are sensing a theme to the Vegas lines on all of the semi-finals action tonight, which includes both women’s matches and the Federer-Nadal match.  It seems like Vegas is paying a great, great deal of respect to the bigger name, in each matchup.  Essentially, the player with more major victories is weighted a lot more heavily in each matchup.  Starting with the under card, which could be a headliner on it’s own.  Odds below:

2012 Australian Open Ladies 1st Semi-final — 9:30 PM EST

Clijsters:  – 110

Azarenka:  – 110

………

We like Azarenka.  A lot.  Sure we have been watching Clijsters matches and we could not be more impressed with how she strapped it up after rolling her ankle against Na Li, and then, how she clobbered Wozniacki.  We aren’t surprised.  But Azarenka is the best player that Clijsters has played in a long time, and she is playing the best tennis of anyone that Clijsters has played in a long time.  While Clijsters has a 4-2 lead in the h2h, Azarenka has played Clijsters very tough, even before she was the player she now is.  Azarenka won their last matchup, on a soft, slow hardcourt in Miami, very similar conditions.  And Azarenka, dating back to the fall has not lost to anyone except Kvitova, twice, and those matches were very close, coming down to a few points here or there.  Vegas likes what is tried and true.  Azarenka, wethinks, is not totally on the radar.  And obviously Clijsters has a very good chance to win.  But we feel the guard is changing, and that Azarenka is a new it player, soon to get her due.  Like tonight, and then on to her 1st major final on Saturday.

Australian Open Ladies 2nd Semi-final — 11:30 PM EST

Kvitova:  – 135

Sharapova:  – 105

……

So first off, we don’t get how Sharapova has a negative money line here.  She is the worse player, no doubt about it.  None.  Kvitova has been unbeatable, and has played very clutch, very smart, and very efficient tennis, in winning the YEC, the Fed Cup, and in beating Sharapova easily at Wimbledon.  You know, we are kind of tired of hearing about Sharapova and extremely tired of hearing Chris Evert blather on about her, about all of them, about everything.  We liked it much better before ESPN broke her out of the moth balls.  Evert is in love with Sharapova, predicting her for majors this year and whatnot…we don’t see it.  Serena aside, this is a young women’s game.  Younger women’s game.  And Sharapova looks older in this matchup.  This is not another Makarova matchup.  Kvitova will take Sharapova’s time away and that will be that.  In fact, we like her very much in specific, to win in two sets. There is nothing that Sharapova does that Kvitova can’t do much better, and some things Kvitova does, Sharapova doesn’t do at all.  Like volley.

And so in our minds, the rightful final will be a rematch of the YEC final, where Kvitova takes the hardware.  But first, they need to take care of business tonight.  We’re betting they will.

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Juan Martin Del Potro (foreground) holding the one major trophy in his possession which he won from down two sets to one versus Roger Federer (background) at the US Open in 2009.

Azarenka:  – 290

Radwanska:  + 230

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Wozniacki:  – 140

Clijsters:  + 120

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Del Potro:  + 260

Federer:  – 340

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Djokovic:  – 900

Ferrer:  + 600

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Murray:  – 1200

Nishikori:  + 750

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Berdych:  + 300

Nadal:  – 400

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Makarova:  + 325

Sharapova:  – 450

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Errani:  + 650

Kvitova:  -1000

………..

Let’s start at the top.  Radwanska has improved a great deal in the last year.  We’ve been impressed, and have begun to view her in a bit of a different light.  She still has severe limitations in terms of the weaponry, and almost went home very early when Mattek-Sands stepped to her in round one.  The two played an epic first set breaker which Sands took 12-10, but then Sands peetered out.  That’s the rightful outcome.  Radwanska has the better body, better speed and footwork, and the better overall game.  But even on this slower than clay, disgusting blue Plexicushion, the American got to net and dominated up there and with her touch, for about an hour and twenty minutes.  That is Radwanska’s blueprint for victory, after all.  We highly doubt that’s happening against Azarenka, who will probably end this year as the world #2.

Azarenka is mauling people.  She can get everything back that Radwanska can, and she can also hit winners off the forehand and generate offense with her first serve.  She is winning a major in the near future, and she is winning this match tonight, though we aren’t betting against Kvitova this week.  Azarenka may have second claim to the next few majors, but Kvitova is the best player in the world right now, bar none, and she has first dibs.  We are kicking ourselves right now for not taking her in the pre-tournament phase at + 250, but more on her later.  Azarenka has taken 5 of the last six in the head to head with Radwanska, does everything better, stronger, and with a little flair.  We hate negative money lines, but even so, Azarenka is money in the bank at -290.

We are not Clijsters fans, hate the counter punch style, hate the belly fat, the pasty skin, the hairy neck, the whole deal.  But we respect her.  She is the defending champion here, and will be until she no longer is.  And not a sprained ankle, not 4 MP’s for Li Na, none of it makes a difference until she loses.  For that matter, we are still waiting for her to lose at the US Open, where she has quite a match streak going.  Did we respect the recent track record?  No.  But you can throw it out the window with Clijsters because she has stepped on the court and out of oblivion and won majors before and very few people have done that.  That said, as far as Belgians go, we’d take Henin and her beautiful style over Clijsters ugly grunt work.  But tonight, Clijsters is more beautiful than Wozniacki when it comes to tennis.  She is 2-0 lifetime versus Wozniacki, who, we’ll mention again, is nothing if not over-rated.  But maybe the ankle bothers Clijsters and maybe Wozniacki is going to outrun her tonight, but we’ll believe it when we see it.  We don’t like taking injured tennis players, so we aren’t touching this one, but Clijsters is gonna be tough out no matter what, and we’d even like to see her win because Wozniacki hasn’t earned her ranking.

Speaking of injuries, Roger has played some good tennis, hasn’t he?  But we actually don’t like him too much in this spot.  Remember, we always look for the positive money lines, and we don’t like injuries in one on one contests.  Also, the image of Del Potro, all the way back, and taking Nadal to 5 sets on very slow clay this fall in Davis Cup looms large.  This guy is a big time player.  He has the power to hit through this awful, gritty, tacky, gross court.  And he gives Roger lots of trouble when on, like he did in the SF at RG in 2009 and in the Final of the USO in 2009.  Del Potro is a better player than Tsonga and Berdych, the guys who took Roger out in major quarter-finals.  We are playing Del Potro tonight, and we’d say if he wins, he will have a better shot against Nadal than Federer would in the semi-final.

The other matches don’t excite us.  We think Berdych might be worth a lark at + 300 but really, we can’t see him winning.  Betting against Djokovic would be suicidal.  Kvitova as well.  Makarova may have a little shot.  She also may suffer a letdown.  And Murray seems too strong for Nishikori.  We shall see.

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Australian Open Ladies Champion Odds — 2012

Radwanska:  + 2500

Ivanovic:  + 3000

Pavlyechenkova:  + 6000

Wozniacki:  + 1200

Cibulkova:  + 15000

Hantuchova:  + 8000

Pennetta:  + 8000

Schiavone:  + 8000

Gadjosova:  + 20000

Jankovic:  + 6000

Goerges:  + 8000

Kanepi:  + 1500

Clijsters:  + 700

Safarova:  + 2000

Sharapova:  + 2000

Bartoli:  + 4000

Li:  + 2000

Petrova:  + 15000

Kvitova:  + 250

Lisicki:  + 4000

Stosur:  + 1200

Serena:  + 350

Peng:  + 10000

Kuznetsova:  + 4000

Zvonareva:  + 3000

Azarenka:  + 700

Wickmayer:  + 15000

Field:  + 2000

….

No big surprises here.  Hot as fire Mona Barthel, who just won at Hobart and who had to come through the quallies there as well, we think should be included on this list, but it would be the height of unlikeliness to see her walk away with hardware.  Though we’ll be betting she makes a fair impression this week.  As for the rest of the field, well, Vegas might appear to be getting lazy, but we respect these odds.  Sharapova getting paid very little mind, Li, a very dangerous player and major champion who plays well on the Plexicushion, also is paid very little mind.  You know, if you are of a pre-tourny betting mind, we’d say Li Na makes a lot of sense on a flyer.  Schiavone, who is also a major champ, treated here like a nobody with the field being given four times better odds.  Ouch.

In short, Vegas only respects tried and true real deals.  Which Wozniacki is not.  Obviously.  Is this another indictment on Wozniacki’s most uninspired game?  Not yet it’s not.  But check back with us in about 10 days.  We mentioned earlier in the week that we watched her lose to Radwanska the other day.  No surprise there.  But it gave us a chance to really get reacquainted with her game.  She has two second serves.  No forehand whatsoever.  The winners she hits on the forehand are placement winners.  And they are few and far between.  At one point we counted about 25 real time minutes between forehand winners and when she broke the spell, it was because Radwanska had gone so deep behind the baseline that Wozniacki was able to hit an off speed forehand angled out wide.  Very shaky.  By no means a bread and butter shot.  Even on clay.  She’s definitely a backhand player, and since she can’t blow anyone out off that wing either, she really has to play shot after set up shot so close to the lines that mirror image players like Radwanska who can just play the ball back will always give her fits.  And that’s the whole tour.  That’s why a Christina McHale can and has beaten her.  Those players who retrieve everything, and then come up with a shot here or there, or who have a good feel for when to take a chance and come in know they will have their shot.

Bigger guns with actual weapons can take her which goes without saying.  There are many of those in the draw, but let’s concentrate on the ones who Vegas deems as real threats to win.  First the Aussie, Stosur.  we’d have loved her, but she does come in playing pretty bad tennis.  There must be a ton of pressure on her to win for the home nation.  Otherwise, we can’t figure out the dip in her play.  She probably has the second or third biggest serve on the women’s side, has a sick forehand that she can get almost always because of how much she runs around the backhand, and her fitness is primo.  We can’t say we love Clijsters in this spot, but she does have the weapons and the resume, and is known for coming out of nowhere.  She can not be dismissed.

Azarenka is going to break through and she is going to do it soon.  But when she has to play a Kvitova or a Serena, she simply does not have the fire power in that spot.  Still, we could see her winning if the draw falls out.  Serena and Kvitova are clearly the cream of the crop.  And they are on the same side.  That’s most likely going to play out, and while Kvitova has the better odds now, we’ll eat our hat if Serena is not favored then.  Serena played tremendous tennis on similar courts all throughout Cali this summer when she went from world #180 to world number twenty-something in six weeks.  And Serena seems to come in looking well enough.  She got a couple of matches in at Sydney, took 4 sets and lost zero, and then bowed out.  We think she is a very good bargain in this spot at +350.

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