Lindsay Davenport


On Saturday, Serena Williams (above) defeated Aggie Radwanska, in a waltz, needing only fifteen games.

Yesterday, if she was to defeat world #2 Maria Sharapova, who has not beaten Serena since 2004, then she would have won the 4 most recent most meaningful titles, counting Wimbledon, The Olympics, The US Open, and the championship contested here in Istanbul, in which the top 8 players in the world participated in a double elimination format prior to the semi-finals and finals.  Serena showed her dominance all week by beating Kerber, Azarenka, and Na, all in 2 straight sets in the RR and then dusted the world #4 from Poland in straights in the semis.  Sharapova was the latest victim, falling 6-4, 6-3 to the most dominant #3 of all time.  Sharapova pushed back and dug in to the best of her ability, in one service game that spanned more than 10 minutes during the first set, she held despite a torrent of winners from Williams, especially return winners.  But this match was not close.  Serena broke in Masha’s 2nd service game, and in her 3rd game, Sharapova  clawed for dear life to stay alive, as consecutive breaks there would have been committed to stone.  Serena also broke early in the 2nd set, so it’s not really like we were sitting there wondering who was going to win this match.  Sharapova’s best moments were purely survivalist, keeping things closer than they should have been, the way she could not at the Wimbledon Olympiad, where Serena handed her her ass in 55 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

In fact, we felt the score line was not indicative of the facts.  Serena was imposing, completely controlling the baseline, and dictating a lot of points on Maria’s serve, both first and second.  And Serena out-winnered Sharapova 40-13.  To be frank, this one seemed like batting practice for Williams.  So this week’s work, 5 matches, 10 sets, straight money.  We’d like to hold up Serena as exhibit A in the lesson in the basic but all important and never read tennis bible.  Hold your serve.  Serena had 11 aces today, and 11 the other day, against Azarenka when the match was decided by only a few points.  We’ve said for months, too, that Azarenka is the best consistent point player in the game.  But she doesn’t have the serve.  In a match in which the points were 69-57, Serena hit 11 aces and 0 doubles.  Azarenka hit no aces and had 9 doubles.  Ladies and gentlemen, that was your match.  It’s not just that she has the big serve, but also the proficiency, the high percentages and mistake free, clean and fast business like service games that no other woman in the sport can put up.

Azarenka is a very strong #1, certainly with no Serena in the picture, but as is, is really not that bad of a number one considering the Jankovics and Wozniackis.   She’s a major champion and clear cut 1B, worthy of her position.  Personally, we feel that she looked a bit tired this week, despite a command performance against Na Li in which she broke serve 5 times in a row.  We felt that just from a probability point of view that Azarenka would have had a decent chance in the finals, knowing how hard she would be to play and beat twice in a row in a few days time.  But Serena has the bigger game, which has carried her to grand success after a never before round 1 major loss, which she suffered at Roland Garros.  Some parallel might be seen between her hiring Patrick Mourataglou of the academy by that same name in Paris.  Mourataglou also coaches Grigor Dimitrov, and seems to have helped the young 1-hander to improve.  We’d also chalk some of Serena’s incredible run up to her getting onto faster courts.  Azarenka is great of combinations, the best there is, but needs the longer points that come more on clay and Plexicushion.  She will get her chances on those surfaces and will probably prove out.  But Serena owns the better surfaces, and deserves to be favored heading into all of the majors.

Now revel in these stats.  9 straight against Sharapova.  Also, Sharapova has not taken a set off Serena since 2008.  Ho hum.  12-0 in her last 12 versus the top 1 or 2 player.  An obscene unbeaten streak against the world #1 & #2 dating back to August of 2007.  Serena ends the year on a ridiculous 31-1 tear, taking her 3rd career WTA Championships, and becoming the oldest woman ever at 31 years of age to win the coveted year end title.

Serena finishes the year with a mark of 59-4 and 7 titles.  Her last loss was to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati.  The last time she was pushed to 3 sets was by Azarenka in the US Open final.  Serena also did not drop a set at the Olympics, where she dropped only 14 games in 5 matches, crushing Azarenka in the semis 6-1, 6-2, and Sharapova in the gold medal match, 6-0, 6-1.

Serena ended the year with a staggering .937 winning percentage, having only lost to Wozniacki, Razzano, Makarova, and Kerber.  All is well in the women’s game, with Serena again ascending to dominant, with Sharapova winning a major this year and reclaiming a spot near the top, and with the rise of Azarenka, who we consider to be the best player in tennis, shot to shot.  And Radwanska is an adequate #4, someone not likely to beat the players ahead of her but not likely to lose to the ones below her.  The Radwanska style, in effect, a better Wozniacki, but one who will not rise higher because the girls ahead of her are just better players across the board, and there is no way to gimmick your way to victories over the Serenas, Azarenkas, and Sharapovas of the world.

We’d expect players like Stosur, Kvitova, and Na to also take their places ahead of Radwanska as well in the new year, should they play to their fullest potential.  For the first time since Serena’s unfortunate World Cup Soccer spectator accident in 2010 and subsequent health problems, the women’s game is all quality at the top, and the rankings are more or less reflective of the true state of the women’s game, devoid of pretenders and paper champions.

We were also very happy to see that Serena’s nemesis, obsessed racist foot fault Nazi, Eva Asderaki, was able to chair at an event without becoming the center of attention, for a change.  So all really is right in the women’s game (Though Lindsay Davenport can allocate the checks better when pre-grading the players for their matches on TTC.  We are often annoyed at how freely she’s been handing out checks, especially to bad volleyers.), heading toward Melbourne in 2013 where Azarenka will try to defend her crown, and where Serena will be looking for her 16th singles major.

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Federer (above) serving to Xavier Malisse.  He’ll need to serve lights out to have a chance to de-throne Novak Djokovic.

Nobody could’ve been happier last Thursday when world #100 Lukas Rosol upset Rafael Nadal on the lawns at SW-19 than Roger Federer.  What a day that was, and what a spectacle, and we believe, that the outcome was very good for tennis.  It doesn’t happen often, or hadn’t happened yet rather, that Rafa gets picked off in the early rounds of a major.  So it was good to see for once.  For a lot of reasons.  You know we aren’t fans of Nadal’s brutish game, and that we can’t get passed the hack pusher style.  So Rosol came in and swung freely, and the same themes came up for Nadal when the hand writing was on the wall.  He doesn’t hit enough winners.  He doesn’t get to the net enough.  The second serve is girly.

Usually he still gets by.  And the masses go nuts and say that it’s great tennis.  Yuck.  But last week, Nadal got out forehanded as well.  Frankly, you will not survive being out-approached, out-served, and out-winnered on both wings.  We think it’s a really good outcome for tennis, at tennis’s best showcase, that the courts played fast and to the advantage of the aggressive player, who probably will never have a day like that again as long as he lives.  Lindsay Davenport of TTC, to her credit, kept saying that defense wasn’t going to be enough to get it done here and while it is usally the case, we are so happy that she was right.

To Nadal’s credit, he did not cry about injuries for once, and gave credit to the opponent in a class fashion.  Also to his credit, he signed a lot of autographs on his way off the court.  But this isn’t a Nadal love in.  He pulled the same shoddy sportsmanship by not playing to the pace of the server, stepping out in poor form on one return, and averaging 26 seconds between serves throughout the 5 set match, which is a violation of the 20 second limit.  We guess things even out though.  Less than a month back, Nadal was staunchly complaining about the rain in Paris giving Djokovic a chance, but last week it was the long delay after Nadal won the fourth set to close the roof that broke Nadal’s best stretch of momentum, a huge opportunity for Rosol to calm his nerves.  This time, Nadal came out first, dropped serve, and never recovered, just as Djokovic had done at RG in the final’s marred resumption.

Federer had to have been smiling, whatever the case may be.  Federer is at such a disadvantage on surfaces that push spin, which sadly Wimbledon has become, especially in the Nadal matchup because as a lefty, Nadal seems to hide his own poor backhand so well while pushing everything up high to Roger’s backhand.  What Federer needs is for players with high strike zones to take out Nadal, as Rosol did.  Nadal’s spin was right in Rosol’s wheelhouse, as sometimes happens when Rafa faces taller men (recall the USO against Del Potro in 2009, Nadal’s worst loss ever at a major).

Djokovic is playing clean tennis.  That guy takes to grass.  I have been impressed.  Not serving bombs, but really, coming forward in the point at all the right times, and closing out points at net.  He looks like the champ to me, Nadal or no Nadal.  But Federer had to have absolutely loved his chances against Djokovic in their first ever meeting on grass after 26 matches, a sad commentary on the diminished importance of grass on the game.  The grass plays true, it’s the way the God’s intended for the sport to played, and at last, we have a big grass court summer with the London Olympics holding tennis at Wimbledon.  The only criticism for us is that the men’s are not best of 5 sets.  And Djokovic has owned the grass.  And we expect him to win this tournament and the Olympic gold medal because grass suits the guy quickest to attack on grass, and that is clearly Djokovic, who finishes off many points at the net with a fair share of smashes as well.

But Federer will take his chances because, as tennis is about matchups, and Djokovic is a much better matchup for him because he doesn’t exploit Federer’s backhand the way the lefty Nadal does.  Federer probably feels that there may be a few strategies that he can use against Djokovic on the grass to keep the points short and theoretically, in his favor.  The thing is, against better competition in our minds, we have seen Djokovic play very assertive grass court tennis, whether closing at the net or with a passing shot.  Clearly Nadal had become the better grass courter than Federer from 2008ish to now, and he is removed from the equation.  In matches where Federer has had a fast track against Djokovic he has not done that well, especially not since Djokovic started winning majors.

I think Roger is going to get passed a lot here on Friday.  This is an enormous opportunity for Roger, obviously, but this could very well go horribly wrong because Djokovic is going to take the play to Roger and Roger hasn’t played anyone near this good in quite a while on grass.  Djokovic is the reigning champion and he is the best grass courter in the world right now, and that’s why we are hyper interested to see the line for their match because we are thinking ahead that Djokovic is going to be a steal.  And we couldn’t personally visualize how Tommy Haas beats Djokovic the way he did Federer at Halle.

But they have to go ut and play the match.  Maybe Roger does have a few things to show Djokovic on grass.  Maybe Roger and Nadal both have been struggling for “lack of motivation”, as Nadal claimed he was afflicted with in the first 3 sets against Rosol.  Federer very likely will play a whale of a match because he knows this is one of the better shots he’s gonna get at a major with him as a clear number 3.  I think the matches this one will resemble will be like the French Open and US Open semis from last year, and not the French Open match from this year, where Roger lacked fortitude and resolve, frankly.

If it’s that kind of match, then Roger has a good chance at his 17th major singles title, and 7th Wimbledon crown, tying Pistol Pete.  Either way, it’s probably one of the best chances he gets to do so, since the likelihood of him being in a tournament where both Nadal and Djokovic are eliminated are slim.  We’ll be up with the semifinals odds as soon as they are published.

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Heavyweight champion of the world, Victoria Azarenka (above).

We could not have been more surprised with Saturday’s semi-finals which yielded the Federer-Isner final.  Isner has been giving the big three all they can handle for the last few years, and with wins over Federer and Djokovic this year, he has truly earned his way into the top ten.  He’s a kid who plays to his strengths amazingly well.  Usually, you feel like the Americans, both younger and established, don’t play to their strengths very well, don’t really think matches.  Isner does.  He went 70 services games without managing a break in one set of tennis, but he also held serve 72 straight times, in that same set of tennis.  Frankly, the question on him is the movement.  He was not moving his feet a few weeks ago against Kevin Anderson, but that was still a good result for Isner, in Delray Beach, and the margin was very slim as it was.

Isner is playing well.  He is moving those feet.  Beat Djokovic?  Get your due.  Beats Djokovic, actually winning while losing on points by 11.  Managed one break of serve in the match, but made it stand up.  And he played the big points better.  With shot making.  The Federer-Isner matchup is still very much a bad matchup for Isner despite the recent win he had over Roger in Davis Cup.  Federer woke up to Isner, and there was blood in the water today, with the champ smelling a very nice win and paycheck.  Isner doesn’t do that well against guys with good serves.  Most of that 6’4, 6’5 set can all pound the serve and stay with Isner.  Federer is that kind of player too, locating the serve or hitting with pace, but Isner has only broken Federer a handful of times, lifetime.

So that’s a good quality win for Roger, who we think may be on a high right now.  Obviously, the win over Nadal is a nice win for him.  Hadn’t beaten Nadal on an outdoor hardcourt since 2005.  It’s hard for us because we’ve always maintained that you can’t read in a lot to a Masters Series win or loss, for a Federer, but who can’t say he wasn’t playing well at the last few events where he won shields or YEC’s.  Was he not playing absolutely lights out when he won Cincinnati in 2009?  Now we all thought he’d go right on and win his 6th US Open title two weeks later, but he couldn’t pull it off, playing a sub par final, for Roger.  There’s not even a major leading in this time, but he is also playing lights out right now.

We don’t think Nadal was tired.  He wasn’t match tested prior to this week for a little bit, and sometimes in best of 3 finals after a layoff, or even prior, is that kind of time when Nadal might lose these days, when he’s not losing to  guys not named Djokovic.  Nobody is sharp enough to beat him head to head at a major, from what we’ve seen.  I mean, Federer has not beaten Nadal at a major since 2007.  If not Federer or Djokovic, then who?  David Ferrer.  He’s been a better four than Murray in our estimation, in certain resepects.  Ferrer plays  extremely hard and never comes out ambivalent or uninspired.  For that matter, Ferrer has been much better than Federer in the last 5 years at the majors against Nadal.  So he gets that respect.

If Murray played his defensive style gung ho, or played consistently aggressive, either one, he would push Federer for #3.  But Murray is caught in between.  He doesn’t think matches either.  And really, Federer has been incredibly hot, making it harder for Murray to get traction in the ratings.  Federer has now won three events in a row and there’s got to be a different feel around the Federer camp about his ability to do something.  In a couple of the last few years, Federer didn’t win a tournament at all until much later in the year.  Federer is playing so well on his own serve, you have to wonder if he doesn’t feel the magic.  Unfortunately, there’s not a major coming up, but we think the belief will be there when he faces off with the heavy hitters at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  He’s looking very dangerous right now, which probably some Federer fans might have felt was never happening again.

So way to go Roger.  By the way, doesn’t it seem like, at moments like this, there is a pattern at play when Federer does get the better of Nadal?  Really, this very angle on getting to Nadal is why Federer brought in Paul Annacone, and it has to look like right now things are working quite well with the coach.  Federer, here and at the YEC, did not let Nadal expose his backhand, by hitting everything to Nadal’s backhand.  If Nadal can’t get to Fed’s forehand then Federer is hitting a lot of forehands, and when he isn’t he is ripping the backhand at Nadal’s backhand.  Finally, Roger is playing with a discernible game plan against Nadal.  When he does this, he plays very well against Nadal.  But usually, he doesn’t do it for more than one set at a time, if he does pull it off.

Federer is in the mix big time at the next three majors.  He has to be very confident that he can pull off a record 17th major win, and we’d love to see it.  We knew he was playing well, but this kind of well has us thinking big.  You have to wonder a little bit how Roger is going to translate onto clay next month.  But we have a long view of this.  He hasn’t played this well probably since he was number one.  And serving and hitting this weekend, with the wind like that, is also very encouraging.

We also have to wonder about how Victoria Azarenka, now 23-0 this year, translates onto clay as well.  She lost to eventual champion Li Na at Roland Garros last year, and in the final to Kvitova in Madrid in a tight match.  She also won a minor tournament.  She is playing with such confidence.  She is playing so great, muscling the field from right on top of the baseline, without even muscling serves.  She will probably be very tough to beat on clay as well, and we don’t see the field as overly dangerous right now.  And she thinks a match too, unlike Sharapova.

Sharapova has been horrible against Azarenka because she can’t get around the fact that she is getting out paced in a pace war, and has no discernible plan B for when a player out paces her.  Sharapova was thoroughly beaten.  Look, Sharapova’s not great at all.  Like Wozniacki was at one, Sharapova at two is a measure of the weakness of the field.  If this field was completely healthy, we don’t see Sharapova as a top 4-5 player.  She looks dejected against Azarenka and she should.  That is where the two players are at.  Sharapova’s penchant for keeping two hands on the racquet is killing her against Azarenka’s pace.  Azarenka is stretching Sharapova out on her backhand and Sharapova has no slice to fend it off with.  She must’ve had close to 40 errors today, and they were many times backhands into the net.  She only won 43 points in the final today.

Sharapova held serve only 3 times today, and was broken 6 times on 12 BP’s allowed.  They weren’t even loose serve games either, like they usually are with her.  She had something going with her serve down the tee.  Azarenka is that good.  She is a ball crusher.  The mph’s that Sharapova’s serve is down post shoulder surgery makes her serve simply ineffective against most power players who are good first ball return players.  Then, in the rallies that extend, Azarenka is pushing Sharapova left to right, and then stretching her out on the backhand.  Azarenka is a beast, sure.  Still, Sharapova must improve if she wants to win more majors.  Top competition can do the things that Azarenka does to destroy Sharapova.

We still would like to see Kvitova have her sot at Azarenka.  But there was no doubt that victory today, as well as Azarenka’s entire year, have been extremely dominant, and a beauty to behold.  And Indian Wells was pretty good this year, so we’re sorry we told you to stop watching it.  You know we don’t like Plexicushion, but it was a great event this year, and TTC’s coverage was excellent all week.  It’s a shame we didn’t get to hear Davenport and Gimelstob on all the men’s and women’s matches.

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Tonight’s headliners, Milos Raonic (L.) and Roger Federer.

Up first at 8:30 PM EST, we’ve got a very good dog in Janko Tipsarevic facing David Nalbandian.  Here are the odds:

2012 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells — Round of 32

Janko Tipsarevic:  – 170

David Nalbandian:  + 135

…….

We very much believe that this line is a product of Nalbandian’s name recognition.  These guys have met just the once, in Melbourne, 2007, and Tipsarevic blew a 2-0 set lead and retired down 2-1 in the fifth.  That was five years ago, and a lot has changed for these two.  Tipsarevic has been strong, and sits at world #10, while Nalbandian is down around #74.  We feel that Nalbandian gets a lot of respect based on the past, but that he hasn’t done much to actually earn any in recent history.  We are going with the favorite here.  Nalbandian, though he plays close to the baseline, is a very old school grinder.  A grinder like him has to work very hard to win, and we haven’t seen him put a lot of work into any one match in several years.  This is a tale of two guys going in opposite directions, and in fact, we won’t be surprised if there is announcement forthcoming about Nalbandian, who loves the good life, horses, ladies, and fast cars.  We think he loves all that stuff at this point a lot more than he loves doing the work necessary to win.

Round of 16 — 9 PM EST

Nadia Petrova:  – 130

Maria Kirilenko:  even

…..

We just don’t feel Nadia Petrova is a good favorite.  The h2h is 4-3 for Petrova, and that’s been a slim margin, with the last two matches going to Petrova in 3 hotly contested sets.  Hate to be so un-PC (sarcasm), but we just kinda like the slimmer girl here on a slow as molasses hardcourt in a night session.  We also feel the Russian countrywoman rivalry can’t be overstated.  Kirilenko comes into this match as the higher ranked player for the first time in their 8 matchups.  Kirilenko seems to us to be the better player for a lot of reasons, and we are happy to see some nice odds by her name.  We also like her younger, hotter legs.

  Round of 16 — 9:30 PM EST

Marion Bartoli:  – 240

Lucie Safarova:  + 180

………

Bartoli leads the h2h 5-1.  We are going to stick with the same logic, or similar, to that used in our Petrova-Kirilenko analysis.  You should know by now that of all the players that play this game on the women’s side, Bartoli is one of our most hated, for the stupidest shot of them all, her signature two handed forehand.  While this surface does give her time to wield that ugly thing, she is the lesser conditioned athlete and Safarova has the younger legs.  Safarova makes a living by smacking players around who are favored.  We like her here.  In general, we like her variety, and she plays a lot of doubles, and has nice hands.  But what works best for her in this spot is her ability to scramble.  We are taking Safarova.

Round of 32 — 10:05 PM EST

Milos Raonic:  + 325

Roger Federer:  – 450

………..

I’d be shocked if Federer loses a set.  Really shocked.  Federer is playing magnificent tennis.  He has lost one tennis match since October.  He has been so dialed in on his service games.  We love Raonic, but we see the cracks.  The kid is about 20, or a young 21, and his lateral movement, while improved, is not Fed ready.  Last year at this time, we were very disappointed when Ryan Harrison, who scored a nice win over GG Lopez yesterday, upset Raonic and upended the Federer-Raonic sweet 16 matchup.  But the book on Raonic was thin then.  Now that the book is thicker, we can’t see him giving this year’s Federer, who seems, more alive than last year’s, any trouble.  In fact, we are predicting a bit of a Federer old school clinic.  Raonic served very comfortably the other day, and hit a lot of aces against awful Carlos Berlocq, as my mother could do.  Things will get very hairy for Roger come Nadal in the semis, but not tonight.  At least, we’d be very surprised if he is taxed by the kid.  There’s not a lot to be made off of a line so lopsided, but we have Roger advancing with ease.  Though we are very excited to see the first of hopefully many matches between the two, and acknowledge that Raonic is one of the very few players able to bring the big game to Roger, and that guys who have like Tsonga, Berdych, and Soderling, have had their moments.  BTW, a quick word on Harrison.  This kid had a terrible time winning matches after IW last season.  He really took his lumps.  We expect him to have a much better spring-summer this year, and to really climb up the rankings.  He’s a smart player, he’s an intense kid who wants to win, and we think he will take those lumps and turn them into positives.

Round of 16 — 11:30 PM EST

Ana Ivanovic:  + 140

Caroline Wozniacki:  – 180

………

Sofia Arvidsson played a great match against Wozniacki last night, and showed exactly how a veritable nobody can beat the Dutch Miss.  Arvidsson has played well this year, and surprised us with her win in Memphis.  She plays aggressive tennis, and she gave Wozniacki all she could handle, and frankly, a Wozniacki can’t really look in the mirror today and be proud of that style she plays, when she barely survives a player like Arvidsson, in approximately three hours, of which she was out played handily for the first two.  Wozniacki was warned for receiving in point coaching last night from her father, and you know what?  Her father should shut the fuck up because it didn’t help any, and we have to question whether anything he does helps any.  Wozniacki, we’ll say again, doesn’t think the game, and that is something that a coach, a real coach, would teach her.  How many more back foot forehands are we gonna have to bear, also?

In assessing her game, Lindsay Davenport, the anti-Wozniacki, said that she could be more aggressive off her backhand wing, that she has the ability to dictate with the backhand, but that her forehand basically needs a complete overhaul.  We concur.  And if you checked the stats last night after set one, Wozniacki had 4 forehand winners and lost her serve 3 times.  And she could not get her second serve out of the mid 70’s.  But we shall see.  If Wozniacki goes out early here, and fails to defend all these points from winning here last year, she is going to wake up 7th in the world next week.

She won’t need a fancy Rolex watch to know what time it is.

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First time Wimbledon Ladies singles champion Petra Kvitova (above) of the Czech Republic ended a perfect week and a perfect indoor season in 2011 with a hard fought 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka in Istanbul.  Kvitova outclassed the rest of the field here in Turkey, edging US Open champion Sam Stosur in the semis in 3 tough sets, to run her record against the Aussie to 3-0 for her career.  Kvitova did not drop a set in the round robin portion of the competition, which included an easy win over world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has done nothing to quiet her many critics, as she came up imminently small once again.

The big serving lefty Kvitova, despite having zero transition game, played the entire indoor season as she did Wimbledon: as Ms. Big Shot.  Her ability to dictate, usually the prime determinant on fast courts, proved out, even today against Azarenka, who had a great year and some hard luck, running into a rested Serena in the 3rd round of the US Open.  Kvitova has now clinched the year end #2 spot, a far cry from last year, when she ended the year outside the top 30.

Kvitova won the WTA Tour Championship in her first ever trip to the tournament which only accepts the world’s top 8 females.  She has not lost indoors since last October’s Kremlin Cup, when Kateryna Bondarenko got her in 3 sets in the 1st round.  Kvitova ends the year on an 11-0 indoor win streak.

As for Wozniacki, we definitely do not agree with favorite TTC personalities Corina Moriariu and former great Lindsey Davenport, who tried to pump up the Dutch pastry all week long.  Wozniacki and Kvitova both won 6 events, but Kvitova won a major in her first major final, and the Wimbledon winner is always regarded as the year’s true champion.  The YEC title, while not a major, is certainly a championship of note, and made more difficult by the fact that there are no easy matches.  All the more impressive, Kvitova did not lose in the tournament, while Wozniacki could not even reach the semi-finals.  No shocker since she is awful against top players.  Don’t be fooled by her “best” record against players in the top 10, which was intact, and may still be, even after getting shredded in straights 4 and 2 by Kvitova to open the Red Group’s RR play, and then followed it up with a loss to Vera Zvonareva.  In fact, Wozniacki could only manage one win this week, and barely, as Radwanska had her down a set and an early break in her one victory.

The four best players available made the semis, in Kvitova, Li, and Stosur–3 first time major champions–and Azarenka.  Clearly Zvonareva is a much better player than Wozniacki, as has been Sharapova this year, and as Venus, Serena, and Clijsters all surely are.

Yet Wozniacki holds the ranking, though she is likely outside the 10 best players in the game, because we’d probably put Schiavone, who is a French champ and last year was the French runner-up, ahead of her as well.  Though Moriariu and Davenport attemtped to portray Wozniacki as having a prominent future because the biggest rivals on the scene are aging, we’d say to that where are the actual rivalries?  She hasn’t really beaten anybody in the spot, and her 6 tournament wins last year were basically inconsequential, when compared to Kvitova’s body of work.

Since Clijsters, Venus, and Serena are headed back, and Kvitova, Azarenka, and Zvonareva aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, we think the Dutch Ms. is going to remain an utter disappointment.  As for Kvitova, if our tally is right, she has run her record to 59-13 on the year, and now prepares to represent her country in the Fed Cup Final tie versus Russia which begins next weekend.

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

 

Last night during Erakovic/Cibulkova on TTC, Lindsay Davenport, excited about the main event to come on ESPN between Serena Williams (victorious above) and Sharapova, talked it up a little bit over some video of Sharapova ferociously shadow hitting backhand after forehand in rapid fire succession.  Davenport explained that Serena had already been put through some rigorous steps by her people to prep for the match, and now Sharapova was doing the same thing.  When the coverage began on ESPN, Patrick McEnroe, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Brad Gilbert echoed the same sentiment.  They said that both players were treating the match more like a “Grand Slam final”, that they uncharacteristically spent an inordinate amount of time in what they called hard warmups compared to their normal routines, and that the atmosphere out at Stanford was completely electric.

Then the match started.  So much for the questions about Serena and where she was in her comeback.  So much for any hype surrounding the match.  So much for Sharapova who had seemed to reclaim her form of old.  Because Serena stormed out of the gate, winning a stunning first 5 games on Sharapova’s serve, and locking up the first set in what seemed like 5 minutes, en route to a 6-1, 6-3 easy breezy victory over the world #5, that might have been even more lopsided than the score line.

Serving to the world #169 (we know that’s outrageous and obviously on the mend), Sharapova’s achiles heel once again became apparent.  Against Hantuchova Thursday, Sharapova threw in 11 double faults, and added another 7 last night.  In a completely embarrassing display, Sharapova won only 12 points on her 1st serve in the entire match.  And what had become a rivalry several years ago when an unexpected blonde 17 year old dusted Serena in the Wimbledon final, is now decidedly far from it. 

Serena is now 7-2 lifetime versus Sharapova and has not lost in the series in almost 7 years.  The ticky tack blue Plexicushion surface which both players have won majors on, played like lightning.  Even on a coolish night.  Finally.  Serena, looking for her 1st final since last year’s Wimbledon, will take on Sabine Lisicki under similar conditions tonight.

Here are the odds for today’s matches:

Serena:  – 320

Lisicki:  + 240

_________________

Cibulkova:  + 140

Bartoli:  – 180

______________________

Fish:  – 600

Harrison:  + 400

______________________

Bogomolov:  + 170

Gulbis:  – 220

…..

From what we saw last night, we love Serena and Gulbis today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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