Lleyton Hewitt


Novak-Djokovic-Australian-Open-2012-ChampionNovak Djokovic (above), the prohibitive favorite to threepeat in Melbourne.

Men’s

Alexandr Dolgopolov

+15000

 

Andy Murray

+250

 

Bernard Tomic

+5000

 

David Ferrer

+2500

 

David Nalbandian

+25000

 

Fernando Verdasco

+20000

 

Gael Monfils

+15000

 

Gilles Simon

+25000

 

Janko Tipsarevic

+15000

 

Jerzy Janowicz

+6000

 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

+3000

 

Juan Martin Del Potro

+1200

 

Kei Nishikori

+10000

 

Kevin Anderson

+50000

 

Lleyton Hewitt

+50000

 

Marcos Baghdatis

+10000

 

Marin Cilic

+15000

 

Milos Raonic

+5000

 

Nicolas Almagro

+25000

 

Novak Djokovic

-160

 

Richard Gasquet

+10000

 

Roger Federer

+400

 

Ryan Harrison

+25000

 

Sam Querrey

+25000

 

Stanislas Wawrinka

+25000

 

Tomas Berdych

+3000

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Ladies’

Agnieszka Radwanska

+1000

 

Ana Ivanovic

+6000

 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

+10000

 

Andrea Petkovic

+10000

 

Angelique Kerber

+2000

 

Caroline Wozniacki

+3000

 

Daniela Hantuchova

+20000

 

Francesca Schiavone

+25000

 

Jelena Jankovic

+12500

 

Julia Goerges

+15000

 

Kaia Kanepi

+10000

 

Laura Robson

+8000

 

Maria Kirilenko

+15000

 

Maria Sharapova

+700

 

Marion Bartoli

+6000

 

Mona Barthel

+10000

 

Na Li

+2000

 

Nadia Petrova

+15000

 

Petra Kvitova

+1000

 

Sabine Lisicki

+6000

 

Samantha Stosur

+2500

 

Sara Errani

+12500

 

Serena Williams

-120

 

Shuai Peng

+25000

 

Sloane Stephens

+15000

 

Svetlana Kuznetsova

+15000

 

Venus Williams

+5000

 

Victoria Azarenka

+300

 

Yanina Wickmayer

+50000

……….

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)

images-3One handed tennis prodigy realized, Grigor Dimitrov (above).

It’s always nice for a tennis fan when this time of year rolls around and the TTC begins to air live tennis, much of which is from down under, though the pro tours are going through parts of Asia and the Middle East as well.  So you may have seen some action from Qatar last week, you may have seen some tennis at AIRCEL/Chennai, but most of it has come on those spongey blue Plexicushion courts that have now seemingly covered the entire southern hemisphere in blue mush.

Catch 22 for us, really.  We despise this surface.  This surface promotes defensive play, rally tennis, and a bland, homogenized version of the game that has practically seen the extinction of the volley, one handed tennis, and namely, the one handed backhand.  We’re not going to leave it at it’s Australia’s prerogative.  Sorry.  There’s plenty of Plexicushion all over the world, and sickeningly enough, we have to watch the atrocious American swing that includes Indian Wells–a putrid Plexicushion event that diminishes the talent of the worthy and rewards the meek–and Miami (Key Biscayne), which is probably an even slower, and more terrible surface, if it can be so, on that retched Defense-Pro.  If you smirk at this, recall a practically unbeatable Roger Federer, mid prime, losing to journeyman grunt Guillermo Canas in successive weeks in 2007.  But, Australia was more than happy to sell out to Plexicushion, for fear of having a tournament “too similar” to the U.S. Open.  God forbid the most successful tournament in the world be the model, but what do we know?

http://www.foxsports.com.au/tennis/federer-unimpressed-by-plexicushion/story-e6frf4mu-1111115309530#.UOuCFI42UqY

The Australian legacy is grass court tennis and this major was played on grass in all of its years until 1987.  Maybe Australia can find the pattern when it comes to moving away from fast surfaces.  Because moving away from fast surfaces damages tennis talent, and Australia is largely irrelevant as a tennis nation in singles (the top Australian male is Bernard Tomic at #64; there are 2 Australian women in the top 100), and hasn’t produced any of the attack style players that make their legacy since they transitioned from grass to … plastic.  Once, the Aussies owned the game.  Even if that time is long passed, most people my age can vouch for Pat Cash and Patrick Rafter.  But Australia sought to destroy their legacy with bouncy surfaces–first Rebound Ace and now Plexicushion–and so now Australia produces two handed hackers like everywhere else, hardly any of them being good.

The Australians, for all their grand history are little more than tennis morons who have contributed to the ruination of the game, in a nutshell, but we can’t let it bother us too much, except insofar as it has diluted the talent pool and complexity of talent beyond repair.  The Aussie legends themselves, old men like Laver and Newcombe, were given free Plexicushion courts and since they are now 80 years old or so, they just love how “spring-y” Plexicushion is on their joints, and so they endorse putting Plexicushion in just about every development.  But ask Rafael Nadal how Plexicushion is working out for him, should you need the word of a player.  Nadal skipped this season entirely, and frankly, if we are to believe the Rafa injury timeline, he hasn’t been himself since he left Australia last year.  We even hear that Nadal’s stomach virus is largely bogus and that he is already practicing heartily on red clay in Spain.  A curious thing for a guy to forego all of those points to defend, lest he truly despises the surface and is trying to prolong his career.  Or ask Lleyton Hewitt, who has complained vociferously about the surface being too slow.  What really can we expect from Australia though, a depressed nation economically, in a bitter fight to keep their major, who has mismanaged the game in their country woefully to the point where there is basically no talent on either side, and who had to rebrand the AO as the “South Pacific/Pan Asian” major in an attempt to stave off the oil rich nations who have sought to downgrade Australia to a Super 9 and to re-organize the majors so that the Australian Open becomes “The Major at Dubai” or Beijing.  Also why, if you’re wondering, Tennis Australia rushed to up the prize pot when Roger Federer suggested this past summer that players may be willing to skip Melbourne if the lower round payouts were not seriously increased.  Obviously Australia is the only major any players of note would ever seriously consider boycotting, and Tennis Australia knew it, and did the right thing.  In this case.  Check out the article below in which luminaries from Federer to Wilander, a defensive style player, to Paul McNamee and a host of others scratch their heads over the inscrutable choice of Plexicushion for Melbourne.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/sports/13iht-srtennis.5.9176593.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Nadals and Hewitts, pushers, counter attackers, are guys who generally favor a slower track.  But not at the expense of their health or ability to end points.  Nadal sometimes needs a miracle to finish a point, and Hewitt can use the pace of a quick court to his advantage, because his balls need a little help getting through the court, help he does not get on the Plex because one is left to generate all of the pace, pretty much, on their own.  Or, as we shift the focus of this piece more to one handers, it can’t be of little consequence that Roger Federer has skipped all the Plexicushion warmups this year, and that he has already announced that he is skipping Key Biscayne, despite whatever the given reasons, because the surface is too slow.  Federer suffered his worst hard court loss ever there to Nadal, in a match where conditions suited Rafa better than slow red clay.  Federer also lost to Andy Roddick on that Defense Pro, which had not happened in some 10 years prior, and it was also the scene of Roger’s notorious racquet smashing incident.  While we expect Roger at Kooyong next week (an exo, not a tournament), we definitely feel there is a lot to Federer skipping these events when healthy.  Especially missing Miami, which we see as a huge statement on the surface issue.

Kudos to Roger, really.  As the world’s foremost tennis God, Federer’s decisions resound loudly.  Really, the people in Florida and California are no brighter than those in Australia, and they are all guilty of homogenizing the game with slow courts that have become the norm, and with safe, baseline philosophy, the hallmark of which is the dreaded two handed backhand, which leaves players moored to the back of the court, and so the result is players like Sharapova, whose fundamentals are an absolute disgrace, an embarrassment to tennis, having to hit groundstroke after groundstroke to win and then re-win the same point, because no one bothered to teach her how to take 3 steps inside the court and take the ball out of the air.  And if you don’t think that has a great deal to do with her injuries, her chronic shoulder situation, and the fact that she isn’t playing now, then you are deluding yourself.

The AO wants 6 hour finals and 60 shot rallies and that’s too much tennis.  Here’s a novel concept: courts that promote shot making, where players actually finish points and can get done with their business before they develop tendinitis of one sort or other.  A court that promotes the high bounce may seem to favor defensive tennis in the short term, but what of the long term consequence, in terms of degrading players’ health past the point of their ability to compete.  Obviously Nadal has been degraded, with his puke style and slow high bounce surfaces to thank.  Last year Djokovic was clearly not the same in Flushing after such a long, grueling season, and since he is the better player, vastly superior to Andy Murray, we can’t see how justice is done when safe, bland Murray style tennis wins out.  Grigor Dimitrov, who checked in at #48 last week (now #41), and who we should congratulate for making his 1st tour final, lost Saturday night in a tight 7-6, 6-4 decision to Andy Murray, who used the “strategy” of lofting top spin up to Dimitrov’s backhand side, to force errors.  As was reported late last night by our main man Down Under, Matt Cronin, Dimitrov was right there with Murray, until 4 consecutive UFE’s on the backhand wing off high top spin did him in (9th game, 2nd set).  Still, we’re happy to see the improvement from Dimitrov, who we’ve long regarded as one of the only up and coming one handers in the game.  Like Serena, we’ve seen an improvement in Dimitrov since making the switch to Patrick Mouratoglou, who seems to be more mature, and stronger shot to shot.  Making such an early final in 2013 does wonders for Dimitrov’s confidence, whose trajectory toward the top 20 seems imminent.  Dimitrov, largely schooled on clay, is well suited to survive slow courts as long as he, like Federer, moves around the backhand in the ad court, which should leave him poised to make a nice run come the better grass and hard courts of the summer season.  BTW, Dimitrov’s draw sprang open when he upset Milos Raonic early in the week.  The notable stat we took from that encounter was that Dimitrov out aced Raonic 10-4.  If you can out serve Raonic, you’ve definitely got him.  Says something for Dimitrov’s return game as well.  And while we are on Raonic, we find it curious that he did not roll out to Chennai, as he usually does, and where he usually goes deep, last year picking up the hardware there.  But Chennai is only a 250, and they play on acrylic hard courts (more similar to the faster–notice we didn’t exactly say fast though–US Open Decoturf courts), not synthetic ones, so Raonic’s team felt it might be better to get the kid in against better competition on more representative courts of what is to come in Melbourne.  The result happened to be that Raonic has gotten off to his worst start to a year yet, but we’ve quibbled with it enough for now.  We trust Galo Blanco’s stewardship of Raonic, and don’t necessary mean to criticize the team as much as highlight the fact that Raonic has had enormous success in the years where he has gotten off to flying starts.

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

We noticed a very impressive young German one hander the other day, Daniel Brands, who is 6’5, and at 25 years old, is finally coming into his talent, a taller order for skilled players who develop later, than for hacks who just play the ball back with regularity.  Like James Blake, who we are still waiting on to really develop.  LOL.  It takes time to craft the all court game, which Brands, who at world #153 (now #131) has now seemed to have done, bowing out in the semis at Qatar, a result that saw him rise up the ATP rankings some, after a stunning 6-1, 7-5 victory over Gael Monfils, in which Brands dominated the match at net and with his one handed backhand, which looked to us to be as good as practically anyone’s on tour at this time.  While it is hard to chirp about the world #153, that is the sorry state of one handed tennis in today’s bland, boring tennis world.  Also, a little easier, since a Brands roars out of the gate in the new year.  We’ve seen many guys who weren’t really on the radar, and girls, who have gotten it together in style when the new year rolled around.  Raonic would be a great example of one.  Brands lost in the semis to eventual champion Richard Gasquet, who is world #10 and who, in all likelihood, is the 2nd best one hander in the game today.  Gasquet defeated Nikolay Davydenko, who seems to be in a bit of a renaissance himself of late, in a workman like 3 sets.  Davydenko has obviously worked hard to try to recapture the attention to detail needed to play war of attrition tennis, and some days, like against Ferrer in the semis, he has seemed to find the fountain of youth.  But Gasquet is a guy groomed on clay, suited to hit a lot of shots, and so we were happy to see him stay with that match yesterday, of the opinion that Davydenko could be worn down by guys who stay with the program.  Ironic indeed, since a beautiful shot maker like Gasquet is forced to outlast a hack like Davydenko, but such is the game.  Consequently, Gasquet has had a great start to 2013 and we feel very good about his chances going forward, a skilled shot maker and net player indeed, but who also has the requisite grit today’s game requires to stay on the court, match after match, with guys whose best strategy is to get one more ball back.

While it has seemed that certain developments have foretold some dissatisfaction with the prevalence toward slow courts, like the blue clay in Madrid, the very fast Paris Indoor, and the roof at Wimbledon, which no doubt helped Roger Federer collect his 7th singles crown there, the damage has already been done.  The game is all 2-handers, weak 2nd servers, top spins and high bounces, and baseline baseline baseline.  Even kids who grew up idolizing Roger are adopting 2 hand backhands, as more of the one handers on the scene go the way of the dinosaur each year.  We actually feel that they’ve sped up the clay a bit, as well, as the powers that be are tired of seeing Nadal style tennis win out match after match, but the horse has long since left the barn.

That’s part of why we feel a lot better about clay than we do about Plexicushion at the moment.  Players have served big on clay lately, especially taller players, and all the height in the game has somewhat negated the Nadal, Murray strategy of getting the ball up high to guys with spin on the backhand side.  Monfils was trying to do it to Brands, but good luck finding the high backhand on a guy six and a half feet tall.  And clay is a surface where the drop shot really holds, and where, because of change of direction issues, you always have a play at a winner by going behind your opponent.  Plexicushion has taken these plays away, meaning that only brute power the likes of no one but Serena possesses, and endurance, are the deciding factors.

So, is 2013 a good year for one handers?  Well, Saturday wasn’t bad, we’ll admit.  Maybe it has even been a great start to the season for one handers, though let’s not get crazy.  The surface issues and Chris Evert Academy type coaching philosophies that have left the game bereft of diverse talent and attack style tennis have really decimated the game for traditional tennis fans who can’t stand watching 5 hour matches in which players don’t get to net 10 times, and that’s only getting worse, despite the occasional glimmers of hope we see from time to time.

But at least there are a few bright lights still out there.  Especially Roger Federer, who we feel, will have a very good opportunity to take his 5th Aussie title in a few weeks and his 18th major title, especially if he can stick to the hard slice in the inevitable Djoker, Murray matchups, forcing those players to make their own pace exclusively, without an opportunity to use Federer’s pace against him.

Lamenting the State of Tennis,

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

The all-time greats, Borg, Sampras, Federer, and Rod Laver.

Well, if the master hadn’t handled the student today.  Roger Federer, seizing on a quick indoor Wimbledon center court, on which he made only ten unforced errors, played the perfect grass court tennis match pretty much, in dispatching Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.  Federer put his big serve to use, pounding second serves, where he also had a decided advantage. Federer won 72% of second serves, and that really got him out of almost all of his deep service games, in clutch fashion.  And when you think about clutch serving and Wimbledon, you have to think about Pete Sampras. Now Federer-Sampras comparisons are nothing new, but the twilight Federer-Sampras comparisons, we feel are very useful in demonstrating how, well, major they are.

The gameplan with Annacone all along was to get back to the top on grass, because that’s where serving and attacking take to the best.  Here they are.  And there Annacone once was with Pete Sampras, on the verge of a 7th Wimbledon title and what was then a record would be 13th major.  For Federer, it’s a Sampras tying 7th trophy, if he can get it, and 17th singles major.  That’s why we don’t see a lot of pressure on Murray in this spot, despite the fact that a British man has not won here in so long.  Since the Wimbledon champion is also commonly known as the champion of tennis, we think it fitting for Federer to be the 7 time champion of all tennis, pretty much the one record in major history that is most cherished and respected.  Murray doesn’t have the pressure on him that Federer does, though Murray is probably feeling it, and must relish a final without Djokovic or Nadal in play, to boot.

But here is where we think Federer has a good chance to come through.  Sampras had a few cracks at US Open trophies late in the game where he had gone out and played six great matches twice and then didn’t get it done in the finals, against Hewitt and Safin, younger guys.  We think in this older-younger matchup, Federer has a decided edge because of service.  Once again, a situation, as well, where Federer has not played one single match against Murray prior on grass.  Or clay, that we are at it.  For shame.  We would love an extension of grass court season, such as the one we will see this year with the Olympics being held next month in London, with perhaps a Masters on grass, at a state of the art place like Halle.  Because it’s better tennis.  We love our attack tennis, and that’s why we feel Federer is in a tremendous spot to handle Murray here and pick up the hardware.  Murray is not an attacker, and despite some big serving, we don’t see him as having the right makeup to attack Roger Federer on grass.  Djokovic is by far a better grass court player, and Federer handled him magnificently today, despite being outplayed at net by Djokovic, we might add.

I think we see the full fruition of the Federer-Anacone partnership right here.  Federer serving his way to major titles.  And it will be another similarity between Roger and Pete, that they came out and served well in big spots late in their career.  We’ve seen Federer capitalize on Murray’s inabilities to claim his most recent majors at Flushing and Melbourne.  In fact, we haven’t seen Federer pick up a major against anyone of Djokovic-Nadal calibre in quite a spell, recalling that the last four majors Roger claimed were against Murray, Soderling, Roddick, and Murray.

Roger must capitalize on this opportunity.  And ultimately, his durabilty, and his laterals are what gets him in this position, and of course, timely serving.  We have always slightly favored Pete because of what we perceive to be lack of clutch factor in Roger’s major finals, letting many nice opportunities go by the board, and unconscionably losing to Nadal in Melbourne on Plexicushion.  It’s why Roger needed an Annacone, and we see the influence on what Roger is doing, and we’ll see it on Sunday, we feel.  Annacone has essentially taken Roger’s two best shots, his serve out wide and his serve down the middle, and made them the staples of his gameplan.  Annacone, in his capacity as Captain of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team, worked intimately with Murray for a few years and no doubt has quite a book on the kid, who we feel is going to feel the enormity of the spot and the matchup/surface disadvanages.  At the heart for Murray, is a refusal to play attack tennis, an achilles heel for Murray throughout his career, which should certainly be exploited by Federer, best perhaps on these courts, where attack tennis should reign.

Federer only has to play the opponents who advance to play in the finals.  If he can do that, based on his overall excellence and longevity, he is going to have his chances sometimes against guys who might be tailored made for him at a given time.  Personally, we think it would take a lot for Federer to lose.  This is the opportunity that he lives for, and coming up with the goods against Murray has never been a problem, not at least at a major, where Murray has yet to break his cherry against Federer.  This is looking like vintage time warp Roger, circa 2007, and if he can find this level now, he may be able to find it a few more times before the lights go out.

If Federer wins Sunday, he would tie Sampras for 7 Wimbledon singles titles, and 12 US Open and Wimbledon titles, combined.  If Murray wins, he will become a first time major champion and the first Wimbledon winner from Britain since Fred Perry.

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

The injured leg of Andrew McDougall (above), who was essentially recklessly kicked by David Nalbandian.

David Barbarian, um, Nalbandian, while up a set in the AEGON Final at Queen’s Club, in frustration at having been broken in the 7th game of the second set by Marin Cilic, kicked a wooden Nike placard that covered the feet of the line judge, drawing blood on the left shin of bewildered line judge Andrew McDougall, when that wooden placard crashed into his leg.  For any Nalbandian apologists that exist, and there should be few, especially considering the hell Serena is subjected to whenever she has an outburst, we would ask how they could explain away the following video:

Obviously Nalbandian tried to argue that he thought the Nike placard was moored, but with McDougall sitting directly behind it, feet probably touching it, we can not except that rationale.  Whatever happened to throwing your racquet?  Since when are guys kicking things?  It seems that this is something we can only credit to Nalbandian, who in all our years of watching tennis, is the only guy we have ever seen get disqualified in such a manner, for drawing blood to an official.  Let alone, in the final at the once very prestigious Queen’s Club, which used to be frequented by Nadal and Djokovic, but which this year barely pulled 3 players from the top 10 (Murray, Tsonga, Tipsarevic).  Even when our boy John McEnroe flipped out and smacked a cooler of Gatorade which spilled on the King of Sweden, he wasn’t DQ’ed.  Some thought that was funny.  Today’s incident was in no way funny at all.

While we can think of 8 tremendous #1’s who’ve won here (Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Lendl, Roddick, Hewitt, and Nadal), 7 of which are Wimbledon champions, we’d have to say that the club is at a low point, as should be David Nalbandian after that act of savagery.  People in tennis definitely took note of world #2 Rafael Nadal’s decision to play Gerry Weber at Halle this week, the first time he had ever committed to a grass court event outside of Merry Olde.  Queen’s has looked completely drab since losing Stella Artois as a sponsor a few years back, and if you are watching Halle, where the main court is state of the art, complete with a retractable roof which slid closed when the sky greyed on Saturday in seconds, you’d have to say that Halle is the superior production.

Having Raonic, Nadal, Federer, and Berdych, among others doesn’t hurt, but the quality of the environment is obviously a factor in why people are playing Halle over Queen’s, when Halle was widely considered the inferior week to Queen’s until now.  From what we can see, the courts seem quicker at Halle as well, which, for tennis purists and grass court fanatics like us, means that for a rare week we get to see classic bang bang tennis, with more balls being taken directly out of the air.  It’s also nice to see a court where the ball stays low, allowing dynamic one handers like Federer, Haas, and Kohlschreiber to do damage on the backhand wing.

Halle had a magical week, featuring Federer-Raonic III, which was again decided by a third set breaker, and really, hinged once again on the scantest of margins, a mini break to Federer, who had really not managed a thing on Raonic’s first serve again.  We’re not surprised.  You know how we feel about the kid.  As for Roger losing to Tommy Haas today, we are very surprised.  Federer has looked listless in finals here in recent years, also very uncharacteristically losing to Lleyton Hewitt in 2010.  Seemed like he put the cart before the horse today, a day after blistering Mikhail Youzhny, and looking quite like the old champ.

But the result at Halle, with Haas, an exciting grass courter and dynamic player, returning to form is great for the game.  Unlike at Queen’s, where Nalbandian acted reprehensibly.  And for that matter, the British crowd, who applauded him, after a weak apology.  Sure, they wanted to see more tennis and that is understandable, but once that match is called, how can you applaud a guy who injures an innocent?

And how does Nalbandian pull this stunt up a set?  Complete disgrace.  We’d like to know why the tennis world is so silent on this debacle in its wake this evening?  Nalbandian should be suspended for Wimbledon.  The ATP is sending the wrong message if they allow him to play.

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Canadian phenom Milos Raonic (above), with a rare fist pump against Kevin Anderson, whom he defeated in San Jose last week.

So we’ll admit we were wrong on Sunday. We told you we liked Raonic and the kid could not get the win versus Jurgen Melzer. We’ll even call it a bit of a bad loss because we don’t like the way he played in losing that match. To be totally fair, he just missed a big forehand by a hair that would have saved him from going down match point in the second set tie-breaker. It really was a close match, but when Raonic and his dominant serve went up a break in the second, we thought it was a match that was destined to go to a deciding set. That loose service game, in the eighth or so game of the second, is not something we associate with Raonic in his early career. Despite some truly dominant performances on serve in the last few weeks, the kid has been vulnerable at times because he is leaving a lot up to the second serve, and only winning about 50% of the second serve points. The performance against Istomin, where he won 44/48 first serve points, was still one where he flirted with defeat by giving Istomin life in the second set. Life, for Istamin, was about getting a look at he Raonic second serve.

The kid was still only broken once in 10 matches so let’s curb our criticism a little. Because the kid is improving so rapidly, he has gone from world #156 to #24 this week, rising 132 places in the rankings in approximately 15 months. Obviously poised, at 21 years old, to be heard from in a big way for a long time. But these guys who get a lot of balls back, even at their advanced ages, like Melzer and Hewitt, have been giving Raonic a problem this year, when last year at this time, Raonic was beating Fernando Verdasco. So we can’t say we are concerned all that much, but right now, we feel like we want to see Raonic beat a guy who really moves his feet. Aside from the second serve, the only problem we see with Raonic is his immobility, which, he seems to have worked a lot on from last year, and yet, he’s not playing well right now against guys in a position to take advantage of his side to side, and baseline to net.

Obviously Raonic has worked hard with coach and former player, Spaniard Galo Blanco. Blanco was a bit of a journeyman, but that’s an interesting mentality, to get to say to Raonic, ‘look how easy it can be with your big talent?’ And Blanco similarly improved Feliciano Lopez’s footwork in his tenure with him, and has Raonic in Spain practicing on clay a good bit, and that will do wonders to the problem, if the kid is applying himself. And it appears that he does apply himself. In addition to Blanco, Raonic also works with a physio and there is no doubt they are working on his coordination.

What a nice kid he is as well. He was extremely gracious when addressing the Memphis crowd, and spoke about the good things they are doing in the community in Memphis with some of the money from this tournament, and rarely to you get those kind of words in these situations. A lot has been made of his background in advanced mathematics, which would help explain his wise use of the angles and dimensions of the court. The kid comes in with ease. He has very nice hands at net, and seems more at easy with the half volley than anyone except maybe the top 3 or 4 in the world. He gets in to net, he uses slice, he can serve and volley, and do it on second serve, which would probably be a good percentage play because he does seem to lose a lot of rallies from the baseline during second serve points when he stays back. But really, what is the kid doing in any part of the game where you could be too critical of him, and not be impressed by the guys he has beaten thus far. He’s beating most of the guys in front of him, when healthy, and the competition has been healthy as well. The guy has beaten Nicolas Almagro and Janko Tipsarevic in back to back matches this year, two top ten calibre players, has won 2 events, been to one final, and in 17 matches, he’s lost only 8 sets.

Nothing not to like about this guy. Djokovic got on such a run last year that you almost didn’t notice that Raonic got hurt and Wimbledon and missed most of fast court season. But for tennis fans, seeing this kid on the surface that suit him best was going to be appointment television. We’re really looking forward to seeing him go through his second clay court season, and how he improves there, and then play the fasts, and how his year bears out if he’s healthy.

We already corronated him the best North American player, way back last year. And having so few points to defend through the rest of the year, we expect, despite his few flaws, to be banging on the door of the top 10 by the middle of the summer. Happy are we, to have even a two-hander, who plays the game right and plays offensive tennis, the modern version of the big game that is so largely absent from the mens game these days.

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Nadal with the 2009 Australian championship trophy (above), still much to our dismay.

Martina Navratilova, who knows a thing or two about fast courts, having only won 9 singles titles back when the Wimbledon grass was fast, and 4 US Opens, back when it was super fast, and a combined 16 doubles titles combined at the two, was asked earlier in the week if these courts in Melbourne were playing slowly.

“Super slow.” she said.  “Very very slow.”

Asked how she knew, she said that she could tell from watching up close, but that also, she had just played in Melbourne Park a day or two before.  She said the courts were nothing like the US Open, which were also slower than normal this year, that the balls they are using seem if not bigger then more inflated, more airy, and that only the very biggest of hitters will be able to get the ball through the court.

“I played on red clay last week” said Martina.  “And it was faster.”

Australia.  The slowest major?  We’ve thought so since Tennis Australia sold out to Plexicushion 4 years ago, noticing a real uptick in speed at Roland Garros, shorter points there, bigger serves and more aces, whereas Melbourne Park has been widely criticized for misrepresenting their speed of court since going with the tacky blue foam.  What a splendid ad campaign they had.  The height of disinformation really.  Trotting out old pros like Don Newcombe and Rod Laver  who they gave free courts to, to endorse Plexicushion for reasons such as the rubber, spongy surface was easy on the knees.  Sure.  But they are senior citizens, not current players on the tour.

You heard much different talk from Lleyton Hewitt, who always has a current AO court zapped in at his home in Australia so that he may practice on the actual surface.  Hewitt reached a final and four SFs on the former Rebound Ace surface.  Not a huge guy, Hewitt likes the faster courts on which his balls move better through the court. He also likes a target, but since so many players feel like they are giving the opponent too much time on the pass on the slow Plexicushion, players are not venturing much to net.  Recall that Hewitt was a major champion on both fast grass and fast hards, and a great player.

Hewitt ripped the new surface in the papers all over Australia, calling it very slow.  Tennis Australia countered, saying Plexicushion is “medium fast”, virtually the same speed as Wimbledon, and a 38 out of 45 on the same court speed scale on which the US Open is a 40 and ultra fast Cincinnati is a 42 and the Paris Indoor is between 43 and 44.

Hewitt is right and Australia is lying.  Hewitt is wondering aloud where the up and coming Aussies are as well.  Please note that neither rising star Bernard Tomic who is actually German, nor Jelena Dokic and Jarmilla Gadjosova are technically from Australia.

Many believe the court speed is closer to 28 than 38, and that Tennis Australia, who stated that their goal was to create a court somewhere between the speed of Wimbledon and Roland Garros, had gotten it very wrong, noting 1st that Wimbledon is way slower than it’s ever been, and that the Plexicushion is more accurately nowhere near the speed at SW-19, and is in fact, slower than the RG of the last 3 years.

We don’t like slow courts at all because they do not promote the best tennis skills, and do not favor the best tennis players.  And way worse, tennis players who grow up on slow courts exclusively, do not develop all around tennis games.  Slow courts give players time to set up for two handed shots, when the artistry is clearly in the one handed shot, now a dinosaur.  Slow courts require more power to hit through, hence all the 2-handers, and they give those 2-handers the time to get their second hand on the racquet.  What does a 2-hander do when rushed?  They slice the ball.  A one handed shot.  And where have all the volleyers gone?  Well, they are with the one handers and the other dinosaurs.

These Plexicushion courts mock conditions at Wimbledon in only one notable way.  A good slice stays low.  Otherwise, we are watching the new clay court tennis, and pretty much, with as much sand mixed into the court.  One of the things that determines the speed of a hardcourt, is how much sand is mixed in to the top layer.  If you notice, when the spot shot challenges play in slow motion, you can see the top layer of the court in a closeup, and is visibly gritty and bumpy, providing more friction for the ball, which detracts from its speed.

The other primary determinant to court speed is surface make up.  The US Open is an acrylic surface, truly a hard surface.  The Australian Open is a synthetic surface.  A simulation of a hard surface, essentially made of rubber.  You ever wonder why the ball bounces so high in Melbourne?  Extra inflated rubber ball on a rubber court.  Bad for the sport.  The would be winners of more talented players are played back by would be losers on better surfaces.  Flat ball forehands that skid through a real hardcourt quickly, bounce up on a fake court like these an extra 1-2 feet.  That gross topsin we see from these pushers also bounces up some additional feet, making it hard for aggressive, talented shot makers to do anything with the ball.  That’s a shame.

Roger Federer, tennis’s king of talent and artistry, in his QF match, had an average ground stroke speed of 71 MPH.  He is consistently in the 80’s at Flushing.

Bringing us to tonight’s showdown between Federer and Nadal.  These courts are a beautiful fit for Nadal’s passive pusher hack butcher style.  He is going to hit high looping Tracey Austin type garbage all night long, and the last time he did so to Roger on this court at Laver, he was crowned champ. The last time they faced off on a similar surface, in Miami last year on that horrid Defense Pro surface, Nadal absolutely dominated Roger as has no other ever on a ‘hard court.’

So if you are wondering what ever happened to the American game, think about how California has almost exclusively gone to Plexicushion (IW, LA, Stanford) and how Florida has gone with Rebound Pro, and think of where all our young players train.

And as for tonight, listen, we can always make a case for Federer.  Apparently Vegas believes in that case–probably on name value–because the odds have been installed as follows:

Federer:  – 150

Nadal:  + 130

Federer has Paul Annacone putting together a masterful gameplan, no doubt, and Nadal didn’t play so well against Berdych, and he didn’t get done so early, giving Roger the more time to plan and prepare.  Which he needs, because Nadal is just going to do what he always does, which means he can roll out the same playbook he’s been using on Roger since 2005.  He is going to serve to Rogers’s backhand, he is going to loop topspin to his backhand within the point, and these embarrassingly bad for tennis courts will oblige him.

BTW Federer has lost his last 2 AO evening semis, and it isn’t too surprising, because the cooler it is, the slower these puffy balls even become.  And outdoors, Federer has not beaten Nadal in 2 years and 8 months (Madrid 09).  Also Federer has lost in straight sets to Djokovic twice in evening semis here at the AO, and lost in his only match here to Nadal, also at night.  He has also lost the only other major semi-final he ever played Nadal in, the RG semi in 2005.

But we’ll go with our hearts.  Roger may have some payback in mind for these rivals who have lately or routinely gotten the better of him, and Lord knows we are dying to see it.  It would be life affirming to see Roger beat the people he’s not supposed to beat and win when he’s not supposed to win, on the court built to spec for the other guys.  For once.  Even though he is “favored.”

It would also be better for tennis.

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