Mardy Fish


Roger-Federer-and-Andy-Mu-001Roger Federer (above) holds the Australian Open trophy for the 4th time, while a teary eyed Murray composes himself in the background.

Australian Open Men’s Semi-Final — January 25th, 2013

Andy Murray:  – 145

Roger Federer:  + 115

__ __ __ __ __ __

Australian Open Women’s Final — January 26th, 2013

Victoria Azarenka:  – 145

Na Li:  + 115

……

Tomorrow morning at around 5 AM, Roger Federer and Andy Murray will do battle for the twentieth time, with the winner either having the opportunity to be the first man to go from zero to two majors consecutively, or looking to boost his record major count to a total of 18.  The match will be the 2nd ever between them in Australia, and the third on Plexicushion, with Federer memorably winning the last, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11), and leaving the once petulant Briton in a wake of tears (Murray won their first Plexicushion tilt in 3 sets on Indian Wells purple goo in 2009).  It will be the 18th matchup between the men played on hard courts, where Murray holds a 9-8 lead at the moment.

We must say we are a bit surprised at these odds, which in defiance of the established norm, do not seem to be giving too much credit to Federer or Azarenka, who we feel should be clear favorites here.  We always bring it up, when Roger is a dog, that it’s really rare to lay a bet on Roger when he has a plus by his name.  As far as we can tell, international action is dictating these lines, as what smart bettor is really going to lay 145 units to win 100 on Andy Murray?  And who is likely to bet against Azarenka on Plexicushion, on which she did not lose last year or this year, for that matter, defaulting to Serena in Hobart because of the toe injury?

Na Li no doubt has received a good deal of respect for her drubbing of Sharapova last night.  That may have been the best match she’s ever played, truth be told.  But tennis is in the matchups.  We think Murray and Li will both have a bit of a different experience as the competition jumps up a few levels, as it has.  Li no doubt came to play, and most impressively, she gave Sharapova nothing to work with last night, because we’re sure if given an opening, the battler she is would have made it more of a contest.  But to look at Sharapova’s body of work here and get too crazy head over heels for it, when she played nobody but a sub prime Venus Williams, would be a mistake.  We suspect that when Venus gets to her see again, as she continues her comeback from Sjogren’s, it will play out differently.

As it would also be a mistake, to look at Murray’s body of work like that, after he waltzed through a collapsed draw.  Murray was greatly aided en route to the semis by the upsets of Cilic and Del Potro, something Federer has not benefited from, as Roger has so far beaten 5 top 50 opponents, and is attempting to be the first man to win a major when beating 7 top 50 opponents since he did it in 2010.  Just like Federer’s timing was affected by not playing Mardy Fish at the USO in the Round of 16, and not getting in his regular match play, Murray should be affected by not having played anyone good.  We thought Gilles Simon might give him a tussle the other night but when we put it on, we concluded after one shot–a forehand slice into the net–that alas he would not.  May have helped Murray to miss Monfils as well, who probably wouldn’t have beaten him but who always exacts a toll.  On his opponents and himself.

As much as tennis is matchups, it is also timing.  Federer has never lost to Murray at a major because, in large part, he makes Murray work so hard to hold serve, and on his own serve, he has staples to win him points that Murray does not.  Federer’s timing is peak right now, easily seen by how easily he is hitting the one handed backhand, how many points he’s winning on return of serve, and how sharp his forehand has been.  If your timing is bad, the one hander won’t work.  You also won’t be dialed in on returns.  And as many announcers have pointed out throughout the fortnight, Federer is giving himself plenty of margin on the forehand, content to go for lethal combinations, as he is obviously very comfortable on the court.  The other day Roger out aced Raonic, while only allowing the boy something like 6 of 60 baseline points.  Murray is going to have to win about 60% of the baseline points to win.  We don’t like his chances.

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We also feel like Federer is heavily motivated.  He was obviously unhappy with the conclusion of his year.  He was very unhappy about losing 3 of the last 4 matches he has played to Del Potro, even suggesting at the YEC that his team was being out coached by DP’s team.  Because of the schedule, he had much less rest than Djokovic, having to play 3 matches in the last 5 days there, and losing out on his quest to defend the YEC, a trophy he covets.  We know that Roger worked very hard in the off season.  Unlike Murray, who made his workouts public to a group of British tennis reporters, clowning around on Miami Beach, Federer kept his routines highly guarded.  Roger has heard a lot about Murray of late.  He is relishing his underdog role, savoring it.  We expect him to be very tough in this spot.  Also, and of no small consequence, Roger has played most of his matches in Melbourne this year at night.  He has become very comfortable with the night conditions, whereas Murray has played in the day light most of the way.  Federer is well aware that he lost both of his last 2 semi-finals here, and has adjusted accordingly, we think.  We expect classic Roger here.  That means a strong start.  We also expect the crowd to be in Roger’s favor, which was not the case at the Olympics, and which gave Murray a considerable boost.  Slightly faster Plexicushion also aids Federer, who had no real problem with Murray here in 2010 on the slower track.

In the h2h matchup between Li and Azarenka, Vica leads 5-4 and has won 4 straight.  Azarenka defeated Li at the YEC in Istanbul to end 2012, and won their last matchup on Plex, which was last year in Sydney.  But Li is the last player to beat Azarenka in Melbourne, eliminating her in 3 sets in 2011, which puts the match in an interesting light.  We’re sure that Azarenka hasn’t forgotten.  She’d be a fool to let a pass a golden opportunity to grab a major without having to go through Serena.  And maybe Plexicushion is to thank for that, as Serena would surely have won if the back and ankle were unhindered.

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We think a Roger-Azarenka ticket is the way to go.  The only way.  Then again, we’re frequently wrong.

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)

Ryan Harrison (above) on the red clay of Roland Garros.  At 19 years and 11 months old, Harrison will be the youngest competitor in this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final round.

American “number one” and world #9 Mardy Fish has withdrawn from this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final tie in France, citing exhaustion or fatigue.  For the tie, which will be played on outdoor red clay, Captain Jim Courier has called on world #66 Ryan Harrison to fill in for Fish.  This marks the first time that the 19 year old Harrison will compete in live singles for the United States Davis Cup team.  While French Captain Guy Forget said earlier that Harrison is a future prospect at this point, and not an established player, we feel he may be underestimating this weekend’s USA squad.

We can’t fault Courier here with his pick.  You know we like Courier very much as DCC, and we haven’t really criticized him yet.  We’ll make a minor criticism here.  Courier opted to play Mardy Fish in the doubles with Mike Bryan, pulling Harrison when he felt America had best go for the definite doubles victory over Federer and Wawrinka, and they got the win.  But in watching how Fish “hurt his partner”, according to our old friend Fred Stolle, when teamed with Bethanie Mattek Sands at The Hopman Cup, when his lazy play cost America the match, we grew very irritated with Fish as a doubles player as well.  Fish had played earlier that day in Perth, and we guess he was exhausted.  Though that is no excuse.  We thought Courier should have gone for Isner in that spot.  Isner was hot, and he’s the guy that’s won a few doubles titles lately, and not Fish.

Then Mardy Fish goes on and has a pretty pedestrian start to the year.  Then he gets flipped by Juan Monaco in Miami, one and three.  I’m sorry, but that’s a poor effort.  Mardy Fish has got to do better there in that spot.  On hards, in Florida, heavy favorite.  Okay.  We lost a few theoretical units on Fish, so we are perturbed.  But who is surprised?  At any of it?  Fish is not a strong nine.  He comes up small routinely.  And it’s not as if he is so exhausted because he’s been winning titles left and right.  To get grossly abused by Juan Monaco last week, and to have his soft forehand totally exploited, was unimpressive to say the least.  We are happy to see this withdrawal.

Does Fish perhaps have Mono?  Well, we wouldn’t like to see it.  But we’d hate to see even more if Fish, claiming fatigue this week, ends up at Sabadell next week, ready to roll.  Because that would belittle the Davis Cup and mock America.  We think Fish should’ve gone to France.  He has to get ready for red clay by playing on clay, and nothing is better than a good couple of best of five set matches.  We think Fish is setting himself up for a poor clay season, which again, will not be surprising because it’s Mardy Fish we are talking about, and he’s bound to disappoint.

Ryan Harrison is a perfectly scrappy and quick player, and is well suited to the red clay.  We’re comfortable saying this, even though we are having trouble finding any wins of his on European Clay.  He won the Houston championship, upsetting James Blake, another all time dog.  Small time pressure player.  Courier had Harrison on the last squad and had him hitting with the team at points last year, and Courier is very comfortable with the selection.  Harrison is going to be thrilled to get into to this tie, and he is going to do what he does, which is scrap and retrieve and limit the errors, hit the occasional winner, and flash a decent serve game and good hands at net.  We think Harrison is setting up for a nice clay court season this year, and it will start this weekend.  Getting some real big matches in over there is going to do worlds for him, and at #66, he is on the bubble for Masters Series events coming up, and may have to play in to a tourny through the qualifiers.  This type of match play can be just what the doctor ordered for both Harrison and the US team.

Harrison is going to be a very good player, as perhaps Guy Forget is suggesting.  But the kid is a good player now too, and he may be a matchup problem for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he will play on Friday.  Harrison is going to get a lot of balls back on this damp court.  Tsonga is going to have a long day if he tries to muscle through the court.  And you know Harrison is going to play his balls off.  That’s his nature.  It’s been only by a slim margin that he lost recent matches to very hot players like Federer, Murray, and Raonic.

We don’t think Tsonga or Simon are in that class.  Harrison, yet to have a truly big notch on his belt, will also have a good opportunity in the reverse singles against Simon because they are mirror image players, and grinders sometimes have matchup problems with guys who grind really hard against them, and we feel Simon is that type of player.  Harrison has young legs and a young spirit, and despite his lack of notches, you can tell he’s a true competitor and a smart player.  He has also improved a great deal.

As for Fish, who will ever forget the absolute American nightmare at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he lost in the gold medal match to Nicolas Massu, losing after leading two sets to one?  Then the problem was that Fish was fat.  Now that Fish slimmed down and got with Stacey Gardner, he thinks he can play rally tennis and hits way more shots than he used to.  He had to improve his footwork and did.  But he still has to go for winners, and we don’t always see it.  The more tennis he plays, the more air seems to creep under that forehand.  Not a good thing.  And if he is tired coming into clay season, how can he expect to survive it and prosper?

Obviously a lot is thought of the French squad.  Vegas has them as the second favorite in the world group at (+400), second only behind champion Spain, at (+275).  But Vegas was counting on Gael Monfils to be the French B player, and with him on slow dirt in France, that is a lot to handle.  As it is, Harrison will go in and start things off against Tsonga in the first match on Friday morning.  We like his chances, and we aren’t as scared of France in this spot as we could be.  Everyone is going from hards to clay in this tie, and since America also did it in Switzerland against Federer and Wawrinka, we think they are in good shape.

It’s also nice to have the Bryans back together.  The Bryan brothers have never lost in the Davis Cup on clay (9-0) and are truly the linchpin of the American squad.

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

Guillermo Garcia Lopez (above), slicing and dicing Andy Murray with the one hander, all the live long day.

It was our viewing pleasure to watch the pride of the isles, “the best world #4 of all time”, Andy Murray Saturday in his latest travail.  On successive Saturdays, Murray excited us with his losses, and we say to that, kudos!  About the best #4 nonsense, know that is no title we attached, but rather, something that we think Doug Adler’s partner of late, Sam Wilder (?) has been trying to make stick to sell soap probably while feeding into the great Andy Murray hype machine.  We don’t like Murray.  Never did.  Never will.  But sometimes we have to root for him, like when he plays Nadal.  Since we have to root for him at times, we’d like to see him play the kind of tennis he needs to in order to win.  We’d like to see him lean forward when he strikes his forehand, so that the shot has the full weight of his momentum.  One thing these guys should learn is that cute does not win big.  Must we recall Federer getting cute with Nadal on that drop shot toward the end of the second set last year at Roland Garros?  Or Federer blowing a threw the legs volley against Safin down under in 2005?

Cute doesn’t win.  So when Andy Murray draws a guy in and that guy is to be a lame duck at net on a conventional pass, and Murray tries to throw up a fancy lob when he has an entire alley both cross court and up the line, well, then there’s a moment where you say to yourself that Ivan Lendl in the kid’s box has to take that out of the playbook.  The opponent, GG Lopez, is not exactly a little man at 6’2, and going with an offensive lob in a night match subject to desert winds, is simply not very bright.  This play, one of the very few in the entire match dictated by Murray, which he lost when Lopez slam dunked the lob into the crowd, was everything wrong with the old Andy Murray, which he has supposedly shed like bad skin.

We know better.  It’s very hard to squeeze a yellow streak out of player.  Make no mistake about it.  Djokovic was a pussy, and that was a mental issue, and not a tennis issue.  Djokovic plays brave tennis.  His body and mind had to leave the pussy behind, and they did.  Murray is a different story.  He has never played brave tennis.  He’s a puke.  And since he is so good against the average guy, he rarely has to play brave tennis, and so he really only tries to play brave against Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer and aside from some small successes and moral victories, he hasn’t been getting it done against those guys.  The Lendl I know was like Djokovic.  Didn’t play soft tennis, but he was soft, and so he found a way to become hard.  Murray is physically hard.  He’s a great athlete, and at any given event, may be the best conditioned guy present.  Lendl is trying to adjust the kid’s style of play, because as our good buddies Justin Gimelstob and Doug Adler always say, backboard tennis is simply not good enough at the top level.

So TTC cameras kept showing Murray’s mum and Lopez’s team, but I don’t see Lendl anywhere.  This Wilder (?) guy talked and talked like Lendl was in the coaching box though, or, as if Lendl is God’s gift to coaching and that now Murray is a veritable terminator.  Then the cameras focus on Darren Cahill, decked out like a clown in crazy colored Adidas attire, and the announcers casually mention that Lendl isn’t there, again, and so Murray wanted Cahill there, because he can call on any coaches in the Adidas stable.  Now, we joked last week that Cahill was perhaps the only coach around worse than Murray’s mum and so that’s the guy he chooses, the worst pusher hack coach available, who we could imagine telling Murray it was a good idea to pussy foot around with Lopez and hit lots of balls to his backhand and keep the rallies going because a guy like Lopez will break down.

Clearly it was what Wilder (?) thought, who kept implying, broken record, that Lopez was not going to be able to sustain the level, and then almost creaming when Lopez went down love forty in about the 6th game of the 1st set.  But Adler gritted his teeth, clearly not a good match chemistry wise with this annoying fuck, and when Lopez had dug out of that hole and when about an hour later, had a 6-4, 6-2 victory, we were as gratified as Adler at the fact that a classic one hander, a shot maker, had stepped up and that backboard tennis wasn’t good enough, not even against the world #98.

While we don’t like Murray, we are past the point of hating him.  His tears in Melbourne 2010 sort of humanized him for us in a way, and we get all the pressure that comes with being perhaps the first Brit since Fred Perry to do something in the game.  We’d have been thrilled regardless of who the pusher was and who the glider was on Saturday night.  But Lendl is off globe trotting to exos while his boy, in a week’s time, went from hot back to hangdog.  And Cahill, who comes from a different school of thought than Lendl, if you can call it that, is presiding over this horrible loss.

Lopez played brilliant tennis.  He had reasoned out that Murray’s game plan was not to try to win, but to make less errors than his opponent.  So Lopez did not make any errors.  Lopez went backhand to backhand with Murray and did not break down.  When he could take the ball early, he ripped the one hander and had Murray scrambling.  When he couldn’t, he sliced the backhand, totally neutralizing Murray.  He even hit a clean winner off a slice backhand, which was possible because Murray guessed the wrong way, and Lopez was all over it.

A lot of times, really big name guys don’t get totally into the commitment aspect of coaching on the tour.  It seems like Lendl is that type of guy.  You can’t even describe Indian Wells as a minor event if you tried.  5th major?  Nonsense.  There are four majors, and that 5th major talk is frankly disrespectful to the history of the game.  But how is Lendl not here for Murray?  Murray needs a full time coach.  We never sound any alarms when guys lose in the Masters Series, because for all of that nonsense ‘kinda major’ type talk, it was just one match.  But we see some things breaking badly for Andy Murray, and he needs to pay attention because he is not a major champion and he is very unlikely to change that at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.  His youth is vanishing, and we feel, given his propensity for the yellow streak, he is far from a lock to win any major ever, and may go out with a fat zero by his name.  If we had to bet on a number of majors for him in fact, we’d happily take zero.

Less of a problem for our lefty love, Petra Kvitova, who somehow lost to American Christina McHale last night.  Kvitova has the hardware, for one.  For her, a slump is more permissible.  Sure, she hasn’t played great tennis, and has little business losing to McHale, but McHale is making her name as the American Radwanska after all, is she not?  We don’t think it’s more than a little slump.  It’s not like an Ivanovic slump where she wins the major and then goes underground.  Kvitova won Wimbledon, then didn’t have the ideal summer, but ended the year as the veritable number one, winning the YEC and the Fed Cup, virtually unbeatable the final 9 weeks of the year.

We think Kvitova might have figured on winning down under, and that loss to Sharapova was a bad shock to her system.  In our minds, she was a big favorite in Melbourne, and she had been virtually untouchable coming in, and could not have been quivering at the thought of taking on that field.  We can’t argue against Azarenka right now, who has definitely proved she earned the ranking.  But we will remain resolute that Kvitova is the better player of the two, and we’d expect that to begin to bear out again on clay the way that it had on indoor hards at the end of 2011.

Kvitova is a better clay courter than Azarenka, and probably, like a lot of people, she can’t wait to get off these tacky American slow hardcourts.  BTW, just saw Mardy Fish get finished off by Matthew Ebden.  Good of Mardy to put a youngster on the map like that.

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

Mardy Fish (R.) with Jim Courier on Saturday, with whom his improved standing impart lies.

We’ve always liked the things Jim Courier has had to say, first as a commentator on USA Network, and now as Davis Cup Captain.  Starting with his first major remarks, way back to last year, when he captained his 1st tie in a suit and tie on a horribly kept clay court in Chile.  When asked why he didn’t cheer much, and why he wore the  real suit over the warmup suit, Courier said that his guys didn’t need a towel waver, a cheerleader.  What they needed was strategy, and that was why he was there.

Courier is more than strategy though.  He is a winner, a rock for our squad.  Recall in his first ever tie against Chile when Isner was robbed of a point in a return game in the 5th set of a rubber that would have given him 2 break points, when he had none previously.  But 15-40 became 30 all and within minutes, Capdeville had the break and Chile had the rubber.

Courier showed no emotion at all afterward, and did not so much as question the call that could have spelled out America’s demise.  What he would say was that in a 5 set match, Isner has to return serve much better.  No one, he said, could expect to win a match without earning a break point, calls or no calls.

That has been the difference between the McEnroe and Courier squads.  Courier is honest.  He doesn’t play the buddy game with guys who might need a kick in the ass.  Like Isner, who, on a worse clay court than in Chile, and against a better opponent in Roger Federer, managed 3 breaks of serve on an impressive 12 opportunities on Friday.  Isner is that much better, yes, and his Davis Cup experience has furthered his development.  Hard to imagine Courier’s affect on him in any but a positive light.  For that matter, we think it little coincidence that Mardy Fish has played so well since Jim Courier became captain, making his first ever YEC last year.   Courier was emotionless after Isner’s epic win.  He was almost stoic.  Courier was the person in that horrid muck bandbox who believed in Isner’s ability to win most.  And why would he celebrate any win in a tie that was still in its first day, far from over?

Courier knows winning and understands the urgency.  So when he inserted proven doubles player Mardy Fish, after Fish’s 4 hour and 20 plus minute rubber on Friday, to play with Mike Bryan, the move smacked of USA’s realization of the immense importance of that doubles match.  Very un P-Mac like.  We were never big fans of little brother, ever, whether as a player, a coach, broadcaster or what have you.  We will say that it wasn’t a question of work ethic.  And that P-Mac stepping in to coach Andy Roddick after he and John Roddick split, was also very good of him.  Though, with Roddick’s importance to DC, he didn’t have any real choice.

We think substituting Fish for Harrison was the right move and suggested it here on Friday.  Well, Fish or Isner, for that matter, since the last time Fish played tired doubles he left Bethanie Mattek-Sands hanging out to dry at Hopman Cup.  We also think Courier is the type to have less of a problem making that call than buddy buddy Patrick McEnroe, and that if he thought Fish tired, he’d have used Isner instead.  McEnroe was always very proud of the fact that players played for him, a big problem in DC and Fed Cup.  Part of the reason they played for him, he felt, was because he didn’t really ask them to do too much.  We see that point, knowing full well some top players have shied away from the international team competitions.  Others have played and then thrown their country under the bus.

But if we are to closely examine this, the players want to play and they want to win.  So if Courier facilitates that, then he is a good captain who will keep guys interested.  Let’s be real.  Fish and Isner both just had career weekends playing for country.  And if the Williams sisters were able to be whole last weekend and had it been a hotly contested tie, Venus, Serena, and all of the nation would have wanted them to take part in the doubles, they being the all time team they are.

Obviously this weekend was not a banner one for Federer, whose abilities were limited by the poor quality of the surface.  If you saw the doubles Saturday, you may have seen an absolute rarity: Federer swinging and completely missing on a ball (backhand).  We’ve always maintained and always will that clay is strictly low rent, and tends to work better for lesser talents.  That said, Federer needed to adjust to the court.  The player who did was Isner.  Isner played big man tennis and was prepared to do so from the start.  He stuck with it even after going down a set.

Was Roger unprepared?  We think so.  It seemed like he thought he could roll out of bed and win.  Last year we began to criticize Roger for his lack of participation in DC, and noted that Tsonga and Berdych, who defeated the great man at Wimbledon in successive years, both play a lot of DC and may have been better prepared because of it in a 5 set format.  This year, players who do not participate may find themselves without Olympic eligibility.  Federer, who has never won a DC, should be amply motivated to add the distinction to his otherwise stellar resume.  But he looked listless over the weekend at Fribourg, which might suggest that he was only there to satisfy Olympic eligibility requirements.  In fact, we thought it an extremely poor showing by the entire Swiss Tennis Federation, from planning to execution.  Why would they choose to play this tie on indoor clay?  Surface selection is the responsibility of the home team’s captain.  Severin Luthi, captain and Federer co-coach, put his team at a disadvantage by choosing a surface so incompatible with  its best player.  We do not espouse the logic that Federer would excel on that clay because he is Federer, likely the 2nd best clay courter of this era.

What is fact is that Federer had not played on clay since early June, some 9 months.  Federer went deep at Melbourne, and has been resting.  He hasn’t been practicing on bad clay as Isner and Fish have been, since their early Australian ousters.  Courier knows a thing or two about success on clay, and is the first American in the modern era to win 2 French Open titles, doing so in back to back years.  He is vocal about America and its lack of success on clay in recent years, and has confronted head on the perception that America doesn’t practice on clay enough to be successful, by practicing his guys hard on dirt.  If Federer looked unprepared, then Isner looked completely prepared, hitting several kick serves that bounced up over Federer’s head.  He knew the court and he liked the surface, and said so after the match, citing how slow courts actually work to his advantage because he has more time, tennis’s most precious commodity.

Luthi is a very poor DC captain.  He failed to enlist Federer in DC for so long, and now that he has him, has failed to get anything out of him.  Next to Courier, Luthi looks out of place in his Yonex tennis reds, but that is not the only reason he is looking bad next to Courier.  This tie should have been played in Federer’s home town, Basel, on hard courts where Federer has prevailed as champion 6 times, including last fall.

On a bad court, it takes more than just cursory practice to adjust, especially when switching surfaces.  While Federer has proven in his peak prime that he can go clay to grass without much warmup, he is no longer peak prime Federer and he wasn’t switching over to grass, where he has 6 Wimbledon titles.

Luthi seems to have benefitted much from his association with Federer, but has Switzerland benefitted that much from the association?  Luthi has kept his captaincy we feel, ironically, due to his friendship with Roger, while not even getting Federer out for Davis Cup.  The buddy buddy approach is not one you will see from Courier, and had it really worked best with Roger, we doubt he’d have hired Paul Annacone to do the heavy lifting.

America will play France in the quarter-finals on the first weekend in April.  While Roland Garros may be the venue, we expect the French to choose an indoor hard court.

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

America’s de facto singles A player, John Isner (above), newly outfitted by Lacoste (way to play it, big man!)

Giant John Isner was the bigger man today, stunning Roger Federer 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the second rubber of the 2012 Davis Cup’s World Group 1st round.  The win by Isner gave America a 2-0 lead in the tie.  Earlier this afternoon, Mardy Fish finally came up big for America, coming from two sets to one down to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka in 5 sets, 9-7 in the 95 minute 5th set.  While Fish-Wawrinka was laborious at best, Federer-Isner was downright jaunty in comparison.  Isner was able to take care of business in under 3 hours and notched his first victory over Federer ever.  The win was actually Isner’s first ever against any of the top four, previously 0-2 versus Federer, still 0-7 combined against Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal.

As Roger might be telling the media back in Switzerland right now, the record doesn’t tell the whole tale.  American tennis fans have had to take notice of Isner’s impressive display against Nadal on Spanish clay in 2010 in DC, which was as far as Nadal was pushed on the surface since the Sunday Bloody Sunday 4th round massacre he suffered at the hands of ball crusher Robin Soderling at RG in 2009, still Nadal’s only loss at the French Open.  And what about Isner’s performance against Nadal at the French last year, where he became the 1st man to take Nadal to 5 sets, and led in sets 2 to 1 before the Spanish comeback?

Isner is capable of some pretty big tennis, even on clay against the very height of the competition.  Aside from Djokovic, the only man able to beat Nadal at his own game on clay, the strategy seems to be to go right at Nadal, as Soderling and Isner do.  It’s not as though the big man is looking to trade shots on clay.  He is looking for knockouts, and looping spin often lands right in his strike zone.  Despite Federer landing some punches today on the red clay at Fribourg, he played tentative tennis.  Federer put 50 of 51 second serves in play, but did little with the ball on second serve in his middle game, creating enough opportunities for Isner to manage three breaks of serve, which proved to be more than enough.

Isner must be credited for playing so aggressively on clay today, and as habit.  On points the match was incredibly close, 126-120.  Probably not much of a coincidence that Isner took 14 points at net to Federer’s 8.  Isner has shown a penchant for knowing what it takes to have a chance against much quicker guys on clay, given his size and comparative lack of mobility.  Isner saved 11 0f 12 break points against, made 34 service winners, and out-winnered Roger on the forehand (28-22) and backhand (9-6) wings.  Let’s face it.  If you have more forehand winners than Roger, you are well on the way to having him beat.  Also impressive was Isner’s 7 first ball return winners, and that he won the total winner count decisively (85-66).

Back to the speed of the match for a moment.  While we appreciate that both men like to play fast, from the middle of the second set out, the match had a very Wimbledon/Tsonga like feel, obviously a problem for Roger.  Federer does not do enough to change the momentum sometimes in downhill contests, as this one was.  He seemed content to let this match sail by.  Big servers have stuck it to Roger in big spots over the last 3 years, and when these guys (Soderling, Tsonga, Berdych) get on their rolls, the match seems a fait accompli.

While Roger has to do more in the return game, go for more, mix it up more, stall more, take a timeout directly prior to an opponent’s serve game, take a stroll along the back fence or whatever, we are more concerned with praising those due right now.  John Isner played a phenomenal match, played the whole of it on his toes, and deserved very much to walk away the victor.  We have been touting Isner as America’s best big match player for some time now.  This guy is incredibly calm at all times, plays opportunistic tennis, and maximizes his chances.

We’d also like to offer a scant word of praise for our buddy Mardy Fish, who finally came up with important tennis in the spot, with a very impressive come from behind win.  Fish also played the bigger tennis today, and notably managed 34 forehand winners on a slow red court where his forehand tends to be rather anemic on most days.  Normally at this point in the tie, the Bryan sledgehammer would drop, and the tie would be virtually locked up.  But Bob Bryan and his swinging lefty serve will not participate in the tie because his wife has recently given birth.  Captain Courier, who has coached a hell of a tie so far, has made the curious decision as to partner Ryan Harrison with Mike Bryan tomorrow against Federer and Wawrinka, who make for a rather striking doubles team, and one who has had past success.

In our minds, both Fish and Isner are proven commodities in the doubles, and Harrison is a bit of a risk.  We hate to coach Courier’s squad for him, but it might be a wiser call to let Isner pair with Mike Bryan, especially since Isner was able to get off the court in reasonable time today.  Ryan Harrison has never played in a meaningful Davis Cup match, and so we’d be a lot more comfortable with a proven serve and volley doubles guy in this spot tomorrow with a place in the next round on the line.

Though America leads 2-0 and we could not be happier, Davis Cup often turns on or is decided by the doubles, and our ace pair, the 19-3 DC lifetime Bryans, will not be competing whole.  Should the Swiss pair win tomorrow, we can easily see Federer topping Fish in the 4th rubber on Sunday.  In that case, the tie would be decided by Wawrinka-Isner.  In that head to head, Isner leads 2-1 and has won their only matchup on clay (Belgrade, 2010).

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

Alejandro Falla (above) looks to make his 2nd Aussie round of 32 right now.

Journeyman Alejandro Falla, currently world #71, has taken the first two sets from Mardy Fish, “the U.S. #1”, on court 3 in the 2nd round at Melbourne.  Falla, best known for going up two sets to zero on Roger Federer in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010, has played incredibly, converting on all 5 of his break chances, including a clutch break back a second ago as Fish was up 5-3, and trying to close out the 3rd set.  Falla has played big tennis and error free tennis, and he has been very clutch at the net, and has clearly dominated on big points.

This would be a disastrous loss for Fish.  The score is currently 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-6 (4-2).  The boys have been at it for 2 hours and 40 minutes so far.

Later on tonight, John Isner battles David Nalbandian, Donald Young takes on Luckas Lacko, and Sam Querrey goes against Bernard Tomic.  It’s a huge night for Americans, even if Fish loses.  We expect all the younger guys to represent themselves well.

Also, Christina McHale is struggling at the moment, having lost the first set and down an early break in the second to Marina Erakovic.

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

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