Martina Navratilova


imagesJustin Gimelstob (above, r.), who went big time, with sickening Jay Leno.

We did not think Rafael Nadal played very well in his much ballyhooed return to the tour on South American clay, as we watched him labor to beat Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-3 in a mid round match.  The score line may suggest relative ease, but that wasn’t the case.  The match took 1:31, a long time for a match to go in which you only drop 5 games, and Chardy had plenty of chances to make it even closer.  The rallies were long–too long for Nadal who is still out of shape–and Nadal drifted well beyond the baseline, practically playing many strokes with his back against the back wall.  And then there was the stalling.  Nadal was called, given warnings, for not serving within the allotted 25 seconds, which frankly, is always there when Nadal plays but seldom called.

A lot is being made over Nadal’s win in the final last weekend in Brazil over David Nalbandian, but one day before, Nadal was mere points away from being eliminated, down a set and fighting for his life in the second set breaker.  And that was against world # 91, poor man’s journeyman Martin Alund, who is now 27 and has zero titles in zero finals made.  We’d say that Nadal does not look good here in this return, and that had he returned for the Australian Open, he would have probably had a bad showing.

We were all over Justin Gimelstob that week on Twitter in the first week of Nadal’s return in Chile at Vina Del Mar, with good reason.  Gimelstob, a Nadal sycophant, seemed to have a list of Nadal talking points he wanted out there, which we have no doubt came from the star himself.  Like how Gimelstob urged that the chair use discretion when calling the time code, and how people were wrong to assume Nadal was stalling because of his knees when he routinely abuses the code as ritual, because Nadal likes to, as he explained, ‘really think through strategy between points.’

Really?  Because a guy that misses 7 plus months due to injury and who has chronic knee problems which have kept him out of 3 majors since 2009, would really raise the ire of an announcer when it is suggested that he stalls because the guy is lame?  By the way, we find Nadal’s one more ball back/heavy topspin forehand to backhand strategy completely simplistic and elemental, and the suggestion that Nadal is doing all of this thinking is insulting to us as real fans.  Especially when we feel that enforcing the time code is an important step that the chair has made collectively to improve the game.  Really, who in the game does not enforcing the code help other than Nadal?

Then you had Gimelstob state that Nadal is “one of the best doubles players in the game”, which, when considering the disservice that playing doubles at IW did to his career to follow, and how Gimelstob lauded Nadal for winning there, conveniently omitting the fact that Nadal has not even set foot on a hardcourt since, is questionable at best.  Nadal is a very talented doubles player, and we’ll not argue that.  But doubles has decimated Nadal, as has Plexicushion, and for everyone to pretend this is not the case for the sake of a constant Nadal love fest is disgraceful.  As is Nadal for missing a major in order to practice on clay instead, though if again, he is shaky on clay, it does not bode well for the rest of his game.  It’s nice that Nadal, at the age of 25, has finally figured out that Plexicushion is ruining him, but to say he’s needed a brick to fall on his head in order to realize as much would seem totally accurate.  It would also be nice if a high profile commentator like Gimelstob, who was himself an attacker, would acknowledge that Nadal’s constant grinding, inability to hit winners consistently, and necessity for long points has been essentially Nadal both living and dying by the same sword.  This is where we feel Gimelstob, who burst on the scene as a big time commentator due to his honesty and unabashed enthusiasm for the sport, has taken a back seat in recent months to announcers like legends John McEnroe, Boris Becker, and Jim Courier, who we thought for a while he was set to surpass.  What Gimelstob should have said was that Nadal’s doubles prowess has come at the expense of his singles career, because his job is to do more than throw out hollow platitudes, by offering more substantial commentary to the hardcore fans who are watching match to match on The Tennis Channel.  Because what match in, match out fans of the game are really sitting there marveling at Nadal’s doubles ability in the wake of him missing the entire US Open, Indoor, and Australian seasons, when the guy has zero doubles majors to his credit?  What a John McEnroe does in providing meaningful commentary is to point out that Nadal’s excellent hands at net, which he seldom showcases in singles, could be a boost to his longevity and might serve to prevent him from breaking down so much if he could find a way to be more intrepid.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/aussie-open-round-of-16s-kuznetsova-upsets-wozniacki-on-laver-federer-raonic-tonight/

But therein lies the rub with Gimelstob, who, we assume in his role as an official ATP guy, is looking to divorce himself from controversial, i.e. honest stances.  Guys like Nadal and Murray, who are talented net players, but who only approach net a handful of times per match have essentially rendered that skill moot by way of ignorance, and so wouldn’t it be more relevant for him to talk about why these guys would squander such ability due to under use?  Instead, we hear Gimelstob pushing Nadal’s agenda, which is to suggest the YEC be played on clay, rather than questioning Murray’s lack of initiative, we hear him talking all about Murray’s new apartment in London.

A guy like Boris Becker, who shoots straight as an arrow, has even been heard to criticize the great Roger Federer.  Martina Navratilova, as solid in the booth as they come, has panned players like Murray and Wozniacki, labeling their failures and the correlation to passive play as “the same old story.” She has labeled Nadal’s injury woes as “the same old story.”  These announcers have done something serious by denouncing the style of play, and in Nadal’s case, have connected the style of play with the physical toll, which Gimelstob disservices us by failing to admit exists.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/australia-plexicushion-bad-for-tennis-the-state-of-one-handers-and-the-game/
https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/as-1-wozniacki-is-done-see-camel-toe-shot/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/all-england-club-forced-to-seed-undeserving-wozniacki-first-upskirt-shot/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/unworthy-wozniacki-destroyed-roger-looking-smashing-at-roland-garros-see-vegas-odds/

Gimelstob doesn’t have the star power that they do, making honesty all the more precious a commodity for him, though he has definitely lost it along the way somewhere.  In fact, upon reflection, we’re happy that we were not subjected to this type of hack announcing from Gimelstob, who was noticeably absent from the AO ESPN mix channels coverage.

So Nadal plays perhaps his worst match on clay ever in that final and loses in a 3rd set breaker to Horacio Zeballos, then around world #73, and it is obvious to any true fan of the game that this is not the same indestructible clay court Nadal we have come to expect.  Gimelstob essentially tiptoed around the issue, another real disservice, we thought, to the tennis world.  As it would be to play the YEC indoors on clay, as indoor clay is the height of tacky, the most bush league a move there is, reserved for clay court specialist team tennis nations and the Porsche Cup at Stuttgart, which is a high quality surface in exactly zero arenas, and in most cases, is just clay heaped carelessly atop a hard wood, like the surface upon which John Isner, who we don’t see ever beating Roger Federer on an outdoor clay court, upset Roger Federer in Fribourg in February of 2012.  And frankly, we recall Federer’s back tightening up in that match, which we attributed to traction issues.

The next week, Nadal is set to play doubles with Nalbandian, and withdraws due to “knee overuse.”  The finals loss and the subsequent doubles withdrawal, coupled with the fact that playing doubles helped put Nadal in this predicament in the first place, was a huge tennis story, and we commend honest reporting like Matt Cronin’s, who was all over the withdrawal, calling it one of the strangest bits of phraseology he could ever remember regarding injury/non injury propaganda.  But then Nadal goes on to win Brazil despite the showing against Alund, which now seems a non a issue.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/down-under-poor-conditions-see-players-drop-like-flies-see-radwanska-survival-press-conference-video/

Today the story broke on Twitter regarding Nadal skipping Indian Wells, which Nadal already refuted, since putting out a statement through his camp that he ‘intends to play.’  Nadal has not played on hardcourts since IW in 2012, and at this point in the season he is usually playing on hards, but obviously this year he has played exclusively on clay.  If he missed a major where he was a defending finalist, why would he risk playing at IW in the Masters Series, with relatively little at stake besides points?

We think Nadal is playing coy when he says he ‘intends to play.’  We think he said he intended to play Melbourne, and how’d that turn out?  It seems to us that Nadal is trying to pull it together to play the soft court season only, and that like last season, he will barely keep it together through Wimbledon.

What would Gimelstob think of that?  We think we know already,though we don’t expect him to tell the truth.  We think Gimelsob is, at this point, resigned to seeing Nadal on a limited basis, and that he feels a little Rafa is better than none, which is probably why he has been on the shill for a clay court YEC.  One thing you can’t fault Gimelstob for is wanting Nadal back at a high level, as it is good for the sport, which is why we are always outraged when players who can go skip majors, as we do not think that is good for the sport or show’s the proper respect to the majors that they deserve.  Instead of getting together with Nadal to disseminate propaganda, Gimelstob and Nadal should deliver the bad word about Plexicushion and other soft hards, which beat the hell out of the players worse than anything, while promoting bland, timid, reaction tennis and one dimensional defensive style tennis.  Since Roger Federer has already announced that he will skip Key Biscayne and it’s tacky, bland, frustrating Defense Pro soft hardcourt, which frankly, we feel plays worse than fucking Lenglen and Philippe Chatrier.

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

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.

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

Roger Federer’s beautiful one hand backhand (above).

“You don’t have that room for movement with the 2-hander that you do with the one hand.”–Martina Navratilova

–Crack

World # 21, Russian Vera Zvonareva has a tall order tomorrow in her first ever major final, as she is set to take on # 1 seed and defending champion, Serena Williams, who is yet to drop a set in this fortknight at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

While Zvonareva’s road to the final has been impressive and included wins over US Open Champion Kim Clijsters and world # 3 Jelena Jankovic, albeit a very banged up Jankovic (is there any other kind?), the 2009 Australian Open semi-finalist (she lost to eventual final’s loser, Dinara Safina, 7-6, 6-3), will be hardpressed to keep her Cinderella run alive tomorrow against Serena, who is 12-3 in major finals, and who has only lost to two women in those finals: her sister Venus, and Maria Sharapova.

Zvonareva’s perserverance must be lauded.  She got out to bad starts in both the quarter and semi-final rounds, dropping the first set in Tuesday’s quarters to Kim Clijsters before pulling the upset, and in Thursday’s semis, when she lost the first set to Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, before Pironkova seemed like she started letting nerves creep in during the 2nd set.  But Zvonareva, a great touch player, won 29/35 points at net in a close match that she came out on top in, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in which only 9 points separated the two players.

Zvonareva’s road to the final:

1st round: 6-4, 6-1 over Nuria Llagostera Vives

2nd round: 6-1, 6-4 over Andrea Hlavackova

3rd round: 6-4, 6-2 over (15) Yanina Wickmayer

4th round: 6-1, 3-0 over (4) Jelena Jankovic

Quarter-finals: 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 over (8) Kim Clijsters

Semi-finals: 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 over Tsvetana Pironkova

Zvonareva’s road gets much tougher come 9 AM EST, Saturday, NBC.  Serena Williams, currently tied for 6th all time with Billie Jean King with 12 major singles titles, can move up that list by securing her fourth Wimbledon singles title, can also tie King’s 4 Wimbledon crowns in the open era, can pass Chris Evert with whom she is tied at 3 Wimbledon titles, and a victory would put her in a tie for 4th in the open era for most Wimbledon titles behind Martina Navratilova (9), Steffi Graf (7), Venus Williams (5), and King (4).  Billie Jean King has won 6 singles titles at Wimbledon, 2 coming prior to the open era.

Serena will look to take the crown behind her incredible serve, called by many, including yours truly, the best serve in the game, and perhaps the best shot ever in the women’s game.  Williams has 80 aces to lead the tournament, and in 2nd is Venus with only 30 aces (through 5 matches).

Unlike Paris, I don’t see a Cinderella story playing out against a top 5 player, all time, and by far, the best player in the game tomorrow.  Zvonareva could play almost perfect tennis and still lose.  Maybe that’s just me being patriotic on 4th of July weekend.

Serena leads in the head to head 5 to 1, and her only loss to Zvonareva came in Cincinnati in 2006 on hard courts.

GO U-S-A!!!!

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

John McEnroe (above), who will call matches tomorrow, and play one at the French Open.

Court Philippe Chatrier

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(1) Serena Williams vs (7) Sam Stosur

We are biased here, but we’d be surprised if Serena didn’t play through.  Stosur, who defeated Justine Henin in the RO16, just isn’t the same class of player as Serena.  Sam would have to play great and Serena poorly, for her to have a shot.  Sure, we saw a number one seed go down today, but to a guy like Soderling who has tons of weapons. Stosur, a safe player who runs around the forehand a lot, is going to have trouble finding the time to do so against Serena, if Lady S is herself.

(19) Nicolas Almagro vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Nadal may be more upset that Soderling won than that Federer lost.  But in his quarter, he draws a talented one hander and avid clay courter, but one who has shown a lot of quit in matches against Nadal on clay.  That said, Almagro managed to take a set from Nadal in Madrid, but is 0-6 lifetime versus Rafa.

Court Suzanne Lenglen

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(4) Jelena Jankovic vs. (36) Yaroslava Shvedova

We don’t like Jankovic at all usually, but this is a total mismatch in her favor.  Jankovic should be very tough in this match, but Shvedova could have a shot, depending on Jankovic’s inconsistent first serve and poor second serve.  This is the type of match that Jankovic can serve poorly in and win though.  And we don’t know enough about Shvedova to pick her in a match of this magnitude.

(3) Novak Djokovic vs. (22) Jurgen Melzer

Lenglen should be a Serbian sweep tomorrow.  Melzer hits the big time tomorrow and goes home happy, having made his first major final.

Other notable matches

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Legends Doubles Over 45

John McEnroe/Andres Gomez vs. Pat Cash/Mikael Pernfors

Women’s Doubles

(1) Venus/Serena vs. (3) Black/Medina Garrigues

Interesting matchup especially since Cara Black and Lizel Huber were a pretty unstoppable doubles team and world # 1’s until the Williams sisters returned to major doubles.  The rumor is that constant losing to the Williams’ broke up that team. 

Legends Women

Martina Navratilova/Jana Novotna vs. Mary Joe Fernandez/Conchita Martinez

Legends Men’s Under 45

Goran Ivanisevic/Michael Stich vs. Thomas Muster/Mark Woodforde

Enjoy old timer’s day at Roland Garros because there doesn’t figure to be the hottest competition in the men’s and women’s quarter-final matches.

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

Navratilova, 53, said she initially wanted to keep her diagnosis quiet, but decided she could help others by going public. She will do a Web chat Thursday in her role as the AARP’s Health and Fitness Ambassador, when she hopes not only to teach participants but to learn from them.

http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/news/story?id=5063033

I am very upset at having just learned that Martina Navratilova has breast cancer.  Above, Martina is pictured in black and white with Chris Evert, her long time rival and partner in growing the women’s game to epic proportions.  Navratilova told Good Morning America that receiving the diagnosis was her ‘personal 9/11.’  Magnanimously, Navratilova, who has always been a social icon for the honesty with which she has lived, chose to go public about her condition, proving her good form once again.

Here, Navratilova displays that form on the tennis court with a well placed backhand volley.  That’s what always struck me about Navratilova–the way she played.  She may not have had Tracey Austin’s pig tails or Chrissy’s classic good looks, but Martina played the game the right way, as she is pictured doing so above: at the net, and always moving forward.  Navratilova won a record 9 singles championships at Wimbledon, between 1978 and 1990.  She has won 18 singles major titles, which also include 4 US Open titles, 3 French Open titles, and 2 Australian titles, despite not travelling to Australia in the prime of her career.

In total, Navratilova has won 167 singles titles–a record for both the women and the men.  As a doubles player, she has had even more success, playing the net flawlessly until she was about 50 years old.  Below is a picture of Navratilova, paying the ultimate respect to the scene of her greatest accomplishments, and taking a hand full of dirt from Wimbledon’s centre court, in her last single’s match there.

Then, she went on to play on that court for about another decade plus in women’s doubles and mixed doubles competition.  I get the feeling, just like with her assumed exit from centre court, that she isn’t really going anywhere.  Martina also told Good Morning America that she is ‘fine’ and that she ‘will make a full recovery.’

Indeed she will.

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