Matt Cronin


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)

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)

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)

Sloane Stephens (above), popping a serve off against Mathilda Johansson on Friday in an easy breezy victory.

While we understood Serena as the prohibitive pre-tournament favorite, we have said many times that clay is a different animal that always treats her differently.  We said that her M.O. at RG was that something always seems to go wrong.  Were we surprised at the loss to Razzano?  Absolutely.  Were we on it?  No.  Betting against Serena is a bad business, as we’ve said, and only further reinforced by her destruction of Azarenka in Madrid, and that little gambit we took with Vica.

Hopefully someone took our underdog philosophy and made some bank on Razzano.  Still, not an easy bit of business, down a set and 5-1 in the breaker before the tide turned.  How often does Serena choke one away?  Or lose R1 at a major?  Until Tuesday, the answers to both were never.  But then again, neither the partisan French crowd–in truth a pit of vipers–nor Chair Eva Asderaki, with whom Lady S has past history, were going to do her any favors.  On Asderaki: 1) That’s a tough over-rule.  I don’t like to criticize calls, as it’s bad form, and at RG, the Chairs do player a larger role than elsewhere because the stupid clay leaves stupid marks…and yet, there is simply no line call conflicts on any other surface and at the other majors, where they have gone to modern technology.  John McEnroe has said often enough that he feels he would have been far more successful with the current Hawkeye system because he expended so much energy fighting officials and that had such a negative impact on his game.  Anyone who remembers John John understands the point all too well.  Are the French cheap, stupid, or just stubborn?

Ding ding ding.  Anyway on to 2) Point penalties for “hinderance” on player audibles are never called, yet has now been called by 1 Chair in 2 different majors against Serena in the last calendar year.  Does Asderaki make that call against Azarenka and Sharapova, the tour’s loudest players?  No.  But then again, they haven’t called Asderaki a “hater” and a “terrible person.”  But then again, again, Asderaki’s 1st hinderance call in the US OPEN FINAL against Stosur was not prompted by unfortunate remarks.

The Chair has played way too big of a role in Serena’s most recent USO & RG losses.  The same Chair.  While we may stop short of calling Asderaki a racist on this page, we would have to agree with Serena’s assessment.  Also, we aren’t one of those types who scoffs at the notion of racism in tennis.  We also feel that Asderaki is obviously prejudiced against Serena, if not actually prejudice (although…)  In a virtually even match on points (Razzano won on total points by 5, 117-112), those 3 points essentially gifted to Razzano would have swung the total in favor of Serena by one.  Three points is practically a game, or half a breaker.  Frankly, the Chair should not play a determining role in ANY match, EVER.  If the Chair’s fairness is questioned, then it ruins the integrity of the game.

On to little Lauren Davis, who announced herself this week with a huge victory over very impressive German Mona Barthel.  We thought Barthel was set to turn heads here.  But Davis, on a foreign surface, abused Barthel.  Despite her loss to the American bulldog, Christina McHale in the next round, we are very pleased with her results, obviously coming into RG prepared for both the surface and the stage.  If Barthel hasn’t yet registered as a name, it’s only because ascent has been so meteoric.  That is a tremendous win.  Perhaps MJF is doing a better job with our young ones than we usually credit her for, having been awarded the Fed Cup post out of what we feel is blatant cronyism.  As for McHale, she may not be ready to take out Li Na, but we watched it closely, and also listened to RadioRG tell it in stretches.  We all thought that McHale scared Li very much with that strong, clean first set, and you can really see McHale winning a match like that next time around.  McHale seems to get as much torque on her forehand as any woman we’ve seen this week.  In short, Joy-zee was in da house.

John Isner, 2 years after setting the major match length record at SW-19 after his 70-68 5th set win over Mahut, now has the French Open record, this time losing to Paul Henri Matthieu 18-16 in the 5th.  This match has us considering if John McEnroe isn’t right about something else as well.  We were inclined to disagree with Johnny Mac, who has pushed for deciding 5th set breakers at all the majors.  We had felt that the extended 5th set format at the AO, RG, SW-19, and DC has a certain mystique and that the players who take part in those matches enhance the history of the game and their own names by playing in these most memorable matches.

But the epic Isner-Mahut affair did effectively scuttle the rest of both players’ 2010 seasons.  Mac talked about how the players have discussed job actions in order to pursue better prize money for lesser players and better protections.  He’s correct that the 5th set breaker would protect players health and ultimately their careers.  And the very personable Dimitry Tursunov underscored the travails of the lesser player in a phenomenal interview he gave to Matt Cronin and Matt Brown of RadioRG.  Tursunov discussed his gig as a pro tennis blogger and how fickle fans always threaten to unfollow him, and more serious stuff, like how expensive the tour is for lesser players like him, who God forbid, want to travel with a coach, a physio and even a girlfriend.  Tursunov candidly explained that in a city like Paris he can barely afford to do anything.  We loved Tursunov in this spot.  While Justin Gimelstob (who hit with Brian Baker prior to Baker’s win over Xavier Malisse and gave great insight as to the Baker story, an American who played in the RG Junior Final in 2003 and was injured the next year and then spent almost 8 years off the tour) is obviously our favorite TTC personality by a mile, we are considering throwing our support behind Tursunov as well, who would be a fine score for TTC.

After an easy R1, Isner spoke with Bill Macatee of TTC, and discussed how he really likes playing on the clay, because of the time it affords him and because the ball bounces up high, right into his strike zone.  We weren’t paying close enough attention, and missed on another upset.  Paul Henri Matthieu is perhaps the flattest hitting Frenchman there is, and goes very flat on both sides.  Even flatter, we feel, than Gilles Simon.  Isner got a bad matchup in that regard, and is not as good when he has to get down low to play balls.  But the central issue with Isner remains his inability to generate opportunities in the return game.  We talked a lot about how Kevin Anderson was such a bad matchup for him back in Delray, because Anderson holds serve easily.  How many times have we seen Isner play these matches where he can’t muster a break?  We know that Jim Courier has been coordinating his efforts with guys like Isner and Harrison, and their coaches.  Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, has done a great job getting this giant to play defense as he does, but the laterals are always going to be the question with a guy this big.  And now, in 3 recent majors (2012 AO, 2012 FO, 2010 SW-19), he has had to go to an extended fifth set, and all 3 times he faced unimpressive servers (Nalbandian, Mahut, Matthieu), or relatively unimpressive servers.

Isner has heart and smarts and weapons, but he has to do better in spots like these.  Matthieu in the 2nd round, on a collision course with Andy Murray, weak on clay in the quarters, then possibly Nadal, who he pushed to a 5th set here last year, Nadal’s only 5th set ever at RG.  That’s a bitter defeat.  But Wimbledon should also offer a wealth of opportunities for a guy who serves out of a tree top.

Then there’s Sloane Stephens.  Wow.  This is why we have been begging for her inclusion on the Fed Cup team.  She’s our best bet.  She’s not tiny like McHale, but she can defend like McHale, and her weapons are real.  Frankly, she has dominated this week, blowing out BMS and Johansson, and also straight setting Makarova, who was a big favorite.  We are going with her tomorrow against another SS, Sam Stosur.  We’ve gotten hot, pegging Varvara Lepchenko for good things throughout the week so far (another American), and today we had Granollers, Kanepi, and Rus.

Tomorrow it’s Sloane at +475.  As we see it, Stephens has the pace to target Stosur’s backhand and actually get the ball there.  If Stosur is allowed to run around every forehand, she wins.  She probably does enough to win here tomorrow, but she has been very wonky since winning the Open, and Sloane has the power and speed to show her up a little.  We do not see this line as being a realistic indicator of the scoreline.  We do not see the rock solid Stosur we saw two years ago here.

We’ll be happy to watch it all play out, provided NBC and ESPN and TTC can get the coverage straight, and we don’t have to watch a Spanish feed of the match off the internet (as we did today for Raonic-Monaco).  And hopefully Asderaki is chairing on another court, or better yet, no court at all.

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