Milos Raonic


168245563One handed heir apparent, Grigor Dimitrov (above), about to cut a deadly slice from beyond the tram line on Tuesday.

In October of 2012, world #1 Novak Djokovic came upon talented upstart Grigor Dimitrov in an early round match at Shanghai, on a liberal hardcourt (where Djokovic is hands down the best in the business, despite losing the 2012 USO final to Andy Murray), and made short work of the lad, then ranked around 50-something in the world.  It went to the king, 6-2, 6-3, over the squire, but the kid played better than the score line indicated.  As you may know, we’ve had Dimitrov marked as prime stock since his junior days, and whenever we are asked who will carry the mantel as the next great one hander, we say Grigor Dimitrov.  Even at 18 and 19 years old, rarely has the kid stepped on the court and not flashed the brilliant potential we associate with him.  Dimitrov is in a class of comers, with Milos Raonic (who made for one half of an interesting if unsuccessful doubles pairing here with Dimitrov this week, coincidentally) who you know we love, and Jerzy Janowicz, who has an electric game and a fluid serve motion reminiscent of the king of swing himself, Pete Sampras.  We’ve taken to Raonic and Janowicz because they play the game on their toes, and their countenance is aggressive.  But with Dimitrov’s arrival, we find it not only refreshing but proper and rightful to see a one hander compete at the highest level in this era, and one who we think is destined to win majors.  If Janowicz and Raonic and their big time serves are the new kings of swing, then we’d like to anoint Dimitrov as the new king on the backhand wing.  His Tuesday tussle with Novak Djokovic would be an excellent barometer of the kid’s flat out superb skills on that wing, as Djokovic has the best backhand in the sport, but could not take Dimitrov in BH to BH rallies–  on clay–which is extremely notable, since the higher bounces favor 2-handers.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/skistar-mercedes-cup-semi-finals-odds-analysis/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/one-handers-figure-prominently-in-day-2-legg-mason-young-americans-looking-good/

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https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/grigor-dimitrov-rises-in-the-mens-game/

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

We thought that Djokovic was far more impressive off the forehand side, and dictated play much better with the forehand, which has improved so much, along with his heart and grit, as he has ascended into the stratosphere with his game.  Good news for Dimitrov, especially since he does not have an imposing forehand.  That wing will need to improve dramatically in order for him to one day claim the top spot, which we think he is destined to do.  As for the grit and heart, he already has it.  Despite serious cramping, Dimitrov bucked up late in the 2nd set on Tuesday, and found his way to match point, though he had a 10 or so minute stretch during which he could barely move.  We must also note that Djokovic was more or less good to go, after 2 weeks of rest that followed his spanking of Rafael Nadal at the MMC, handing the Spaniard what was only his 3rd loss ever on French clay (counting MMC and Roland Garros).  We had our own questions about Djokovic’s ankle going into the MMC, but after his fine form and 2 weeks recovery, there are zero questions that still persist.  Now if Djokovic, the former king of quit, and by our count, the only top player to retire at 3 of the 4 majors, could learn to turn that weakness into a strength, then so too can Dimitrov with the forehand, which, after all, is a tennis shot.

Especially in the case of a Dimitrov, as we do not really usually assume improvement, and when we do, we don’t do it lightly.  We never assumed James Blake was going to have his big break through, and we even knew he’d still lose that match to Agassi in the QF’s at the USO in 2005 when he was up 2 sets and on fire.  Good thing we didn’t assume greatness for Blake, because if we had, we’d still be waiting. Dimitrov however is a rare breed.  This no Bernard Tomic.  This kid gets up to play matches, comes with a plan, and believes he can win.  Even if the plan seems rather lacking in sense, like going backhand to backhand with Djokovic on slow dirt.  Or believing he could play with Rafael Nadal, as an 18 yr old at AMRO in Rotterdam, and playing him closely in a  7-5, 3-6, 6-3 loss in which he was not afraid to go after Nadal’s (who was then #1) forehand, which most players are terrified to do.

On that note, we have a bone to pick with Milos Raonic, who repeatedly approached the Nadal backhand at the MMC and got burned, winning 3 of the 1st 4 games and then losing 11 of the last 12.  We aren’t gonna say Raonic’s development has stalled or taken a hit, as talent needs to develop and breathe and can not usually be measured strictly week to week.  That’s why we are measuring these 2 against top talent instead.  Raonic’s gameplan was flawed, and we felt, lazy.  A Spanish team (Raonic coach Galo Blanco who we usually have high praise for) should understand that tall players that go after Nadal’s forehand, in rallies or on the approach, are having success, since they deal well with the high strike zone and have the power to do something with his topspin, whereas giving Nadal a target on the backhand, which he can direct with the top hand, is really the only backhand he hits for winners–passing shots.  To that end, Raonic also quit on that match, and had we paid to see it, we’d have been very angry.  The listless play bordered on lack of sportsmanship.  By the way, Raonic was abysmal on 2nd serve that day, which we also could not understand so well, since Raonic gets so much action on his 2nd ball and since Nadal returns serve from so well beyond the BL.

By that measure, Dimitrov took Nadal to 3 sets at the MMC, was in every point, was unafraid, and had a real shot to win at 4 all in the 3rd.  Theoretically it is the Raonic type matchup that Nadal recoils from and the Federer type matchup he embraces.  But Dimitrov is a much better player than Raonic right now, despite Raonic’s ranking and wealth of weaponry.  That Raonic can’t get near executing an Isner type strategy against Nadal is perplexing.  That Dimitrov can execute the Federer type strategy against Rafa (which not even Roger can do) is enormously encouraging.  Dimitrov has a real it factor, and moments do not intimidate him, nor do shots or reputations.  Why does Dimitrov’s backhand hold up so well?  We see him as an extremely early ball striker, reminiscent of Blake in that regard, but far better at it on clay, probably closer to an early to mid prime Gustavo Kuerten, or as we ponder it, perhaps even Ivan Lendl, though Lendl was a forehand player.  Dimitrov also shows a lot of patience in backhand exchanges, and relishes them, unlike Federer, save for a few times in his career, like against Davydenko in Melbourne in 2010.  Dimitrov seems to have tremendous bite on his slice, which stayed out of Djokovic’s strike zone even on clay.  Anyone watching closely enough might have noticed that in Federer’s last two major victories over Djokovic, in 2011 at Roland Garros and last year at Wimbledon, that slice played a major factor.  As far as Dimitrov, he understands when to go to the safe, deep cross corner topspin backhand, coming way over top of the ball, and then, at 2-1 and 30 all in the 3rd on Tuesday, he zaps the backhand down the line after he had pinned Djokovic into the opposite corner.  Bravo.  And this is after GD nearly pulls out that tie-breaker while cramping, and loses it, which would have broken many a player, young, veteran, top ten, etc.  It was the best point we’ve seen all year.  Mark it down, and do not discount the pressure of the moment, as if he misses there, he is down a BP to the greatest returner in the game and his odds of winning reduce dramatically.  Because giving that break back right there after the game he put together to earn it in the first place gives Djokovic whatever he needs, as even at 2-2 that match is probably over.  Djokovic is just that good.  Check out the play of this kid, especially on the backhand side, in this clip below:

We totally agree with the call, “this is magnificent!”, which comes at 11:29 of the video when Dimitrov hits the particular down the line backhand that we already described above.

Now if you still are over there questioning Dimitrov’s ability to improve, just consider how strong his serve has become.  Djokovic, for our money, is by far the best returner in the game.  Dimitrov aced him 13 times on slow clay, and held his nerve on several critical 2nd balls placed deep in the box, a skill that Milos Raonic has lost track of.  Dimitrov won 63% of all his service points, 52% on 2nds, and saved 10/12 BP’s.  If his serve can get to that level on clay, then his forehand can go a lot farther, as top dogs like Djokovic’s and Azarenka’s has.  Elite class players are always developing their game (recall Federer adding the forehand dropper), and right now Dimitrov is pre-prime, though still poised to move from #28 into the top twenty with nice showings in the coming weeks, already up more than 20 spots now than where he was at the end of 2012.  Dimitrov should also expect his best results come the fast court legs of the tour on grass and American hards (as a junior, Dimitrov won Junior Wimbledon, the Junior USO, and the Orange Bowl).

The obvious comparisons, from hairstyle to sponsor to the one handed backhand is Roger Federer, and that they were both coached at the junior level by Peter Lundgren doesn’t diminish the comparisons, though Dimitrov seems to learn from all his coaches, which have also included Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou and current coach Michael Tillstrom.  We think the Federer comparison weak stylistically if not substantively.  Federer is a forehand player and Dimitrov is a backhand player.  Dimitrov does not manipulate backhands into inside out forehands.  He doesn’t have to.  But we think he will be able to in time.  When he does, look out.  This kid is marked for greatness the same way Roger was, which might be their greatest commonality.  That, and his ability to put points together, which might even be a stronger skill set than Roger’s, especially pre-prime, have us very high on one handed tennis again, which as any purist understands, is the most dynamic and talent affirming style there is, and which is noticeably absent from the game these days due to the game’s over-homogenization at the hands of safe baseliners, safe baseline coaching, clay, slow hardcourts, and thick grass.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/australia-plexicushion-bad-for-tennis-the-state-of-one-handers-and-the-game/

If you’re wondering about Djokovic going out so early at a Masters Level tourny, recall that Querrey got him at the Paris Indoor, which there was no shame in, considering that Djokovic rebounded by claiming his 2nd career Year End Championship title.  The last time it happened at a Masters Level tourny on clay?  Date back to 2006 when Federer took out a very green Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo.  Speaking of dating…

Unknown-1Yes, that is Dimitrov with “serious girlfriend” and career slam champion Maria Sharapova.

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

Vasek-Pospisil-and-Milos-Raonic-of-Canada-pose-for-photographers-with-Novak-Djokovic-and-Rafa-Nadal-rafael-nadal-14620911-1024-768An old shot of the main man, Novak Djokovic (still in Tacchini), with Canadians Vasek Pospisil (l.) and Milos Raonic (still with Lacoste)–future main man–and former King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

Anybody catch the beat down Rafael Nadal caught at the hands of the real king, Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo on Sunday?  Good of Nole to give Rafa a sorry little game in that first set, wethinks, prior to taking the 2nd set breaker with ease, on his way to his first ever Rolex MMC shield, and doling out Rafa’s first loss there since Guillermo Coria got him in 2003.  Now we had our concerns about Djokovic.  Not about his tennis, and not about dirt, but rather, about the ankle, which he seemed to roll very badly against Sam Q in DC, but of course, not badly enough.  For Querrey.  Or Nadal.

Such a treat to see a guy mature mentally from quitter to hitter, which is what Djokovic has done.  Bravo.  And like a smart athlete, this week he rests.  Then there’s Nadal.  Couldn’t play for so so long, and now, he’s back to playing more meaningless 500’s, and one sandwiched between the MMC and the Italian Championships.  Can’t teach a dumb dog…um, old dog, sorry, new tricks.  Since Nadal jumped back to the scene, it would seem he has played more matches than anyone else in the game, and almost leads the game in match play, despite missing the Aussie swing.  Interesting indeed.  But not curious.

Anyways, that he plays this week has given us a matchup to salivate over, which is as much must see TV as you get at the 500 level on red clay.  Versus Canadian ball crusher and serve machine Milos Raonic.  Odds here:

BARCELONA OPEN BANC SABADELL (Barcelona, Spain) — 2nd Semi-Final

Milos Raonic:  + 800

Rafael Nadal:  – 1500

…..

Nadal leads the h2h 2 love and Raonic has yet to take a set.  But but but.  I think a lot of people (or maybe it’s just Patrick Edwards, LOL, can’t say as too many people other than our good friend PE actually care) may confuse our picks for who we think is going to win, when what we are doing is discussing good bets.  Like in Miami, we told you that Murray was a bad bet against Ferrer, and if you had plunked down 400 units to win 100 on Murray, you must have been dying at match point Ferrer, no?

Murray is a pick em over Ferrer, even on hards where Murray makes his home base.  This isn’t football.  Murray is not good enough to give a touchdown, or rather, in football terms, 8.5 points to Ferrer.  Nadal is a bad bet today by those terms.  And he’ll probably win, but would you like to lay 100 units to win 6.67 units?  That is just insane.  Then there’s the matter of Raonic being a lot better on clay than people think, the bit about him having Spaniard clay court specialist Galo Blanco as his coach, and that his home base is also the dirt yards of Spain.  Raonic is 6’6.  He can dunk basketballs like JR Smith at TD Gardens!!!  High bounces do not bother him, which are Nadal’s bread and butter.

We’d take a flyer on Raonic here, laying 100 units to recoup 900 should the wunderkind come through.  Now if only the rain stops so we can see the show.

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

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)

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A couple of years back during the US Open, Roger Federer, sitting for a panel interview, on one of those nights where the tennis ended way too early, found himself basically in the midst of an “Ask Roger” sort of segment, as ESPN prayed for time.  One of the questions that came was who he liked to watch play.  I guess Roger wasn’t in the mood to compliment any of his fellow men, which reminded me once of an interview I saw where Notrious B.I.G. was asked which rappers he listened to.  “Slow Jams” was all he’d say.  Roger had said that he liked watching Svetlana Kuznetsova play tennis.  The panel was somewhat surprised.  When they pushed him for more, the great man said, “she knows when to hit her shots and hits the right shots at the right time.”  Later on in that event, Federer’s comments were repeated to Kuznetsova.  The lady was in shock.  Not a mild shock either.

Earlier, while the AFC Championship was played (so sorry New England!), and as the Rangers were getting killed, we were spying tennis scores, and saw that Wozniacki and the Federer favorite, Kuznetsova, were going to a deciding third set.  Obviously Wozniacki has a conditioning advantage over Kuznetsova, who has never been mistaken for a hard body, and the slow Plexicushion also favors Wozniacki a bit, even if it is a bit more quick this year because in deference to copious player complaints, Laver Arena was not repaved, and as you may or may not know, the older a court, the faster it plays.  Why is that, you ask?  Because as a surface loses its jump, the ball bounces lower, and low bouncing balls skid nicely through the court.  Doug Adler, perhaps our most favorite announcer, at least this fortknight anyway, since we keep missing Justin Gimelstob, talked very candidly of the court on Saturday night during Gasquet-Dodig, of how the outer courts were not repaved or else, were not repaved with any grit in the top layer, which also reduces the friction on the ball, causing it to move quicker.  And Adler also said that in some places, they have still not been able to get up the old Rebound Ace, and that those spots are essentially more dead, causing for quicker points.  Leave it to Tennis Australia to better the game via its own inefficiencies for irony.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/australia-plexicushion-bad-for-tennis-the-state-of-one-handers-and-the-game/

Sam Querrey had said earlier in the week that these courts this year were the fastest hard courts he’d played on in “a long time.”  Federer had said that in his estimation, the courts are playing at least 10% faster.  We’d have to say we’ve noticed.  Many big servers and hard hitters have been able to out muscle their opposition, namely Maria Sharapova, never confused for a finesse player, and as Adler said, where and when have we seen Serena hit her top serve bracket (129-131 MPH) with such regularity.  Now we’d be rooting against Wozniacki no matter what, but considering all there was to consider, we wish we’d have bet Kuznetsova, who we were certain was going to come out on top in that 3rd set on Laver.  Unfortunately for us, we missed the post time to wager.  And also unfortunate was that the 3rd set went 75 minutes, and the coverage went from the very dignified team of Bill Macatee and Martina Navratilova to the ESPN team of Patrick McEnroe and Chris Evert, as at 9 PM EST, TTC loses their right to cover matches, and at that time, the deuce gains theirs.

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At a few minutes to 9, on a brilliant play by Kuznetsova, who does know when to hit what shots when, she pulled Wozniacki way out wide, forced a hand off of her racquet, and came forward to knock off an easy forehand volley.  Perfect tennis.  At that stage, the match was about 90 minutes long, and the graphic flashed that Wozniacki had only 4 winners on the forehand side.  Navratilova, who also respects Kuznetsova a great deal, and not so much Wozniacki, called the Dutch Miss’s situation “the same old story”.  How right she is.  Wozniacki, like ESPN2 on a US Open short night, just prays for time.  Kuznetsova closed that game out on the next point, seeing that the Dutch Miss was a good 2 meters beyond the baseline, by drop shotting, forcing Wozniacki to scramble forward, and then coming up with the easy pass.  These type of plays make up the play book against Wozniacki, who hates coming in, and who hates taking her hand of the racquet on the backhand side.  Navratilova has some very interesting perspective on Kuzentsova’s game, a pleasure to hear her share really.  As Martina tells it, when Kuznetsova was very little, her parents, at some event where Martina was, asked the star if she could take a look at the young girl, and tell them what she thought of her game.  Martina liked her so much, that they would play doubles together when SK was a young teen.

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And then we switched off the tennis to catch Bernard Pollard rock Stevan Ridley’s world and sink the hopes of Patriot nation, and when we came back to the tennis, TTC was done, and we had to deal with PMac and Evert, who spoke not a word of Kuznetsova, practically, while they gushed for Wozniacki, predictably, who they kept calling “gutsy” and “a fighter.”  And, who is a loser.  At one point, we nearly had to throw up, when on an important second serve which Kuznetsova needed, she went to an 82 MPH kicker, got it out wide, and when the next ball came back mid court, Kuznetsova jacked an opposite corner forehand, and then approached, and hit a very nice half volley forehand winner, Evert exclaimed, “Kuznetsova took a chance right there.”  Um yeah.  It does often work for players with talent, Chris.  We long for the days when Evert was out of vogue, shuttered up in Florida with The Shark.

The match came down to that very atittude in essence.  Kuznetsova made 23 of 25 net points, while Wozniacki made 8 of 19, and “Koozie”, as Martina affectionately refers to her, hit 52 winners to the Dutch Miss’s 21, and Wozniacki has now stretched her run of futility all the further, despite being a terrific fighter, but as we know in tennis, it’s tough to fight with pop guns.

Set your Tivo for tonight at 3 AM EST to see some real attack tennis, when Raonic gets his latest crack at Roger, who he has yet to beat in 3 tries, but the matches have been really close.  Each of the 3 Fed wins were best of threes in which Federer has narrowly won in 3, and they have already played 4 tie breakers.  We see it as being a very tight match for both guys, though Federer is moving like early prime Federer right now, and frankly never ceases to amaze.  Too bad we have to ride out the rest of this tournament without the great announcers on the mix channels, as ESPN moves into exclusive coverage this week.  Hopefully they won’t show a poor women’s match during Federer-Raonic like they did with Fed-Davydenko, especially compelling because of the stunning turn around in their last meeting in Melbourne, when Fed took a bathroom break and then won 14 game straight.  And, hopefully they will not show a loop of Raonic-Federer after the match ends, instead of live tennis, like an advantage set between Monfils and Simon.

http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/more_sports/serve_folly_ag1qJ0EFyLUiptQgdzJUoN

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

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

Men’s

Alexandr Dolgopolov

+15000

 

Andy Murray

+250

 

Bernard Tomic

+5000

 

David Ferrer

+2500

 

David Nalbandian

+25000

 

Fernando Verdasco

+20000

 

Gael Monfils

+15000

 

Gilles Simon

+25000

 

Janko Tipsarevic

+15000

 

Jerzy Janowicz

+6000

 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

+3000

 

Juan Martin Del Potro

+1200

 

Kei Nishikori

+10000

 

Kevin Anderson

+50000

 

Lleyton Hewitt

+50000

 

Marcos Baghdatis

+10000

 

Marin Cilic

+15000

 

Milos Raonic

+5000

 

Nicolas Almagro

+25000

 

Novak Djokovic

-160

 

Richard Gasquet

+10000

 

Roger Federer

+400

 

Ryan Harrison

+25000

 

Sam Querrey

+25000

 

Stanislas Wawrinka

+25000

 

Tomas Berdych

+3000

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Ladies’

Agnieszka Radwanska

+1000

 

Ana Ivanovic

+6000

 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

+10000

 

Andrea Petkovic

+10000

 

Angelique Kerber

+2000

 

Caroline Wozniacki

+3000

 

Daniela Hantuchova

+20000

 

Francesca Schiavone

+25000

 

Jelena Jankovic

+12500

 

Julia Goerges

+15000

 

Kaia Kanepi

+10000

 

Laura Robson

+8000

 

Maria Kirilenko

+15000

 

Maria Sharapova

+700

 

Marion Bartoli

+6000

 

Mona Barthel

+10000

 

Na Li

+2000

 

Nadia Petrova

+15000

 

Petra Kvitova

+1000

 

Sabine Lisicki

+6000

 

Samantha Stosur

+2500

 

Sara Errani

+12500

 

Serena Williams

-120

 

Shuai Peng

+25000

 

Sloane Stephens

+15000

 

Svetlana Kuznetsova

+15000

 

Venus Williams

+5000

 

Victoria Azarenka

+300

 

Yanina Wickmayer

+50000

……….

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)

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