Mirka


Current back to back Rogers Cup champion and pride of Britain, Andy Murray (above).

Last weekend, amid a semi-raucous bachelor party, your loyal scribe still made time for some definite appointment television: Saturday evening from Toronto, it was the 15th career meeting between the legend and the lame–Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and then Sunday at 3 PM, after Roger had taken care of his business from the night before, it was the Australian Open rematch from this year, in a best of 3 set format live from Toronto between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

That major final–and that major in its entirety for that matter–was the last time we saw Federer move with the surgical precision of a highly artistic grim reaper, completely dusting Nikolay Davydenko in a quarter-final matchup in which Federer won an incredible 14 straight games, after dropping the first set, a winning run that stretched on into a 2nd hour.

Roger then held a clinic in the semi-finals, abusing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, and going deep into the bag of tricks while doing so, pulling out the lob volley and the drop shot serve return, on his way to a date in the finals with Andy Murray and an inevitable 16th major championship and 4th Australian title, jumping on Murray early in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) straight set whipping that left Murray in tears.  You remember Murray’s classic loser’s speech (below) in which he declared that he “can cry like Roger, I just can’t play like him.”

Murray, who we are intensely critical of here in this space (we don’t like players who wait around for errors; we like players who take the initiative), suffered a heart breaking 4 set loss with the weight of the British Isles on his shoulders in the semi-finals of Wimbledon 09 to American Andy Roddick, then made a big deal of telling the world that there was too much pressure on him at Wimbledon, and that he’d train harder than ever for the major where he felt he had the best chance, the quick hardcourts of Flushing.  Several weeks of interviews and ESPN commercials later that showed Andy Murray doing situps with a medicine ball and training in the hot Miami sun–and talking about how great he is–and then Murray posts a big win over arch rival Juan Martin Del Potro in Montreal, and the next thing you know, this kid is telling the cameras of his personal rankings computations and how if he wins Cincinnati and The Open, he takes over the top ranking on the computer.

Federer, panned for dropping so many best of 3 set matches to Murray in his career (2-6 vs. Murray until then with all the losses coming in best of 3’s), must have been watching ESPN with a healthy distaste for the British media darling.  He jumped on Murray in the finals at Cincy, took the 1st set off the kid in 17 minutes which left him reeling, on his way to a 6-2, 7-6 (8) victory that assured Federer of the top spot for months to come.  Murray then came out in the round of 16 at The Open, took a big serving, ball crushing opponent like Marin Cilic lightly, and the big man dusted Murray 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, ending Murray’s 2009 quest for a major title, and rendering his year a grave disappointment, despite his 6 titles during the calendar year that led all players on the tour. 

Murray had regressed, had struck out at his self proclaimed best major, and had let down his major hungry nation and fanbase.  For a good player who had become a big endorsement machine, and who had a lot of considerable, albeit, lesser hardware in his trophy case, Murray got smoked in the 3 spots where he was racked with the most pressure and expectations: Wimbledon, the home major, Cincinnati, the first step in his plan to steal the # 1 ranking, and the US Open, the major that Murray basically announced would have his name on the trophy.  And to add insult to injury, one time prospective coach and current Roddick coach, Larry Stefanki, ripped Murray after Wimbledon for his gutless, passive style.  Recall that Murray had once had his camp ask Stefanki if he’d coach Murray, and Stefanki replied by telling Murray’s people to have the kid call him.  Murray never called, and Stefanki perceived the non call as diva like behavior from the kid.  Stefanki ended up coaching Chilean one handed star, Fernando Gonzalez, who despite not having english mastered, did call Stefanki personally, before eventually winding up in Roddick’s box.

Sunday’s showdown between Federer and Murray marked their first meeting since Oz, featured Federer on a court more favorable to his game (43 out of 62 of Roger’s titles have come on hards) despite it suiting Murray well too, saw Federer in pursuit of his first title since Australia, and Murray in pursuit of his first title of the year of any sort, and featured Federer as the all time leader in career masters series match wins–a lot of buzz for a Masters Series final.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/federer-wins-debut-with-annacone-roddick-out-of-top-10/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/annacone-to-charge-up-rogers-game/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/roger-federer-drops-to-world-3-in-latest-atp-rankings/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/espn-the-magazine-federer-worlds-top-athlete-roger-mirka-pics/

The matchup meant that Roger had put in his best week of tennis since Australia, not coincidentally in his first week on tour with new coach Paul Annacone, with gutsy 3 set wins over rising nemesis Tomas Berdych and rival Novak Djokovic, whom Federer blitzed 6-1 in the first set, but who looked a lot more stout an hour later when he seemed to be cracking backhand winners at will, and serving well.  From mid second set when Djokovic won back a break until the middle of the 3rd set, Djokovic played the more solid tennis, made fewer errors, and seemed to punish every short ball Federer gave him a look at.  And I said to my buddy, “Fed’s done.”

Not so fast.  It only took a few shaky serves from the Djoker for Roger to get way out in front in the 3rd game of the 3rd set, and a tired looking Roger seemed to transport himself back to Federer circa 2006, dialing up the trademark run around forehand at will until Federer had set up a Sunday date with Murray.  I went out that night aglow, I admit, with thoughts of Roger Federer returning to dominance on hardcourts against Murray the next day, in Cincy like fashion.  Yes, Roger would return to tournament winning tennis by taking his 3rd Rogers Cup, with new coach–the perfect attacking style coach for Federer, former Sampras’ coach Paul Annacone, sitting bemused in the box next to Mirka.

A thousand words plus and we are barely to the actual match.  Enjoy these volumes if you are one to, because you probably won’t see another write-up of the sort on tennis for some time out of me, with many vacations coming up and a few weekend weddings on the slate.

Then the match started.  I told my boy that I expected–no, I knew that Roger would win, that Roger probably already had the kid psyched out, and I expected to see the Cincy 09 final repeated.  Roger would jump all over Murray early, the way he did in 08 at the Open and in 2010 in Australia, and of course, last year in Ohio.  The way he jumped on Djokovic the night before, who, by the way, had a very notable supporter in the stands–world # 1 Rafael Nadal, who came out to watch Fed/Djoker XV in a pink Polo shirt a few hours after Murray straighted him.  Perhaps Fed/Djoker really piqued the Spaniard’s interest, perhaps Nadal was being a good teammate to Djokovic, who was his doubles partner that week.  At any rate, I thought it was a very classy move on Nadal’s part to take in the match as a spectator, especially after suffering a tough loss a few hours prior.

My big Federer hypothesis held up for all of 1 point on Sunday.  Federer, with serve, stepped up and passed Murray to take the first point.  But on the 30-15 point, in a long baseline rally, Murray kicked the ball up high to Federer’s backhand–the Rafa play–and forced the error.  Fed played tight on the next two points, and Murray seemed to play way more aggressively than normal, perhaps with Larry Stefanki’s harsh sentiments echoing in his ears, or perhaps as a result of the watchful eye of Judy Murray, the mother and sometimes coach of Andy Murray, who we assume had her duties expanded when Murray fired coach Miles Maclagan.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/querrey-defeats-murray-for-2nd-la-title-murray-fires-coach-ex-girlfriend-pic/

A look to the player’s box revealed that Annacone was not present coaching Federer for the Murray match, an ominous sign for Federer.  But Annacone was prevented from being in the box by a conflict of interest, as his responsibilities to the British LTA have not yet been totally severed, so the man on the scene who knew best about Murray’s game, having coached him for 2 years in Davis Cup, could not actually be on the scene.

Murray jumped out to a 3-love edge, breaking Federer again in Roger’s next service game, and Brad Gilbert pointed out that Roger was tight, and worn out from two hard fought 3 set night matches in a row.  Federer broke back to reclaim 1 of the breaks to get to 3-1, and then capitalized as Murray served for the set at 5-4, and threw in a shaky game, as Murray has always been notoriously bad at closing out sets on serve.  Federer got to 5-5, and very importantly, began to flash the footwork, hitting his first backhand winner on a lightning strike of a pass in the crucial 5-4 break back game.  I felt like Roger was getting it together, but then Federer comes out loose in the 5-5 game on his serve, but down break point Roger smashed a high backhand volley winner, and then he comes in for a touch volley to go up the ad, before wasting a few first serves, then going down another break point on a classic rally point, and then giving up the break before Murray quickly served out the set.

It was a bleak set for Roger, who only came up with 4 winners, total.  When Roger loses the first set to a guy like Murray, who you know is going to fight hard for every point, the doubt begins to creep in about Roger’s ability to take two difficult sets after dropping a hard one.  So it was.  Murray won an early break to go up 3-1, and then the rains came.  Roger would get it back to 5-5 after a rain delay, but ended up dropping the match to Murray, who took his first title of the year, a few weeks after losing in exciting fashion to American Sam Querrey at the Farmers Classic, where Murray was a late entrant wildcard, the top seed and a prohibitive favorite.

Sunday, despite my good feelings coming into the match, was a bleak day for Roger in an otherwise good week.  Murray proved to be the better conditioned player, and the better mover on hardcourts right now, and in watching the match, I marveled at how he hadn’t won a title this year, despite his no guts style.  Though I am no Murray fan and never will be, I find myself empathizing with his plight–the awkward kid with the domineering mom who cried like a baby in Melbourne at the trophy presentation.  The kid who takes out Nadal for Roger, and who just wants to play video games sometimes, who has the weight of a nation’s major tennis hopes squarely on his shoulders.

What about his mom?  Good tennis fans would know that many of the players who Murray came up with do not like his mom, and notably, US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has had heated arguments with both Murray and his mother, on court and in the locker room, stemming from Murray’s mom’s propensity to cheer too loudly during matches.

http://tennisvideooftheday.blogspot.com/2008/09/del-potro-bad-mouths-murrays-mom-on.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muM-UQc_Tnk

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/atptour/2299696/Andy-Murray-angry-with-Juan-Martin-Del-Potro.html

As for Roger, I’m going to stick with a my time honored philosophy of not getting too crazy about results in the Masters Series.  As gratifying a win as Federer’s was for me last year in Cincy, it would have been much better had he lost in Cincinnati and won The Open.  Was his footwork good enough to beat Murray on a fast hardcourt on Sunday?  No.  But let’s give Paul Annacone a chance–it’s only been a week.  Federer has some work to do yet to prepare for The Open, and hopefully he has enough time to get his feet right going into Flushing, where Federer can pull off an amazing double should he win.  Winning The Open would give Roger a record 6 Wimbledon and 6 US Open titles.

Though it could be disconcerting when a lumberer like Querrey can beat Murray, and a re-invented Mardy Fish can beat Murray (Fish just eliminated Murray from Cincinnati, 6-7 (7), 6-1, 7-6 (5)), and Roger doesn’t.  And it will be, if Federer isn’t more ready for Murray should they meet in Flushing.  Still, something tells me Roger will be okay when he gets his body on the major schedule, and has a day, sometimes two, between matches (except for the semi-finals and finals, which are played on the final Saturday and Sunday consecutively, unlike any other major, and making the US Open even tougher for most to win.)

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

With a good run at Roland Garros, Roger Federer can cross another achievement off of his list.  He will surpass Pete Sampras’s mark of 284 weeks at number one.  Pete, a legend in his day, is now all but forgotten, and those tennis voices who decried that he was the best all sing a new tune–that the best, or what we tennis junkies refer to as the GOAT–greatest of all time–is Swiss Roger Federer, who has made 23 consecutive major semifinals, an amazing 10 straight major finals (the previous record was 4), and has appeared in 18 of the last 19 major finals. 

I’ve heard many times the great American tennis commentary and legendary player, John McEnroe, say over and over on ESPN, USA, and CBS that Roger is the best player ever.  Nowadays, it would be one of the first things falling out of his mouth if asked about Roger.  And then on Sirius radio, who then broadcast Britain’s Radio One that covered Wimbledon with probably the best tennis coverage anywhere, I heard John McEnroe with good friend and doubles partner Peter Fleming, who now works for the BBC, and who teamed with McEnroe for 9 mjor doubles victories, pretty good considering they hardly made it to Australia if it all during their prime.  Fleming asked McEnroe pointed questions about Federer’s game.  McEnroe was more honest on the BBC in his responses about the great Roger Federer.

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/espn-the-magazine-federer-worlds-top-athlete-roger-mirka-pics/

Hypocrite?  I don’t know if I’d be that harsh.  To American audiences he’s selling tennis by touting Roger, and he’s not obligated to tell the truth about how he feels, though one can feel how genuine he is most of the time.  If America is the country that hypes their sports, treating tennis as nothing more than a potentially big ratings earner, and caring little for the audience consisting of the hardcore fan, then Britain is the capital of evolved tennis talk, a real treat for the real fans of the game, who know its history, and can remember a day when Roger Federer wasn’t a name on the landscape.  McEnroe, talking to old friend Fleming, a few years older than Mac, the young phenom, who used to beat sure to be pro Fleming at their home club in Long Island even though Mac was 4 years younger.  With Fleming, McEnroe was more critical of Roger’s game, and talked about how guys didn’t have the right game plan, and that Roger couldn’t handle the big serve and decisive point attack.

“The big game”, McEnroe called it.  Federer couldn’t handle the big game, and that a guy like Pete Sampras, and maybe himself, would be able to beat Roger.  No one really pressures Roger, except Nadal, only with an altogether different style.  But it is true that few players play a pressure game these days, and the few who do don’t have the talent to do it against Roger.  He wasn’t saying a lot of guys could beat him, but he did feel pretty good about himself, and about Pete.

In watching Roger play a few matches against Radek Stepanek (the 2 are seen below shaking hands at net after a Federer victory), probably the best attacker near the top twenty, I noticed that a lot of good old fashioned tennis plays work on Roger, like serve and volley, and slicing and coming in.  You know why?  Because they’re good plays.  They will work for all time because cutting off your opponents’ angles gives you a significant advantage.  Nobody did it more than McEnroe and Pete, and as spectactularly.  Except of course for Rod Laver, two time winner of the Grand Slam, whose developmental coach was the great Harry Hopman, who also taught McEnroe, Fleming, Patrick McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Mary Carillo here in New York. 

Roger is beatable, and I believe that McEnroe, Sampras, and Laver would have beaten him, more times than not, despite Federer’s all-time consistency and record in majors.  Roger does not do much on first ball returns of serve, and a true attack player could take advantage of that.  Federer slices back a lot of his returns, and slices are the easist balls to come in on, because they arrive slowly.  They work great for him against most because most are uncomfortable at net, so they don’t make the right play, which is to come in.  Most of the time, it leads Roger’s opponents to take the ball back too far, and leads to errors.  The big S and V three would have come all the way forward and hit a winning volley on the next point.  The slice gives players the most critical element of tennis: time.

Roger Federer, the best in the game at taking time away his opponent’s time, doesn’t look so good when his time is taken away.  Like last Sunday, when Roger, so rushed by Nadal when down a match point, that he hurried through his forehand, and missed the ball completely.  And as much as this isn’t meant to be an argument that compares Nadal to Federer, facts are facts.  Nadal is a player with Federer’s number, and has beaten him 14 times and lost just 7.  Nadal has beaten Federer in a major final on every surface, so this isn’t just a clay court thing.  And for those who would call the head to head between Federer and Nadal skewed because 9 of the 14 matches have come on clay, I’d say you have to play the opponents, the surfaces, and the calls, as the great Rod Laver liked to say.  Federer is only 3-2 versus Nadal on a hardcourt, and they have each won a five set match from each other.  Federer has never beaten Nadal in a 5 set format on clay, less blemish than fact, but here we are at Roland Garros, and who among us likes Roger’s chances to get that first 5 set victory over Rafa?

Here’s the thing.  Consistency is not the mark of excellence.  A younger man has come along in Nadal, who has managed to beat the best player ever 14 times, during Federer’s prime.  You know who beat Pete Sampras 14 times?  Andre Agassi.  Only took him 14 years to do it, and sure, Pete came out on top of the rivalry, with a 17-14 record, and 4-1 in major finals, 4-0 in the majors that matter most (Wimbledon and the US Open).  Sure Sampras was not the player that Federer is on clay, but then again, Sampras did beat 3 Roland Garros singles champions at the 1996 French Open in the 5 set format, before losing to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semi-finals.  

Federer as GOAT is the popular notion, but it’s a neo-tennis concept, excluding the very unpopular sport of doubles tennis, where both McEnroe and Laver also excelled, in many cases, on the same day they played a singles match.  What is the best doubles team of all time, was the question once posed to Peter Fleming.  “John McEnroe and anyone else” was his reply.  McEnroe, who recorded perhaps the best year ever in modern professional tennis, went 82-3 in 1984, winning 13 singles titles and 7 doubles titles.  McEnroe is also perhaps the best player ever in Davis Cup–gruelling 5 set tennis–even in doubles, and he and Fleming only lost 1 doubles match in Davis Cup.  Ever. And then there’s the Rockhampton Rocket, Rod Laver.

Rod Laver is second all time to Roger in consecutive major semi-finals appearances with a paltry 10.  But how many people are fully aware of the fact that Laver was excluded from playing the majors in his prime because he had to turn pro to earn a living, and was prohibited from playing the majors or any open tennis for 6 of the best years he had?  Didn’t stop Laver from winning 2 natural slams (winning all 4 majors consecutively in one calendar year).  One in 1962, and the other, after his exile, in 1969.  Laver won Wimbledon as a pup in 1961 and 1962, and then as a lion, in 1968 and 1969, albeit one whose best years were spent toiling away on the pro circuit, where he played about 150 singles matches a year, and played doubles as well.  How many Wimbledons would he have won, and won consecutively, had his open career not been interrupted?  Laver, along with the rest of the guys on the pro tour at the time, paved the way for players like McEnroe, Sampras, and Federer by driving, himself, from tournament to tournament, by cooking his own meals and doing his own laundry, and by playing, well, just about anywhere they could slap down white lines and peg a net into the ground.

Laver was the true all courter, playing on astro-turf, cow dung, synthetic grass, grren clay, red clay, cement, sweaty courts affixed to hockey rinks, hardwood, etc.  Laver was the true player’s player, having such major immeasurables to his name such as his 2 grand slams, while playing in the singles, doubles, and mixed competitions.  In fact, Laver won 5 majors in 1969 when you account for his Australian doubles title as well.  He clinched the slam at the US Open on a rain soaked, dangerous field, the likes of which, Roger Federer has never had the temerity to set foot on.  And he did it with tennis elbow.  For muchh of the ’69 season, Laver spent his off court hours with a hydroculator on his left elbow, a device then thought to provide therapeutic benefits.

Unlike Federer or Nadal, today’s greats, he never complained about the elbow.  Never had his uncle out grandstanding to the media about his knee, never sent his business manager out there to tell the world he had mononucleosis.  Pete Sampras played his entire career with a rare blood disease that affects men of mediterranean descent called Thalassemia, which inhibited his conditioning–always the biggest criticism of Sampras–and which he never divulged he had.

Sampras also had 3 Davis Cup victories to his name, and a priceless 12-1 record in major finals while in his prime with the only loss coming to Agassi in Australia, in a match that could be chalked up to Pete’s conditioning.  And Pete had down cold the most important shot in the game, and the only one a player completely controls: the serve.  It’s the only shot in the game that isn’t coming back at you off another’s racquet, and it is the shot that betrayed Roger at the 2009 Australian Open when Nadal broke him twice in the fifth set, and at the US Open final in 09, when Juan Martin Del Potro broke Federer twice in the final set.

Is Roger really the best?  Of all time?

No.

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

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–Crack

The odds on today’s QF match between Roger Federer and Ernests Gulbis have changed in the last few minutes.  Federer opened at -350 on the money line (bet 350 units to win 100, paying 450 units) and Gulbis at +225 (bet 100 units to win 225, paying 325 units).

The odds have dropped for Federer, who is now -250 on the money line (bet 250 units to win 100).  Gulbis is now +190 (bet 100 units to win 190).  Though the change seems to indicate confidence in Gulbis, when the line moves likes this it indicates a bettor’s trend, in this case, that too many people were wagering on Gulbis and too few on Federer.

Basically, Vegas feels Gulbis was too great a bargain at +225, and now, Federer, a very slim favorite by his standards, comes off as the bargain, as it is rare that he is such a small favorite by tennis standards.

Federer was -325 in yesterday’s match with Wawrinka.  By the way, doesn’t Mirka look nice for a change?

Federer-Gulbis should begin around 2 pm EST.

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