Nicolas Almagro


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The 2 best players from Spain, David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal (above).

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Doug Adler had said it, and we all had to be thinking it, that if Nicolas Almagro was ever in position to pull the upset and grab a W against Nadal, then last night was the night.  Almagro is very comfortable on the Acapulco clay, is a two time past champion, and of his 12 titles and 6 runner-ups, all have come on clay.  Almagro has hardly looked better than this year, in which he made the quarters in Melbourne and has gotten his ranking all the way up to #9.  And Nadal has hardly looked worse.  We do not care that he is 12-1.  He isn’t playing clean tennis, he’s laboring, and guys at least have a chance against him, and they can feel it.  Almagro had his crack, with a break point/set point while up 5-4 in the 1st.  Almagro has a greatly bolstered chance there last night if he gets up 1-0 in sets.  Then again, the absolute gutless wimp that he is, he’d probably blow that, the way he blew that break point, the way he blew that 2 sets and a break lead over Ferrer in Melbourne, the way he usually blows all of his chances in non 500 level clay events.  But the match was competitve, and really, if you are apologizing or excuse making for Rafa right now, as so many are, the bottom line is this: he is no longer unbeatable on clay.  Novak Djokovic much be licking his chops thinking about that first RG title and the completion of the career slam, which we bet he can just about taste.

If Almagro is gutless then countryman David Ferrer is the opposite.  Ferrer, who gutted out the win against Almagro, when he pulled that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide routine in the Melbourne quarters, did what he has to do sometimes to win.  He hung in until the choke light turned on in Almagro’s cabin.  Ferrer, an absolute beast of a competitor, played one of the worst matches of his career last May, in losing to Nadal in a meek 3 sets at Roland Garros, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.  It’s not often that a Ferrer makes a major semi, and to get bounced so unceremoniously was a big disappointment.

We don’t see how that wouldn’t be on Ferrer’s mind tonight.  Like with Almagro last night, you have to wonder if Ferrer doesn’t beat Nadal in this spot, will he really ever?  Ferrer trails the h2h 16-4 and has lost 12 out of the last 13 matchups in the rivalry.    Tonight’s odds:

Abierto Mexicano Telcel (Alcapulco, Mexico) — Men’s Final

David Ferrer:  + 165

Rafael Nadal:  – 210

……….

Though the matchup has been a nightmare for Ferrer of late, he does hold two important distinctions against Nadal.  He has beaten him on clay, though not since 2004, and he is the only guy aside from Federer, Djokovic, and Murray to defeat Nadal twice in a major (2011 Aussie, 2007 USO).

We think Ferrer has a healthy shot here.  Ferrer has made a living off of the South/Central American clay court swing in his career.  He’s the defending champ and he is a flat out great early season player.  We respect Ferrer’s game.  For a guy 5’9, he absolutely gets everything out of his ability.  For a grinder, we respect the way he does not cede his spot right on the baseline, rather than floating well beyond the court like Nadal.  Much harder to hit the ball early, on the rise, like Ferrer does, than to do what Nadal does.  And Nadal looks kind of gimpy.  The 25 second rule is obviously bothering him, a strange timeout after set one last night has us wondering, and Nadal is out of shape, as evidenced by the amount he is sweating, which seems unnatural.

While the 2 are friends, we sense a serious distaste for Nadal’s routines with Ferrer, who is a fierce competitor.  We know for a fact that Nadal’s pre-match routines, jogging around the court, and aligning the bottles, irk Ferrer.  We also feel that Ferrer likes to play fast and Nadal slow, and that Ferrer doesn’t always think Nadal is playing up to the speed of the server in return games.  These are some interesting side stories going into tonight’s match.  As is also the line, which is notoriously low for Rafa on clay, which tells us that Vegas doesn’t believe in him very much right now.

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Rafael-Nadal-vs-Nicolas-Almagro-Quarter-Final-Preview-French-Open-2012-160222Spaniards, friends and countrymen, Rafa and talented one hander Nicolas Almagro (above).

Abierto Mexicano (Acapulco, Mexico) — Men’s Semi-Final

To air @ approximately 11 PM EST — TTC

__ __ __ __

Nicolas Almagro:  + 325

Rafael Nadal: -450

……

Nadal leads this matchup 8-0, and frankly, this has been one of the least competitive matchups that we can remember.  Almagro, who we feel is very talented, despite being a clay court specialist, like Roger Federer, has a great deal of trouble with Nadal’s forehand in the forehand to backhand rally that Nadal lives off, and in this case, has feasted off.  But this line is off.  If Vegas was taking Nadal as seriously as they normally do on clay, Nadal would have came off around (-1200).  Like at the Dubai Duty Free, where there is a similar lopsided matchup, with Berdych taking on Djokovic, whom he really can not beat (Djoker leads the h2h 12-1), the odds are as follows:

Dubai Duty Free (U.A.E) — Final

Saturday, March 2nd — 10 AM EST

__ __ __ __

Tomas Berdych:  + 550

Novak Djokovic:  + 900

…….

Frankly, we love the dogs.  Berdych is in fine form, beating Federer today and fighting off 3 MP’s.  Sure there is the business about Djokovic deciding to overhaul his training regimen and commitment level to the sport after his loss to Berdych at Wimbledon in 2010.  Losing to Berdych on grass is no shame at all either.  But since then, Djokovic has been on a different planet, which really started to kick in after he lost the 2010 US Open Final to Nadal.  Djokovic is undefeated this year, and is looking for his 11th straight win to start the season, and an over all win streak of at least 16, all on hard courts.

We don’t really expect either dog to win, but despite the record, Berdych is a very formidable opponent for Djokovic, and not a great deal separates them.  As for Rafa, he is a shell of himself right now.  If that is to continue, we shall see, but this may just be the best opportunity that Almagro gets in this matchup, in which he has only taken two sets for his career.  We think it would be an excellent sign if Almagro were able to compete hard, which we don’t always believe to be the case, especially against Rafa, who seems to psyche him out.

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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

……….

One handed tennis prodigy Grigor Dimitrov (above), who is coached by Serena Williams new coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

Fitting that with Roger Federer, King of Tennis, King of One Handers, back on his throne, and with the TTC replaying the match 400 times, that they’d get back to, well, not live, but new tennis with one handed prodigy Grigor Dimitrov.  Dimitrov came in this week ranked 69th and comes off an odd retirement at Wimbledon in the second round versus Marcos Baghdatis.  Dimitrov had fought his way up to a high of world #52 in November, as his points accrued through the hard court season.  That Dimitrov has slid back down doesn’t bother us that much.  We think it more a case of him developing than backsliding.  It also doesn’t bother us that he’s playing in Sweden at Skistar.  On clay.  Theoretically, we like to forget about clay during the summer.  The summer is when players need to get ready for the hard court season, but since most players see the early part of the American summer tour as a joke, a lot of Europeans who want to play and stay close to home play Stuttgart and Bastaad.  With players like Almagro, Ferrer, and Robredo there, it’s a viable event where a kid can get valuable match play, and maybe notch some W’s.

Skistar Swedish Open — Semi-finals

David Ferrer:  – 800

Grigor Dimitrov:  + 500

__ __ __ __

Jan Hajek:  + 260

Nicolas Almagro:  – 340

……

And so Dimitrov is into the semi-finals in the early SF versus David Ferrer.  The kid has looked good this week.  He’s a huge underdog and we do not expect him to win, but we’ll take a play on him at that number any day, especially since we root for the kid.  He went to the semis at a vastly diminished Queens last month, but that’s still on his resume.  He is playing solid tennis.  Ferrer on clay is a tough matchup for the kid, for sure.  Last year in Cincinnati they met, and Ferrer, on a very fast hard court that suited Dimitrov, edged the kid 7-5 in the 5th.  Dimitrov should have a little confidence coming in, and perhaps David Ferrer gets tired once in a while?  The man is non stop.  It will be interesting to see how Dimitrov’s backhand holds up against the Ferrer forehand.  At any rate, we like Dimitrov’s progress.  We expect him to finish up here and then get to LA for the Farmer’s Classic.  Dimitrov should move up a lot this summer, as he has a lot more winnable early round matches, and we’ve seen him hold his own against pretty good competition, so now it’s a matter of breaking through.

As for the 2nd matchup, we’ll tell you that Nicolas Almagro makes a living on clay.  We would be very surprised if Almagro and Ferrer aren’t duking this title out on Sunday.  Almagro is a very talented one hander with questionable heart.  The same might be said of Dimitrov.  These guys are very similar, in terms of possible career trajectory.  Hopefully, Dimitrov can do better than Almagro has in big matches, though he has specialized well enough on clay to make the top 10.  We also think Dimitrov’s game translates better to fast courts, and we will be eager to see it.

Mercedes Cup (Stuttgart) — Semi-finals

Janko Tipsarevic :  – 180

Thomaz Bellucci:  + 140

__ __ __ __

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez:  + 300

Juan Monaco: – 400

…….

Let’s be serious.  Juan Monaco is a horrible favorite.  Lopez is a very talented player, and very good on clay.  This is a good opportunity to reclaim some rankings points.  Monaco leads the h2h 3-1, with Lopez’s win coming on clay.  We just kind of feel that in some of these early summer matchups, the fresher player may have a good chance.  So we will take a flyer on Lopez.

Tipsarevic-Bellucci is quite a matchup.  We like Bellucci.  That kid is a clay court specimen.  Bellucci plays a lot like Nadal, who Tipsarevic does not handle well.  Bellucci gets that lefty forehand spinning way out of the smaller man’s strike zone, and the key to the match will be how our favorite Techno tennis player handles that spin.  Bellucci took the only meeting in the series in 2009 at Indian Wells, which might play slower than Stuttgart.

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The deadly Milos Raonic serve (above) which produced 14 aces today.

We are kicking ourselves this morning after just having seen Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic upset world #4 Andy Murray at Sabadell in Barcelona, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Last night we had identified the match in which Raonic was +300 as a potential upset, though we were reluctant and did not pull the trigger. We were of the mind that Murray, after going toe to toe versus both Djokovic and Nadal last year on the dirt, and with the addition of Lendl to his camp, simply moved too well for a Raonic on clay at this stage.

On clay it is very hard not to take the better mover, but clay is changing. How many times in recent years have we seen power surprise us on clay? We all recall Sunday Bloody Sunday, our affectionate name for the day on which Soderling outslugged Nadal. We’ve also seen big men like Del Potro and Isner excel on clay, both seriously tussling with Nadal in DC and Isner taking Rafa to 5 sets at RG, the only time that’s happened.

So after a breezy first set of tennis in which Murray did not get a single sniff on the Raonic serve, we knew it was uphill sledding for Murray, who simply could not dial in for any real traction. Raonic has very wisely gone about his business since leaving the American “hardcourts”.

Not many North Americans rolled out to MC last week but Raonic was there, and though he lost in the 2nd round, he got 2 matches in. Spaniard Galo Blanco should be a tremendous asset in preparing the kid for clay. The coach has been that this year. Taking Raonic to Spain to train has been a successful tact for many looking to beef up on clay, including Andy Murray, today’s loser, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won at Roland Garros after a hard spring spent training in Spain.

Raonic has improved laterally, but what the kid does best aside from serve is think the game and keep to plans. As much as a 6’6 kid improves his side to side, you aren’t out laterally moving Andy Murray. The kid hit serve bombs and loaded forehands, playing the match on his own terms. Once he had the 1st set, you got the sense that Murray was in big trouble and he was.

Raonic is an excellent front runner and he has legs on clay, winning four matches in straights this week, 3 against specialists (Falla, Andreev, Almagro).

We had him against Almagro, liking the line very much (+200). Too bad we hesitated last night. A little too much credit we afforded Murray, who we had pencilled in for Sunday’s final.

Now we know that Raonic’s style, well described by our man G-Stob as “blunt force trauma”, is ready to keep on red clay. Raonic may even play through to Sunday’s final, especially since at the moment, David Ferrer is struggling mightily with Feliciano Lopez (6-7, 3-3). Raonic has trouble with the pesky Ferrer, though we would like to see that matchup revisited, especially with Raonic playing so well.

Raonic’s victory today was his first ever against a top 5 opponent. First of many to come. We look forward also to seeing Tipsarevic-Nadal today. We took a flyer on Tipsy at a whopping +1500.

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Canadian phenom Milos Raonic (above), with a rare fist pump against Kevin Anderson, whom he defeated in San Jose last week.

So we’ll admit we were wrong on Sunday. We told you we liked Raonic and the kid could not get the win versus Jurgen Melzer. We’ll even call it a bit of a bad loss because we don’t like the way he played in losing that match. To be totally fair, he just missed a big forehand by a hair that would have saved him from going down match point in the second set tie-breaker. It really was a close match, but when Raonic and his dominant serve went up a break in the second, we thought it was a match that was destined to go to a deciding set. That loose service game, in the eighth or so game of the second, is not something we associate with Raonic in his early career. Despite some truly dominant performances on serve in the last few weeks, the kid has been vulnerable at times because he is leaving a lot up to the second serve, and only winning about 50% of the second serve points. The performance against Istomin, where he won 44/48 first serve points, was still one where he flirted with defeat by giving Istomin life in the second set. Life, for Istamin, was about getting a look at he Raonic second serve.

The kid was still only broken once in 10 matches so let’s curb our criticism a little. Because the kid is improving so rapidly, he has gone from world #156 to #24 this week, rising 132 places in the rankings in approximately 15 months. Obviously poised, at 21 years old, to be heard from in a big way for a long time. But these guys who get a lot of balls back, even at their advanced ages, like Melzer and Hewitt, have been giving Raonic a problem this year, when last year at this time, Raonic was beating Fernando Verdasco. So we can’t say we are concerned all that much, but right now, we feel like we want to see Raonic beat a guy who really moves his feet. Aside from the second serve, the only problem we see with Raonic is his immobility, which, he seems to have worked a lot on from last year, and yet, he’s not playing well right now against guys in a position to take advantage of his side to side, and baseline to net.

Obviously Raonic has worked hard with coach and former player, Spaniard Galo Blanco. Blanco was a bit of a journeyman, but that’s an interesting mentality, to get to say to Raonic, ‘look how easy it can be with your big talent?’ And Blanco similarly improved Feliciano Lopez’s footwork in his tenure with him, and has Raonic in Spain practicing on clay a good bit, and that will do wonders to the problem, if the kid is applying himself. And it appears that he does apply himself. In addition to Blanco, Raonic also works with a physio and there is no doubt they are working on his coordination.

What a nice kid he is as well. He was extremely gracious when addressing the Memphis crowd, and spoke about the good things they are doing in the community in Memphis with some of the money from this tournament, and rarely to you get those kind of words in these situations. A lot has been made of his background in advanced mathematics, which would help explain his wise use of the angles and dimensions of the court. The kid comes in with ease. He has very nice hands at net, and seems more at easy with the half volley than anyone except maybe the top 3 or 4 in the world. He gets in to net, he uses slice, he can serve and volley, and do it on second serve, which would probably be a good percentage play because he does seem to lose a lot of rallies from the baseline during second serve points when he stays back. But really, what is the kid doing in any part of the game where you could be too critical of him, and not be impressed by the guys he has beaten thus far. He’s beating most of the guys in front of him, when healthy, and the competition has been healthy as well. The guy has beaten Nicolas Almagro and Janko Tipsarevic in back to back matches this year, two top ten calibre players, has won 2 events, been to one final, and in 17 matches, he’s lost only 8 sets.

Nothing not to like about this guy. Djokovic got on such a run last year that you almost didn’t notice that Raonic got hurt and Wimbledon and missed most of fast court season. But for tennis fans, seeing this kid on the surface that suit him best was going to be appointment television. We’re really looking forward to seeing him go through his second clay court season, and how he improves there, and then play the fasts, and how his year bears out if he’s healthy.

We already corronated him the best North American player, way back last year. And having so few points to defend through the rest of the year, we expect, despite his few flaws, to be banging on the door of the top 10 by the middle of the summer. Happy are we, to have even a two-hander, who plays the game right and plays offensive tennis, the modern version of the big game that is so largely absent from the mens game these days.

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Dandy Milos Raonic (above), making another ho hum play at net this week in Memphis.

First up this afternoon, in what could shape up as a poor man’s clay court epic, world #5 David Ferrer takes on fellow Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro.  Ferrer has been the clear #5, consistently getting the most out of his talent, pushing pushers like Nadal and Djokovic because he hugs the baseline, taking the ball as early as anyone on tour, and negating the heavy spins that unfortunately dominate in the, shall we say, less than optimum conditions created by the current tour, with its selection of putrid surfaces and fluffy, over-inflated tennis balls.  Ferrer is heavily favored and is expected to collect his 13th career title in Buenos Aires today.  Here are the odds:

Copa Claro Mens Final Odds — Buenos Aires, Argentina (2:00 PM EST)

________________________________________________________________

David Ferrer:  – 400

Nicolas Almagro:  + 300

……….

Ferrer is 8-0 in this matchup, with 3 of the contests being clay court finals and 2 others also coming on clay.  After Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, Ferrer has been the most successful player on the tour with consistency, though we must note that Almagro is a bit of a clay court specialist.  Almagro has the classical one handed backhand, and attempts to be a shot maker, and we think he usually plays fairly pretty tennis.  So bravo.  He’s also improved a great deal over the past few years, and now finds himself an erstwhile top ten player.  But Ferrer is too clutch to lose to this guy, showing that he can both dominate him and outlast him, in their previous 8 matchups.

David Ferrer just does not make errors and we all know that that is what counts most on clay.  Also, mental toughness, where Ferrer has a decided advantage.  We have seen Almagro on more than one occasion play dispirited tennis, as though he did not expect to win.  We have seen the little used warning for effort invoked on him, which would seem a harsh indicator of the player’s character.  Who could argue the opposite for a player who is not playing hard?

So we feel he still has it in him, to be a dog, and we aren’t gonna apologize for that.  He has won few big matches in his life, and I can’t remember any of them.  We like Ferrer to claim this title, even at the steep odds.

Now in Memphis is the better spectacle, where Canadian wunderkind Milos Raonic will take on Jurgen Melzer in Memphis.  Melzer has worked hard and has also elevated himself to erstwhile top ten after two huge years, and a couple of doubles majors as well.  But on this fast court, and the way Milos Raonic has owned hards like these, we see Melzer being left in a deluge of aces today.  We have to have a word about Raonic, who has come along to light up the game with the serve with the most buzz since Pete Sampras.

So we’re watching hockey the other night and checking tennis scores, and we notice that in Raonic’s quarter-final with Rocchus, he was up to 8 aces already by 3-2 in the first set.  So we got the feed of the match off the Google search ‘watch free tennis live’ and proceeded to see Raonic strike 13 aces in each set of a two set tilt in which his serve was the match.  Raonic’s serves are nearly bouncing into the crowd like smashes, and he’s hitting 146 on the gun routinely.  He hits one at like 133 and that’s off pace for this kid.  And the second serves, 110-120 with spin.  Okay, for perspective, Federer is hitting his second serves around 97 MPH over the last couple of years.

Justin Gimelstob was gushing in San Jose last weekend, and the Sampras comparisons were everywhere.  And these are comparisons that ring true because the kid has that kind of air about his service games.  In the San Jose final, Raonic won all but four points in the match on his first serve.  The kid simply takes the racquet out of your hands.  And when it doesn’t happen off the serve, he’s doing it with his forehand and by approaching the net, taking players to a make or break point much earlier in points than today’s reactive players are ready for.  This week it’s been Doug Adler, the latest flavor of the week commentator in love with the kid.  And Doug is right on.  The kid is making all types of plays at net, using the angles of the court to his offensive advantage perhaps the best in the men’s game right now.  Today’s odds:

Region Keegans Morgan Final — Memphis (4 PM EST)

______________________________________________________

Jurgen Melzer:  + 240

Milos Raonic:  – 300

………

Raonic is shooting for 16-1 on the year today and for his 3rd tournament victory, the most of anyone on tour.  He made the final last year, losing to Roddick, following the appearance both years in San Jose and the tournament win there, both years.  On a slower surface in Chennai Raonic beat Tipsarevic in the final, starting the year out with a tournament victory.  Now the kid has not played much tennis after March yet in his career due to a back injury last year, and will therefore move up easily in the rankings because he has virtually no points to defend from last year.  We really think he will be terrifying on grass where dominant serving has always proved out.

Also, so interesting are the mechanics of that serve.  Unlike most players who grip the racquet between their thumb and forefinger, Raonic points his forefinger straight up the racquet handle toward the face of the racquet.  It may seem like an awkward grip, but it actually generates more pop.  If you like to play around with different grips, give it a try.  It’s definitely interesting.

It might be a different story in a couple of weeks at Indian Wells, perhaps the slowest or second slowest surface in America.  A player like Melzer who tries to jump on serves early has a better chance their with the extra time.  Here, on this slick track, Melzer is gonna get pushed to the back fence, and giving up real estate to Milos Raonic is a losing proposition.

This kid is here now and he’s not going anywhere.  We definitely see him as the next big thing.  We shall see though. But we just feel like these days are big ones for big players.  At little 250’s and 500’s is where guys get their titles for the year who aren’t winning titles away from Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal.  Del Potro this morning, seized on an opportunity at Marseille, and got himself his first title of the year.  We are about to watch Ferrer do the same, and expect Raonic to follow suit, who may well turn out to be the best of the bunch.

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