Pete Sampras


Jerzy-Janowicz-Wimbledon
Jerzy Janowicz (above) on the attack.

All England Club 2013
Ladies Semi-final July 04

Kirsten Flipkens: + 130
Marion Bartoli: – 160
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Sabine Lisicki: – 150
Agnieszka Radwanska: + 120

_______________

Men’s Semifinal July 05

Juan Martin Del Potro: + 500

NovaK Djokovic: – 800

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
Jerzy Janowicz: + 375

Andy Murray: – 500
….
I would certainly hail Jerzy Janowicz, should he hoist the trophy come Sunday noon. That kid is going places. Looks a little Sampras-ish. But we think it will be King Novak who wins the day. At any rate, and these rates are fine, we would take JJ tomorrow. Look for him to finish off Murray where Verdasco we knew, would not. Verdasco is like the white James Blake. All talent and near misses, the both of them. Janowicz has the right game for the lawn, and Murray is gonna have to get down if he wants to get through, which may not be easy, considering the back has seemed balky, that same back that has plagued him since early 2012. Say what, you say. Yes. We were shocked to read Chris Clarey on the eve of Roland Garros telling us Andy Murray was skipping because of a back injury which first affected him 14 months ago. We don’t like when players get their rhythm amended near the time of a major, especially with the RG/SW-19 quick turn around, the way Murray’s was. No way around that Murray was not playing competitive tennis at the highest level last month. We don’t like it. The pusher injuries began 14 months ago with Murray, it seems, and more to come, which puts a real damper on Murray’s long term plans to win the French Open, oh pity Britain. Murray should not fold up the tent on RG yet, especially since he can hit as many shots as he wants there and he just loves hitting shots, just not winners.

We think Murray might get the game took to him Friday by the Polish Lightning Bolt. If not, then Djokovic should school him proper Sunday, because seems to us better inclined and better primed to take the match, which is what is called for on grass after all. Though Djoker’s got his work cur out with him with JMDP, and don’t think we don’t love JMDP on that money line, especially since we saw JMDP unleash bomb after bomb on Novak less than a year ago on these very courts in taking out the King at the Olympic fare. Janowicz, to us, should have had the +5 and JMDP should be much much much lower, because Djokovic could very easily lose here in this spot. But we think Djoker needs this to cleanse the stench from his RG semi chokefest very badly, which will overcome.

As for the ladies, not gonna say much. Respect Lisicki, the big hitter, yeah, Bartoli not so much, but we love both dogs there too. Bartoli, a 2 hander, hates having variety thrown at her, hates having her rhythm and time disrupted. Which is Flipkens description–old school, crafty, grass court tennis. And that’s why we like Aggie too, because of the craft. This is Aggie’s best ever chance to do something, let’s be real. None of the big 3 is here. She needs it, and she has always played very well when she has needed it, we thinks. Would be a sensational coup too if Aggie hoisted the heavy metal, considering how lightly she packs. Just being real, son.

So nice to see the grass reward the bold (and Andy Murray) as it traditionally does, and for so many reasons, like the lack for the lack of prep on the stuff (can’t practice on the grounds prior to the tourny) and the onus on attack, volley, good old ‘do you have the balls to take it out of the air, far from the baseline?’ tennis. Essentially what we are describing is…TENNIS!!! So let’s make Halle a Masters 1000 and let the Olympians play their tennis at SW-19 regardless of the silly host country from here on in and perhaps we can start to undo some of the damage that plan A only Sharapova drones and straight up pushers like 90% of all 2-handers out there and their fearless leader, precious oh precious Rafael, and Florida and Chris Evert’s dad and Brad Gilbert and Plexicushion and clay have done to this game.

It was wild.

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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/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/isner-nadal-odds-dimitrov-other-odds-on-americans-from-roland-garros-tuesday-vegas-odds/

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.

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2012 Wimbledon — Gentlemen’s Final

Roger Federer:  – 240

Andy Murray:  + 190

……

Federer is 7-8 in the h2h.  Federer and Murray have never played on a grass or clay court.  Federer won the most recent meeting, in 2012 in Dubai.  With a win, Federer becomes the second man to win 7 Wimbledon titles in singles.  With a win, Federer pushes his existing all-time record for most singles majors to 17.  Federer, with a win, would tie Pete Sampras for most ever men’s singles titles at Wimbledon.  With a win, Federer would reclaim the world #1 ranking, giving him 286 all-time weeks at #1, also tying Pete Sampras.  Federer has won his only two meetings with Murray at majors, both in finals (2008, USO & 2010, AO).

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The all-time greats, Borg, Sampras, Federer, and Rod Laver.

Well, if the master hadn’t handled the student today.  Roger Federer, seizing on a quick indoor Wimbledon center court, on which he made only ten unforced errors, played the perfect grass court tennis match pretty much, in dispatching Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.  Federer put his big serve to use, pounding second serves, where he also had a decided advantage. Federer won 72% of second serves, and that really got him out of almost all of his deep service games, in clutch fashion.  And when you think about clutch serving and Wimbledon, you have to think about Pete Sampras. Now Federer-Sampras comparisons are nothing new, but the twilight Federer-Sampras comparisons, we feel are very useful in demonstrating how, well, major they are.

The gameplan with Annacone all along was to get back to the top on grass, because that’s where serving and attacking take to the best.  Here they are.  And there Annacone once was with Pete Sampras, on the verge of a 7th Wimbledon title and what was then a record would be 13th major.  For Federer, it’s a Sampras tying 7th trophy, if he can get it, and 17th singles major.  That’s why we don’t see a lot of pressure on Murray in this spot, despite the fact that a British man has not won here in so long.  Since the Wimbledon champion is also commonly known as the champion of tennis, we think it fitting for Federer to be the 7 time champion of all tennis, pretty much the one record in major history that is most cherished and respected.  Murray doesn’t have the pressure on him that Federer does, though Murray is probably feeling it, and must relish a final without Djokovic or Nadal in play, to boot.

But here is where we think Federer has a good chance to come through.  Sampras had a few cracks at US Open trophies late in the game where he had gone out and played six great matches twice and then didn’t get it done in the finals, against Hewitt and Safin, younger guys.  We think in this older-younger matchup, Federer has a decided edge because of service.  Once again, a situation, as well, where Federer has not played one single match against Murray prior on grass.  Or clay, that we are at it.  For shame.  We would love an extension of grass court season, such as the one we will see this year with the Olympics being held next month in London, with perhaps a Masters on grass, at a state of the art place like Halle.  Because it’s better tennis.  We love our attack tennis, and that’s why we feel Federer is in a tremendous spot to handle Murray here and pick up the hardware.  Murray is not an attacker, and despite some big serving, we don’t see him as having the right makeup to attack Roger Federer on grass.  Djokovic is by far a better grass court player, and Federer handled him magnificently today, despite being outplayed at net by Djokovic, we might add.

I think we see the full fruition of the Federer-Anacone partnership right here.  Federer serving his way to major titles.  And it will be another similarity between Roger and Pete, that they came out and served well in big spots late in their career.  We’ve seen Federer capitalize on Murray’s inabilities to claim his most recent majors at Flushing and Melbourne.  In fact, we haven’t seen Federer pick up a major against anyone of Djokovic-Nadal calibre in quite a spell, recalling that the last four majors Roger claimed were against Murray, Soderling, Roddick, and Murray.

Roger must capitalize on this opportunity.  And ultimately, his durabilty, and his laterals are what gets him in this position, and of course, timely serving.  We have always slightly favored Pete because of what we perceive to be lack of clutch factor in Roger’s major finals, letting many nice opportunities go by the board, and unconscionably losing to Nadal in Melbourne on Plexicushion.  It’s why Roger needed an Annacone, and we see the influence on what Roger is doing, and we’ll see it on Sunday, we feel.  Annacone has essentially taken Roger’s two best shots, his serve out wide and his serve down the middle, and made them the staples of his gameplan.  Annacone, in his capacity as Captain of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team, worked intimately with Murray for a few years and no doubt has quite a book on the kid, who we feel is going to feel the enormity of the spot and the matchup/surface disadvanages.  At the heart for Murray, is a refusal to play attack tennis, an achilles heel for Murray throughout his career, which should certainly be exploited by Federer, best perhaps on these courts, where attack tennis should reign.

Federer only has to play the opponents who advance to play in the finals.  If he can do that, based on his overall excellence and longevity, he is going to have his chances sometimes against guys who might be tailored made for him at a given time.  Personally, we think it would take a lot for Federer to lose.  This is the opportunity that he lives for, and coming up with the goods against Murray has never been a problem, not at least at a major, where Murray has yet to break his cherry against Federer.  This is looking like vintage time warp Roger, circa 2007, and if he can find this level now, he may be able to find it a few more times before the lights go out.

If Federer wins Sunday, he would tie Sampras for 7 Wimbledon singles titles, and 12 US Open and Wimbledon titles, combined.  If Murray wins, he will become a first time major champion and the first Wimbledon winner from Britain since Fred Perry.

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Federer (above) serving to Xavier Malisse.  He’ll need to serve lights out to have a chance to de-throne Novak Djokovic.

Nobody could’ve been happier last Thursday when world #100 Lukas Rosol upset Rafael Nadal on the lawns at SW-19 than Roger Federer.  What a day that was, and what a spectacle, and we believe, that the outcome was very good for tennis.  It doesn’t happen often, or hadn’t happened yet rather, that Rafa gets picked off in the early rounds of a major.  So it was good to see for once.  For a lot of reasons.  You know we aren’t fans of Nadal’s brutish game, and that we can’t get passed the hack pusher style.  So Rosol came in and swung freely, and the same themes came up for Nadal when the hand writing was on the wall.  He doesn’t hit enough winners.  He doesn’t get to the net enough.  The second serve is girly.

Usually he still gets by.  And the masses go nuts and say that it’s great tennis.  Yuck.  But last week, Nadal got out forehanded as well.  Frankly, you will not survive being out-approached, out-served, and out-winnered on both wings.  We think it’s a really good outcome for tennis, at tennis’s best showcase, that the courts played fast and to the advantage of the aggressive player, who probably will never have a day like that again as long as he lives.  Lindsay Davenport of TTC, to her credit, kept saying that defense wasn’t going to be enough to get it done here and while it is usally the case, we are so happy that she was right.

To Nadal’s credit, he did not cry about injuries for once, and gave credit to the opponent in a class fashion.  Also to his credit, he signed a lot of autographs on his way off the court.  But this isn’t a Nadal love in.  He pulled the same shoddy sportsmanship by not playing to the pace of the server, stepping out in poor form on one return, and averaging 26 seconds between serves throughout the 5 set match, which is a violation of the 20 second limit.  We guess things even out though.  Less than a month back, Nadal was staunchly complaining about the rain in Paris giving Djokovic a chance, but last week it was the long delay after Nadal won the fourth set to close the roof that broke Nadal’s best stretch of momentum, a huge opportunity for Rosol to calm his nerves.  This time, Nadal came out first, dropped serve, and never recovered, just as Djokovic had done at RG in the final’s marred resumption.

Federer had to have been smiling, whatever the case may be.  Federer is at such a disadvantage on surfaces that push spin, which sadly Wimbledon has become, especially in the Nadal matchup because as a lefty, Nadal seems to hide his own poor backhand so well while pushing everything up high to Roger’s backhand.  What Federer needs is for players with high strike zones to take out Nadal, as Rosol did.  Nadal’s spin was right in Rosol’s wheelhouse, as sometimes happens when Rafa faces taller men (recall the USO against Del Potro in 2009, Nadal’s worst loss ever at a major).

Djokovic is playing clean tennis.  That guy takes to grass.  I have been impressed.  Not serving bombs, but really, coming forward in the point at all the right times, and closing out points at net.  He looks like the champ to me, Nadal or no Nadal.  But Federer had to have absolutely loved his chances against Djokovic in their first ever meeting on grass after 26 matches, a sad commentary on the diminished importance of grass on the game.  The grass plays true, it’s the way the God’s intended for the sport to played, and at last, we have a big grass court summer with the London Olympics holding tennis at Wimbledon.  The only criticism for us is that the men’s are not best of 5 sets.  And Djokovic has owned the grass.  And we expect him to win this tournament and the Olympic gold medal because grass suits the guy quickest to attack on grass, and that is clearly Djokovic, who finishes off many points at the net with a fair share of smashes as well.

But Federer will take his chances because, as tennis is about matchups, and Djokovic is a much better matchup for him because he doesn’t exploit Federer’s backhand the way the lefty Nadal does.  Federer probably feels that there may be a few strategies that he can use against Djokovic on the grass to keep the points short and theoretically, in his favor.  The thing is, against better competition in our minds, we have seen Djokovic play very assertive grass court tennis, whether closing at the net or with a passing shot.  Clearly Nadal had become the better grass courter than Federer from 2008ish to now, and he is removed from the equation.  In matches where Federer has had a fast track against Djokovic he has not done that well, especially not since Djokovic started winning majors.

I think Roger is going to get passed a lot here on Friday.  This is an enormous opportunity for Roger, obviously, but this could very well go horribly wrong because Djokovic is going to take the play to Roger and Roger hasn’t played anyone near this good in quite a while on grass.  Djokovic is the reigning champion and he is the best grass courter in the world right now, and that’s why we are hyper interested to see the line for their match because we are thinking ahead that Djokovic is going to be a steal.  And we couldn’t personally visualize how Tommy Haas beats Djokovic the way he did Federer at Halle.

But they have to go ut and play the match.  Maybe Roger does have a few things to show Djokovic on grass.  Maybe Roger and Nadal both have been struggling for “lack of motivation”, as Nadal claimed he was afflicted with in the first 3 sets against Rosol.  Federer very likely will play a whale of a match because he knows this is one of the better shots he’s gonna get at a major with him as a clear number 3.  I think the matches this one will resemble will be like the French Open and US Open semis from last year, and not the French Open match from this year, where Roger lacked fortitude and resolve, frankly.

If it’s that kind of match, then Roger has a good chance at his 17th major singles title, and 7th Wimbledon crown, tying Pistol Pete.  Either way, it’s probably one of the best chances he gets to do so, since the likelihood of him being in a tournament where both Nadal and Djokovic are eliminated are slim.  We’ll be up with the semifinals odds as soon as they are published.

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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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Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat.  Rafael Nadal had a phenomenal year last year, the best he has ever had as a second banana, and recall for us please that he had many of them when Roger was king.  Nadal may have ‘only’ won 3 tournaments, may not have one any that weren’t on clay, but aside from the odd off day which really only occurred at the AO against David Ferrer, he was not beaten in a big spot by anyone but Novak Djokovic.  He did not bow out of any tournament before the finals between his upset loss to Ferrer, and Queen’s Club, where he could have justifiably been tired, having just won the French, and having played more sets there than he usually does, having really tough matches with Isner and Federer.  But we are not gonna give any credence to that silly injury nonsense and that tired old routine he pulled on his buddy David Ferrer, making the grand show of his latest injury, making it seem like he did Ferrer the favor of not retiring.

That we are sick of.  Truly.  Pete Sampras used to often look dead, exhausted, dehydrated, whatever.  Then he’d hit 2 or 3 straight aces.  But he never cried about it.  Never.  Nadal has got to shut up in those situations.  We don’t care why he lost.  He lost.  And we can’t ever be sure about his injuries because he is seemingly always and never hurt simultaneously.  His health situation is a product of his grinder/pusher style, it’s gotten him to where he is, and if he really wants to complain about it at every turn, it’s bad form.  Look at Djokovic.  Clearly, Djokovic hurt his leg in the 4th set of the US Open final against Nadal.  Who thinks he’d have cited that injury to the media had he lost?  Djokovic wasn’t always the toughest guy, but he is a class act.

Are we dare saying that Nadal is not a class act?  Um, yeah.  What other tennis player dances around like a fool before the match, pulls the shadow boxing routine, makes players wait for him inordinately long, and always takes too long between serves?

Enough about Nadal.  He could win.  He very well could.  We were wrong about Kvitova.  And we no doubt will be wrong some more.  But Kvitova we aren’t wrong about long term.  She’s the real deal, and already established.  And good for Azarenka, who we had going to the final against her.  She dictated the match last night on her backhand, and took away Masha’s time.  That all said, we are pretty confident in Djokovic tonight.  Murray played him way better than we expected, and we’ll give him an ounce of credit.  He has worked hard to put himself in that position, up 2-1 in sets at a major against Djokovic.  It was a shame that on the biggest points he reverted back to regular old passive Andy Murray, or he’d be playing later.

We don’t think Djokovic respected Murray the way he respects the other two top guns.  He may now.  But he didn’t until he lost that 3rd set breaker.  But how could Djokovic not respect Nadal?  Based on the last 6 matches, across all surfaces, it is clear that he does.  Also, the matchup seems now to favor him.  He has the better serve, takes the ball earlier, has the better groundstrokes, hits more winners, and now plays defense and hangs in mentally as well or better.  On this court, where Djokovic has been unbeatable, knock knock, we see Djokovic having no problem with Nadal’s spin, his biggest weapon, because he takes the ball before it bounces up high.  We actually think Djokovic, again, is a bargain here in this spot.

2012 Australian Open Mens Final — 3:30 AM EST

Djokovic:  – 155

Nadal:  + 135

…….

We don’t care about the ‘Nadal has had more rest’ argument.  Djokovic is in Rafa’s head.  He lives there now.  One extra day off can’t change that.  Peruse the set betting as well.

Djokovic wins 3 sets to zero

+ 300

Nadal wins 3 sets to zero

+ 300

Djokovic wins 3 sets to one

+ 300

Nadal wins 3 sets to one

+ 450

Djokovic wins 3 sets to two

+ 500

Nadal wins 3 sets to two

+ 500

……

That is some tough predicting.  We are going to cover every base for Djokovic, as we did against Murray.  Lucky were we to theoretically cover the Djoker in 5 option, else we’d have had a bad night, theoretically.  Personally, and yeah, it’s a bit of deja vu but we don’t really see how Nadal is going to win points.  Especially since Djokovic has done better in the head to head lately on long points, points longer than 8 rally strokes, which is normally Rafa’s bread and butter.

So we are very comfortable with Djokovic in 4 sets, ceding a little credit to Rafa here.  Also, we like Djokovic a lot to win the first set (-140).  In the h2h, Djokovic has won the 1st set in their last 4 matches.  And Djokovic has now won the 1st set in twenty straight major matches and 31 of the last 32 major matches, in which he is 31-1.

BTW, who saw Vlade Divac sitting in Djokovic’s box Friday morning?  We are wondering what the back story is on that.

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