Peter Fleming


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Down Under, the Bryan brothers won their 6th Aussie doubles crown, with a straight sets win, 6-3, 6-4 over Robin Haase and Igor Sjisling.  On their illustrious careers, they now have 13 major titles, 4 more than the magical American team of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, who had 9 major titles with one another.  While we don’t always have the same respect for the Aussie titlist in singles, because of the surface usually, and because we are old school, and we just don’t weight as heavily the Australian Open as we do the majors, as far as the ranks within the majors go.  But doubles is different entirely.  In team tennis, what doubles is, you are not going to have a great chance if you are not synched up and in tune with your partner, and even then, there are no guarantees.  What makes doubles so interesting, among other things, is that it is still very much bang bang tennis–short rallies, true attack tennis, net play–and as synched as you are, the opponents may just be better that day, you lose, even if your name is Serena and that’s it.

Or, you might throw 2 guys together and they might even be baseliners or less bold players, like Bellucci/Paire and they me playing Rojer/Qureshi, 6th seeds who are heavily favored, and for most of the match you are shaking your head at how Bellucci is killing his team, like at the AO 3rd round men’s, and then Bellucci pulls it together for a few games late, and Quereshi and Rojer, a major calibre team, is going home.  Doubles is interesting for so many reasons, and therefore, we must cherish how much doubles we get on those mix channels at major time.  When else is it even televised?  All these tour stops now between the AO and RG, we will be lucky to catch a handful of doubles finals on TTC in all those months, and yet I have just seen TTC air 6 Destination Tennis episodes since last night, all previously aired heavily.  You’d think The Tennis Channel could throw a doubles match in once in a while, but since they aren’t even willing to send a broadcast team to road Davis Cup ties, these reasons come up when one inevitably call TTC a second rate network.

The Bryans have always been good players.  They were both top 100 singles players, if not actually then certainly potentially, but they choose doubles and focused on it, and obviously America is lucky they did.  I thought both played singles very offensively, and with improved conditioning, could have played that way well enough to see some singles success.  For the Bryans to be this good, this in step, well, obviously it has been a labor of love, but yes, a labor.  Nothing gets this good without planning and coordination, and work.  Winning 6 AO’s, more or less the first real high stakes tennis of the year, when it might be even harder to be at your best because of a lot of poor conditions, from heat to surface/injury problems, and because most teams have yet to get in step, and find that groove ultimately necessary for big things to happen.  Even the Williams sisters slipped up Down Under, giving the very good team of Errani/Vinci (one handers holla) life, enough for them to get in step and hand the Williams’ a very rare defeat.  Rarers so is the Bryans losing in doubles in DC, where they are 20-2 in their careers, essentially losing twice now over 2 decades, and providing the true linch pin that America owes at least a healthy amount of whatever success they have in Davis Cup to.

Both the Bryans play one handed tennis, they are expert at net, and really, magicians.  They are the most unheralded athletes perhaps anywhere.  And today they play a very good team of Melo/Soares for Brazil, on a fast American court, in a Davis Cup tie, which is really the truest form of doubles left today, where you must win 3 sets.  Only the French Open and US Open are left as majors where teams need to even win 2 sets out of 3, as now we are seeing, even at majors, these 10 point mini deciding sets.  Puke.  At least Wimbledon is still pure, best of 5 set tennis.

Do yourself a favor and tivo the Bryans today at 2 PM.  There’s no excuse for not doing so if you really love tennis.

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

2012 Australian Mixed Doubles Champion, and her war paint, Bethanie Mattek Sands (above).

After a great Australian Championships, where across the board the very best seem to have won things that would rightfully be theirs, America does not go away poorly represented.  Americans won majors in Mixed Doubles and the Juniors with some very worthy play, and very nearly saw the Bryans set the record for most career majors together, further cementing them as an all-time best doubles team.  The win would have given Bob and Mike their twelfth major together, 2 more than the all-time team of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming.  Unfortunately for the Bryan brother’s, who came up with a clutch tie-breaker and fought off a match point in the Semi’s, they did not make the shots and hit far too many second serves in a match that saw Radek Stepanek and Lenader Paes, who we met at the US Open and who was very cool, the career doubles slam.

The Paes team dominated on points and on serve, holding the Bryans to 0-2 on their only break chances.  But the Bryans didn’t play badly, and made only 3 errors in the match.  But they didn’t play well enough Saturday, and that is going to happen sometimes in doubles, because the game is moving so quick that you are not going to see a lot of chances to break, and poor serving better right itself quickly or else you are going to get blown out.  Make no mistake, the Bryans are an elite doubles team.  They have had sustained success, and have been essentially the best team for 6-7 years.  They are no doubt going to go on and get their twelfth major soon enough, and then beyond.

Paes and Stepanek were the better team on Saturday, by a little, but by enough, and by and by, had the better tournament on the whole as well.  Worthy Champions indeed.  And many would say Paes is getting all the credit due to the career slam, but Stepanek was a huge part of this team, coming up with at times brilliant tennis.  Here is a very smart player with a great deal of flair.  This may be a very good team going forward.

The Bryans get this criticism sometimes that they dropped 2 Wimbledon and French Open finals, and that they maybe should have seized those titles, but it would be crazy to doubt the Bryans well earned status as an elite team.  Everyone loses a few finals.  Sure we are disappointed whenever they lose, but in total, they have won 11 majors and been to five other major finals.  Very rarely does a team give us so much great doubles.  That is why real fans of the game have to be satisfied by all the tremendous doubles that we have been treated to by the Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters.  Truly phenomenal. The Bryans have also been the absolute lynch pin in Davis Cup, making the US squad a virtual contender every year, and playing and winning on the winning American team in 2007, also secures them as an all-time team, that may well be, at the end of the day, equal or better to McEnroe/Fleming, who played phenomenal tennis on their way to dominating the early eighties.

Taylor Townsend, the Girl’s Champion, the 14th seeded exciting American lefty, played very collected tennis when she needed to, and dominated at net, which she got to 23 times more than the 4th seeded Putintseva.  Aside from a period where she seemed to zone out, early in the second set, Townsend thoroughly outplayed the the very ill tempered Putintseva, who would not speak to reporters after the match.  Townsend is very athletic, and she plays the right way, which is refreshing.  Hopefully she is now considered a top prospect by the powers that be, i.e. Patrick McEnroe and Mary Joe Fernandez, because she soon needs to be on a very professional training regimen, with a top coach.  Might be fun, considering her style, that she get Tim Gullickson, who would encourage her to use the approach, which she does so well.  As for Putintseva, she has to grow up a bit.  She seemed to develop some kind of beef with Townsend, and the behavior was completely unbecoming on this stage.  The kid simply can not behave that way at a major final.  Good for Townsend, who we want to see more of.  She showed great poise, guts, and touch, and the USTA should now fast track her.

Then there’s Bethanie Mattek Sands, who we’ve, let’s say, assessed rather bluntly at times, but who we have also given her due, seeing her play some very brave tennis over the years, and making the utmost out of the talent she has by playing the angles, playing creative, and playing at net, the most exciting ways to play.  Sands became a major champion Friday, as she and the excellent Roumanian player, Tecau prevailed, with her doing more than her fair share, denying the very solid team of Paes and Vesnina in straight sets.  Sands played sick tennis, making several big crosses, on Paes’s serve, which many men failed to do throughout the fortnight.  This is very nice due for Sands, who has truly maximized her tennis, and who does her best to play an interesting, exciting match every time out, and who always maximizes her talent.  As we said earlier in the week, if you could put her brain into one of the younger, taller up and coming American females, then we might as a nation be taking the right to steps to get some resemblance of respectibility  as singles nation.  We are especially referring to Coco Vandeweghe and Melanie Oudin (though she isn’t very tall), though we must note that we also give due to Oudin for winning the mixed at the US Open.  She’s another one we’ve killed, but frankly, she plays tiny tennis.  She doesn’t try to win, and so, unless she is getting gifted 20 doubles by Sharapova or error upon error by Petrova, she’s not going to win.

Good job by this group to see that the nation had some noteworthy success at this major.  We enjoyed it.

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

The Isner/Mahut handshake from Perth, Australia last night at the prestigious Hopman Cup (above).

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With 6 sessions currently played at one of our absolute favorite non majors–in fact, it’s not even a tournament but technically an exhibition–the United States has acquitted itself quite admirably in its one session so far, taking both its male and female cotests, as well as the mixed doubles, behind the main event rematch from Wimbledon, #19 John Isner versus throwback serve and volley player Nicolas Mahut.  Isner once again came out on top, though this time he needed less than 2 hours, to take Mahut 6-3, 7-6 (5), using the blueprint for victory left by the gods, an unbreakabe serve and pass or be passed tennis.

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Isner, on the strength of 2 first set breaks, cruised to a an easy lead by the scoreboard, but the high pressure game of Mahut saw Isner earn those breaks on the strength of the shot he is least comfortable hitting–the backhand pass.  Mahut, who gets every drop of talent out of his lanky frame, and seems to always play well on grass where there is still so much value placed on net play because you don’t always get the waist high bounce to crank a perfect groundstroke. He stuck to the strategy on the forgiving Plexicushion surface, engineered by the California company who also builds the faster Decoturf for the US Open, which is rated somewhere between the US Open and Wimbledon in terms of speed, and will give topspin a fairly high bounce like on clay, but sees slice remain very low, while allowing big servers to bang lightning quick flat serves (see Isner’s  upset demolition of Monfils at the Australian).  Mahut served big in the 2nd set, was not broken, and got in behind literally everything he could, causing the match to come down to a few shots here and there in the 2nd set tie-breaker.  Not a few points.  A few shots.

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Once again, we are so so impressed with the Hopman Cup, to its traditional but unorthodox in the modern sense inclusion of the sport of mixed doubles, to the very interesting players selected every year, and the unique team/nation aspect that is really only seen in Davis and Fed Cup, as well as the Olympics, which does a horrible job promoting tennis, if you ask us.  Hopman Cup–an homage to legendary Australian coach and Davis Cup Captain Harry Hopman (who also moved to New York and had a legendary roster of pupils including John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, Patrick McEnroe, and Peter Fleming)–is the only event where we get a glimpse at mixed doubles, and better even than the majors because the mixed is featured and the championship often comes down to mixed doubles.

This year, the Cup features an American team of Isner and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (a replacement for Hopman Cup ace Serena Williams), and BMS did her part in the singles and with Isner.  BMS handled French 17 year old Kristina Mladenovich, clearly a big time talent who was another superb selection for the French Hopman squad.  Mladenovich, a banger with huge groundstrokes, is someone we’ve been interested to see as the top female junior player in the world who won the Girls Singles Title at Roland Garros in 2010.  The Ladies French Open Champion, Francesca Schiavone, also is competing at Hopman Cup for Italy, and scored a win in singles over intriguing British teen Laura Robson and mixed with Potito Starace, as Italy handed a defeat in session 3 to Great Britain, which probably seemed unlikely on paper because the Brits boast wolrd #4 Andy Murray.

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Back to Bethanie, who took 1 hour and 56 minutes to take out Mladenovic, and dropped the 1st set before taking the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.  BMS clearly needed a minute to figure out the 17 year old ball striker, but used a mix of variety, varied pace, net play, and 2 hand backhands which she took so early and flawlessy redirected the pace already there to show Mladenovic that she is in the big leagues this week.  In a loaded section, the Americans already have a 3-0 win over France, with a matchup tomorrow night against Italy looming, and another with Britain still to come.  As for the other section, it is also stocked with prime time talent and the kind of players you’d pay to see.  The Belgian team features the beautiful game of former Australian and US Open champ Justine Henin (the 2nd impressive 1 handed female on display here), who who was a finalist early in her comeback at Melbourne last year, and who is a 4 time French champ, along with lefty youngster Ruben Bemelmans, another guy we have wanted to see but would not have save for this event.  The Australians feature two-time major champ and former #1 Lleyton Hewitt, and the Serbians, already up 2 sessions, feature former Australian Champ Novak Djokovic, and former French champ Ana Ivanovic, finally returning to top form after a real struggle in 2010.

As far as Isner goes, we’d have to disagree with John McEnroe, who came out in favor of a 5th set tie-breaker at Wimbledon, after Mahut/Inser because he says such a match destroyed both players’ chances and would debilitate the rest of their seasons.  It may be so, but that’s the game, and two players who aren’t going to win the tournament or any players for that matter, are not bigger than the tournament, and an aspect of it which so greatly lends to the event’s old world mystique.  And since Isner was in the finals in Atlanta a few weeks later, and has remained in the top 20 despite the draining but historic ad wildly entertaining Wimbledon match, we’d venture to say the match has done nothing but help both players.

Hopman Cup from Perth has always retained that old world feel, even on perhaps the most beautiful, modern, and technically sound courts anywhere, even if they are not the fastest (our preference).  We’ll be watching intently all week as The Tennis Channel brings us the action live, and we’ll be reveling in every second, as the commentary of the great Fred Stolle brings us back to our childhood.  Even if we do have to look at the wrinkled up, ancient face of Lucy Hopman from time to time.

In other tennis news, Nadal and Federer won easily today in Doha, and Robin Soderling took out impressive American teen Ryan Harrison in straights in Brisbane 6-2, 6-4.

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Tune in to TTC tonight.

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