Petra Kvitova

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


Alexandr Dolgopolov



Andy Murray



Bernard Tomic



David Ferrer



David Nalbandian



Fernando Verdasco



Gael Monfils



Gilles Simon



Janko Tipsarevic



Jerzy Janowicz



Jo-Wilfried Tsonga



Juan Martin Del Potro



Kei Nishikori



Kevin Anderson



Lleyton Hewitt



Marcos Baghdatis



Marin Cilic



Milos Raonic



Nicolas Almagro



Novak Djokovic



Richard Gasquet



Roger Federer



Ryan Harrison



Sam Querrey



Stanislas Wawrinka



Tomas Berdych


__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __


Agnieszka Radwanska



Ana Ivanovic



Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova



Andrea Petkovic



Angelique Kerber



Caroline Wozniacki



Daniela Hantuchova



Francesca Schiavone



Jelena Jankovic



Julia Goerges



Kaia Kanepi



Laura Robson



Maria Kirilenko



Maria Sharapova



Marion Bartoli



Mona Barthel



Na Li



Nadia Petrova



Petra Kvitova



Sabine Lisicki



Samantha Stosur



Sara Errani



Serena Williams



Shuai Peng



Sloane Stephens



Svetlana Kuznetsova



Venus Williams



Victoria Azarenka



Yanina Wickmayer



On Saturday, Serena Williams (above) defeated Aggie Radwanska, in a waltz, needing only fifteen games.

Yesterday, if she was to defeat world #2 Maria Sharapova, who has not beaten Serena since 2004, then she would have won the 4 most recent most meaningful titles, counting Wimbledon, The Olympics, The US Open, and the championship contested here in Istanbul, in which the top 8 players in the world participated in a double elimination format prior to the semi-finals and finals.  Serena showed her dominance all week by beating Kerber, Azarenka, and Na, all in 2 straight sets in the RR and then dusted the world #4 from Poland in straights in the semis.  Sharapova was the latest victim, falling 6-4, 6-3 to the most dominant #3 of all time.  Sharapova pushed back and dug in to the best of her ability, in one service game that spanned more than 10 minutes during the first set, she held despite a torrent of winners from Williams, especially return winners.  But this match was not close.  Serena broke in Masha’s 2nd service game, and in her 3rd game, Sharapova  clawed for dear life to stay alive, as consecutive breaks there would have been committed to stone.  Serena also broke early in the 2nd set, so it’s not really like we were sitting there wondering who was going to win this match.  Sharapova’s best moments were purely survivalist, keeping things closer than they should have been, the way she could not at the Wimbledon Olympiad, where Serena handed her her ass in 55 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

In fact, we felt the score line was not indicative of the facts.  Serena was imposing, completely controlling the baseline, and dictating a lot of points on Maria’s serve, both first and second.  And Serena out-winnered Sharapova 40-13.  To be frank, this one seemed like batting practice for Williams.  So this week’s work, 5 matches, 10 sets, straight money.  We’d like to hold up Serena as exhibit A in the lesson in the basic but all important and never read tennis bible.  Hold your serve.  Serena had 11 aces today, and 11 the other day, against Azarenka when the match was decided by only a few points.  We’ve said for months, too, that Azarenka is the best consistent point player in the game.  But she doesn’t have the serve.  In a match in which the points were 69-57, Serena hit 11 aces and 0 doubles.  Azarenka hit no aces and had 9 doubles.  Ladies and gentlemen, that was your match.  It’s not just that she has the big serve, but also the proficiency, the high percentages and mistake free, clean and fast business like service games that no other woman in the sport can put up.

Azarenka is a very strong #1, certainly with no Serena in the picture, but as is, is really not that bad of a number one considering the Jankovics and Wozniackis.   She’s a major champion and clear cut 1B, worthy of her position.  Personally, we feel that she looked a bit tired this week, despite a command performance against Na Li in which she broke serve 5 times in a row.  We felt that just from a probability point of view that Azarenka would have had a decent chance in the finals, knowing how hard she would be to play and beat twice in a row in a few days time.  But Serena has the bigger game, which has carried her to grand success after a never before round 1 major loss, which she suffered at Roland Garros.  Some parallel might be seen between her hiring Patrick Mourataglou of the academy by that same name in Paris.  Mourataglou also coaches Grigor Dimitrov, and seems to have helped the young 1-hander to improve.  We’d also chalk some of Serena’s incredible run up to her getting onto faster courts.  Azarenka is great of combinations, the best there is, but needs the longer points that come more on clay and Plexicushion.  She will get her chances on those surfaces and will probably prove out.  But Serena owns the better surfaces, and deserves to be favored heading into all of the majors.

Now revel in these stats.  9 straight against Sharapova.  Also, Sharapova has not taken a set off Serena since 2008.  Ho hum.  12-0 in her last 12 versus the top 1 or 2 player.  An obscene unbeaten streak against the world #1 & #2 dating back to August of 2007.  Serena ends the year on a ridiculous 31-1 tear, taking her 3rd career WTA Championships, and becoming the oldest woman ever at 31 years of age to win the coveted year end title.

Serena finishes the year with a mark of 59-4 and 7 titles.  Her last loss was to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati.  The last time she was pushed to 3 sets was by Azarenka in the US Open final.  Serena also did not drop a set at the Olympics, where she dropped only 14 games in 5 matches, crushing Azarenka in the semis 6-1, 6-2, and Sharapova in the gold medal match, 6-0, 6-1.

Serena ended the year with a staggering .937 winning percentage, having only lost to Wozniacki, Razzano, Makarova, and Kerber.  All is well in the women’s game, with Serena again ascending to dominant, with Sharapova winning a major this year and reclaiming a spot near the top, and with the rise of Azarenka, who we consider to be the best player in tennis, shot to shot.  And Radwanska is an adequate #4, someone not likely to beat the players ahead of her but not likely to lose to the ones below her.  The Radwanska style, in effect, a better Wozniacki, but one who will not rise higher because the girls ahead of her are just better players across the board, and there is no way to gimmick your way to victories over the Serenas, Azarenkas, and Sharapovas of the world.

We’d expect players like Stosur, Kvitova, and Na to also take their places ahead of Radwanska as well in the new year, should they play to their fullest potential.  For the first time since Serena’s unfortunate World Cup Soccer spectator accident in 2010 and subsequent health problems, the women’s game is all quality at the top, and the rankings are more or less reflective of the true state of the women’s game, devoid of pretenders and paper champions.

We were also very happy to see that Serena’s nemesis, obsessed racist foot fault Nazi, Eva Asderaki, was able to chair at an event without becoming the center of attention, for a change.  So all really is right in the women’s game (Though Lindsay Davenport can allocate the checks better when pre-grading the players for their matches on TTC.  We are often annoyed at how freely she’s been handing out checks, especially to bad volleyers.), heading toward Melbourne in 2013 where Azarenka will try to defend her crown, and where Serena will be looking for her 16th singles major.

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We predict Judy Murray (background) is going to see her son’s major winless streak extended this year at Roland Garros, next year at Roland Garros, and so on.

Odds to win French Open Title — Roland Garros 2012 (Sunday, June 10th 2012, 9 AM EST)

Alexandr Dolgopolov:  + 15000

Andy Murray:  + 3000

David Ferrer:  + 3500

Ernests Gulbis:  + 15000

Fernando Verdasco:  + 10000

Gael Monfils:  + 10000

Gilles Simon:  + 15000

Janko Tipsarevic:  + 15000

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 10000

John Isner:  + 6500

Juan Martin Del Potro:  + 2000

Jurgen Melzer:  + 15000

Marcos Baghdatis:  +15000

Marin Cilic:  + 15000

Mikhail Youzhny:  + 15000

Milos Raonic:  + 6500

Novak Djokovic:  + 200

Philipp Kohlschreiber:  + 15000

Rafael Nadal:  – 125

Richard Gasquet:  + 10000

Roger Federer:  + 800

Stanislas Wawrinka:  + 15000

Tomas Berdych:  + 3500

Viktor Troiki:  + 15000

Field (Any Other Player):  + 500


Rafa’s no surprise.  Djokovic seems about right.  The rest of the odds take some um, odd turns.  Federer all of a sudden, the champ 3 years prior, now has odds worse than the field.  Alright.  In our books that makes Roger a good bet, but that’s just us.  He’s only been to the final 6 out of the last 7 years, but apparently Caesar’s Palace has detected some obvious decline to the great man that we have not.

Andy Murray with better odds than David Ferrer?  That’s an obvious error.  They are both in the same quarter, which would make for a quite nice QF which Ferrer would win.  Murray’s never gotten one on Ferrer on clay, has never won a tournament on clay for that matter, and has had an awful year on clay to Ferrer’s very solid year, once again.  Ferrer is a guy who we could see making a wager on at that line.

Ferrer is going to be a very solid pick for at least the semi-finals, though he may have to go through Giant John Isner to get there.  Ferrer plays the big man very well, but Isner has become America’s best by far on the dirt over the last few years, and we see him as dangerous in this spot.  In fact, he may pose the greatest matchup problem for Rafa, who could not have been that thrilled to see Ferrer and Isner in his half, and Milos Raonic in his quarter.

As a betting man, we are baffled that Raonic and Isner are given such little weight above.  The French has not been won by a dark horse since Gaston Gaudio in that “thrilling” extended 5 setter versus Coria in 2005.  Isner and Raonic have been giving people fits, especially with their second serves, which are darting up off the court, out of even very long players’ strike zones.  Isner nearly pulled off the Rafa upset last year, and is the only guy to take him to 5 sets here.  We think, at +6500, they are both excellent guys to take flyers on.

As an aside, we think Aussie Bernard Tomic is one interesting guy left unlined, and that Marcos Baghdatis got one undeservingly.

So we are a bit late with this, with the tournament beginning already and Monfils already pulling out (clowns do as they do), with Roddick already out (only Roddick can lose to a Mahut, an S & V guy on clay, but we expected him to lose what with him not showing up at all for the entire clay season), and with American Irina Falconi, who liked today, pulling the upset this morning.  She has the eye of the tiger.

We’d have let you know in time to wager, but we fell out extremely early, and when we woke up, the play was off the board.  Below is some of the odds for the ladies (right):

We won’t say much, and we don’t need to.  Serena at 5-2…ho hum.  The Queen is back (and 17-0 on clay this year).  She seems motivated and focused as well.  At +800, we love our lefty, Kvitova as well, and wouldn’t sneeze at VA at +400.  We’d perhaps take a long shot gamble on rising German Mona Barthel, and view Kerber and Bartoli as dangerous.

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The new girls of HBO, Jermima Kirke (L.), Lena Horvath, Zosia Mamet, and Allison Williams (R.).

Don’t mind us lately.  Obviously we had the tennis dead wrong last weekend, with Kvitova losing to Sharapova, and then with Sharapova beating Azarenka.  Oops.  You know what?  We’d pick it like that again.  We love Kvitova, and we love her on clay.  We love Azarenka just a little bit less than that on clay, and we don’t like Sharapova at all.  But we’ll say this: Sharapova’s serve was popping last week, and probably hasn’t looked as good in a few years.  The girls and their weak moments coupled with our weak prognosticating moments have made calling the outset of the European clay season tough.

But we are here to talk about some different girls right now.  HBO’s new series, “Girls”, written, produced, directed, and starring Lena Dunham, as extremely stupid Brooklyn woman Hannah Horvath, is perhaps the funniest, raunchiest, and real show on television right now.  The show, which captures the misadventures of Hannah and her circle of girlfriends, as they navigate their young careers and sex lives, is hysterical, giving HBO what seems like a much needed hit for their Sunday lineup.

Then again, we could be wrong.  We were wrong, or “obvi wrong” about “Luck”, as Shoshanna would say, which stopped production and was cancelled recently.  While there was apparently some issues with PETA over the treatment of the horses, we don’t believe that the show was abruptly cancelled because of dead or injured animals.  The fact was that Luck was the most expensive show ever made, and that it was losing money hand over fist.  Creator David Milch, who also discontinued Deadwood, has a reputation for leaving expensive shows for cheap ones.  With his next few HBO kiche cop shows assured, Milch abandoned Luck in the face of a little adversity, thereby scuttling a very good show with a slow building plotline, which never even got close to a boil.

And so Ace Bernstein, who we had anointed the next great HBO character, is no longer.  So let’s anoint another, the hilarious Hannah Horvath from the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, who in a few short weeks has been cut off from her parents, has been sexually degraded repeatedly by the guy she is hooking up with, has learned she has a sexually transmitted disease, has learned her college boyfriend was gay, and who lost out on a precious opportunity for employment when she joked with her prospective new boss that he was an accomplished date rapist.

When the second episode begins, Hannah is in bed with Adam, who begins telling her how scared she was when he found her on the street.  When she was 11.  Walking alone with her Cabbage Patch lunch box.  Hannah goes with the flow, which eventually um, ends up on her arm, since Adam asks her where she wants him to come, then states “I’m gonna make the continent of Africa on your fucking arm.”  The next morning, Hannah tells Adam, when asked where she’s going, that she is meeting her friends at her friend’s abortion, after a job interview.

When she gets to the job interview, she establishes immediate rapport with her interviewer, and has the job in the bag.  But then, out of the blue, she declares, that Syracuse University, this man’s alma mater, ironically had the highest incidence of date rape of any college, which coincidentally dropped the year he graduated.  With the dude stammering over the inappropriateness, Hannah further explains that date rape had gone down when he left, “because they figured out who was doing it and it was you.”

Hannah is also obsessed with STD’s, as one can conclude by her Google searches.  Like “diseases you can get from not wearing a condom for one second” and “stuff that gets up around the side of condoms”.  It’s true that Adam (Adam Driver) has given her a scare by telling her he doesn’t regularly use condoms and that he doesn’t remember if they use condoms, but then she schedules an HIV test to coincide with Jessa’s (Jermima Kirke) abortion, at which she discusses her fear of AIDS with the doctor.  When the doctor asks her if she ever knew someone with AIDS, Hannah tells her it’s more of a “Forest Gump based fear” because that was what Robin Wright Penn’s character died of.

In the waiting room, Shoshanna and Marnie get to discussing things, and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Mad Men) reveals to her sex obsessed friend that she is a virgin, though a minute earlier, when Hannah tells them her theory on the spread of STD’s, saying that she has been diagramming in her head all day the “mayhem” when men lose their erections after sex and leave their penises inside women, as “they are want to do”, Shoshanna quickly echoes that sentiment, that men are “want” to do that with her, she has found.

In episode 3, Shoshanna reveals that her littlest baggage, playing the Jerry Springer game, is that she has “IBS” and that her biggest baggage is that she is still a virgin.  In episode 3, Hannah meets her ex because Shoshanna convinces her that it’s the courteous thing to do in the “STD world.”  When he gets to the bar, Hannah sees that he is flaming.  She asks him if he thought about men when they were together, and if he also thought about men while they were together.

“Yes and yes.” he says.

When she asks him how he was able to sleep with her if he was attracted to men, the guy goes, “well, you have a certain handsomeness…”

Damn.  And it’s true.  Hannah is fuck bucking ugly.  And to add insult, he also suggests that Hannah has dated a lot of gay dudes, that she is ignorant to reality, and that her father is gay.  He mentions her dad’s earring which he got, as Hannah describes, while “on vacation with his male friends.”

The guy then goes, “are we hearing ourselves?  I don’t think we’re hearing ourselves.”

So we love this show, and unfortunately for us, we missed the pilot, but we are very excited to be able to watch it on HBO GO, which we will do in a bit.  HBO, which had done nothing for us lately with the cancellation of Luck and our favorite Brooklyn based pot head show, “Bored to Death”, has redeemed itself somewhat in our eyes, giving us another Brooklyn based show, though with less pot heads (Jessa holler!).  They have given us a modern, funnier and more perverse SATC, for a younger generation, with no menopausal bitches or perfect endings.  They just stick to what’s funny, and not what’s sappy or stylish, and so we applaud them.

So that’s us clapping for Girls and for you.  Once again we thank you all for your patronage in hitting our page well over 100,000 times in two days.

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Kvitova and Azarenka shake hands at Wimbledon (above).

Petra Kvitova, who we felt was the best woman in the world by far going into 2012, ran her indoor unbeaten streak to 27 yesterday.  Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon and Fed Cup champion, as well as the YEC champ for 2011, defeated Angelique Kerber in a tight but quick two sets.  That’s how the girl plays it.  Fast and aggressive.  We must say again how much we like her style, leading with a big lefty serve and big big forehand and backhand wings.  Too big for Kerber, who plays big herself, and who has climbed steadily in the rankings as one of the hottest players on tour in the last 12 months.

Kerber is excellent at holding serve, a lost art in the women’s game.  This week she took out Caroline Wozniacki in straights, her second victory over the Dutch Miss in straights in essentially 5 days, after also meeting at E-Bok in Copenhagen last weekend.  While Wozniacki will continue in the wrong direction, we think Kvitova is ready to present herself to Victoria Azarenka for the slugfest that should have gone down in the final at Melbourne.  Kvitova had a very uneven Australian and American soft hardcourt season, losing unexpectedly to Maria Sharapova in the semis Down Under.  Tomorrow, Kvitova has a chance to strike back at Maria Sharapova, who frankly used all of her 9 lives today in battling back to win from match point down against former French champ Sam Stosur.  Here are the odds for tomorrow’s semifinals:

Porsche Open @ Stuttgart, Germany — Semifinal

Petra Kvitova:  – 160

Maria Sharapova:  – 120

__ __ __ __

Victoria Azarenka:  – 260

Agniezska Radwanska:  + 200


Kvitova, who defeated Azarenka on red clay last year to take the title in Madrid, has won 4 straight in the head to head, and holds a convincing 4-2 lead all time.  She has not lost to Vica since 2008.  All throughout Azarenka’s magical run, she has not had to face Kvitova, who along with Serena Williams represent the only matchup problems for her on the tour.  Kvitova is also a tremendous specialty surface player.  She has mastered indoor clay and hardcourts, has won on grass, and has always been the better clay courter.

Azarenka would seem to move a little better than Kvitova, but remember that Kvitova is dictating, giving her more opportunities to relax.  The extra power she garners, we think, will go further for her this clay court season than Azarenka with her slight edge in movement.  Kvitova is a perfect fit on clay as she moves naturally in the dirt, which is a huge edge (ask Sharapova).  It’s also a nice advantage to be able to hit through the court and move up gracefully for short balls.

Sharapova once claimed she was like a “cow on ice” at Roland Garros.  She’s a worker, and even after the shoulder surgery has made the semis at Roland Garros.  But you know how we feel about Sharapova not thinking the game and being so fundamentally unsound.  It’s not gonna fly here.  We also like that Kvitova had a relatively easy match today compared to Maria.

While Stuttgart is red clay, the indoor setting provides no wind at all, meaning the ball has less resistance through the court.  Serves and serve tosses are also unaffected, which obviously helps big servers.  Kvitova is made for this arena, and should carry the success here through the rest of the season and into the grass season.  We expect she will.  She is our favorite at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, which is saying a lot, considering how well Azarenka has done.  But we always felt that Azarenka’s star was further in the offing, and that Kvitova’s was already here.  Then it left.  Now she’ll get it back.

Azarenka struggled today with Mona Barthel, Germany’s latest breakout player.  Barthel got off strong in 2012 taking the title in Hobart with ease, then qualifying for the Australian and winning two rounds before falling to Azarenka.  She has now lost to Azarenka 3 times this year, and until yesterday hadn’t managed a competitive set.  Barthel is improving quickly though, and the tight match today is no knock on Azarenka.  In fact, we have to hand it to her for fighting off Barthel, who at one point had saved 12 of 16 break points this morning.  We would not be surprised if Radwanska upset Azarenka tomorrow, though we aren’t in love with her in this spot.  And we really hope to see Kvitova-Azarenka for the first time in 2012, as it is the matchup most anticipated by keen watchers.

As for the men:

Open Sabadell ATP 500 @ Madrid, Spain — Semifinals

Rafael Nadal:  – 2500

Fernando Verdasco:  + 1200

__ __ __ __

David Ferrer:  – 250

Milos Raonic:  + 190


We’d be tempted to pick against Nadal at those prices, except we hate Verdasco, who is 0-12 lifetime in the matchup.  He hasn’t even really gotten too close.  In one of the most similar settings to this one we could recall, the final in 2010 at Monte Carlo, Nadal rolled, 6-0, 6-1.  And it was more lopsided than that.  If Verdasco and his team, led by Darren Cahill, were going to put a winning gameplan together for Rafa, it would have happened already.  And then there was Tipsarevic who said after today’s 6-2, 6-2 loss to Nadal that the Spaniard has never looked better on clay.

Let Nadal win all the 500’s he can and we won’t care.  The real test will be at RG.  We’ll be betting Djokovic, especially if Nadal exhausts himself by going greedy, which he usually does on the dirt.  The other semi has us all done up.  We’re hoping that Raonic can get it done.  Nadal-Raonic/Kvitova-Azarenka would be a dream Sunday indeed.  If we can’t have both we’d settle for one.

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Heavyweight champion of the world, Victoria Azarenka (above).

We could not have been more surprised with Saturday’s semi-finals which yielded the Federer-Isner final.  Isner has been giving the big three all they can handle for the last few years, and with wins over Federer and Djokovic this year, he has truly earned his way into the top ten.  He’s a kid who plays to his strengths amazingly well.  Usually, you feel like the Americans, both younger and established, don’t play to their strengths very well, don’t really think matches.  Isner does.  He went 70 services games without managing a break in one set of tennis, but he also held serve 72 straight times, in that same set of tennis.  Frankly, the question on him is the movement.  He was not moving his feet a few weeks ago against Kevin Anderson, but that was still a good result for Isner, in Delray Beach, and the margin was very slim as it was.

Isner is playing well.  He is moving those feet.  Beat Djokovic?  Get your due.  Beats Djokovic, actually winning while losing on points by 11.  Managed one break of serve in the match, but made it stand up.  And he played the big points better.  With shot making.  The Federer-Isner matchup is still very much a bad matchup for Isner despite the recent win he had over Roger in Davis Cup.  Federer woke up to Isner, and there was blood in the water today, with the champ smelling a very nice win and paycheck.  Isner doesn’t do that well against guys with good serves.  Most of that 6’4, 6’5 set can all pound the serve and stay with Isner.  Federer is that kind of player too, locating the serve or hitting with pace, but Isner has only broken Federer a handful of times, lifetime.

So that’s a good quality win for Roger, who we think may be on a high right now.  Obviously, the win over Nadal is a nice win for him.  Hadn’t beaten Nadal on an outdoor hardcourt since 2005.  It’s hard for us because we’ve always maintained that you can’t read in a lot to a Masters Series win or loss, for a Federer, but who can’t say he wasn’t playing well at the last few events where he won shields or YEC’s.  Was he not playing absolutely lights out when he won Cincinnati in 2009?  Now we all thought he’d go right on and win his 6th US Open title two weeks later, but he couldn’t pull it off, playing a sub par final, for Roger.  There’s not even a major leading in this time, but he is also playing lights out right now.

We don’t think Nadal was tired.  He wasn’t match tested prior to this week for a little bit, and sometimes in best of 3 finals after a layoff, or even prior, is that kind of time when Nadal might lose these days, when he’s not losing to  guys not named Djokovic.  Nobody is sharp enough to beat him head to head at a major, from what we’ve seen.  I mean, Federer has not beaten Nadal at a major since 2007.  If not Federer or Djokovic, then who?  David Ferrer.  He’s been a better four than Murray in our estimation, in certain resepects.  Ferrer plays  extremely hard and never comes out ambivalent or uninspired.  For that matter, Ferrer has been much better than Federer in the last 5 years at the majors against Nadal.  So he gets that respect.

If Murray played his defensive style gung ho, or played consistently aggressive, either one, he would push Federer for #3.  But Murray is caught in between.  He doesn’t think matches either.  And really, Federer has been incredibly hot, making it harder for Murray to get traction in the ratings.  Federer has now won three events in a row and there’s got to be a different feel around the Federer camp about his ability to do something.  In a couple of the last few years, Federer didn’t win a tournament at all until much later in the year.  Federer is playing so well on his own serve, you have to wonder if he doesn’t feel the magic.  Unfortunately, there’s not a major coming up, but we think the belief will be there when he faces off with the heavy hitters at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  He’s looking very dangerous right now, which probably some Federer fans might have felt was never happening again.

So way to go Roger.  By the way, doesn’t it seem like, at moments like this, there is a pattern at play when Federer does get the better of Nadal?  Really, this very angle on getting to Nadal is why Federer brought in Paul Annacone, and it has to look like right now things are working quite well with the coach.  Federer, here and at the YEC, did not let Nadal expose his backhand, by hitting everything to Nadal’s backhand.  If Nadal can’t get to Fed’s forehand then Federer is hitting a lot of forehands, and when he isn’t he is ripping the backhand at Nadal’s backhand.  Finally, Roger is playing with a discernible game plan against Nadal.  When he does this, he plays very well against Nadal.  But usually, he doesn’t do it for more than one set at a time, if he does pull it off.

Federer is in the mix big time at the next three majors.  He has to be very confident that he can pull off a record 17th major win, and we’d love to see it.  We knew he was playing well, but this kind of well has us thinking big.  You have to wonder a little bit how Roger is going to translate onto clay next month.  But we have a long view of this.  He hasn’t played this well probably since he was number one.  And serving and hitting this weekend, with the wind like that, is also very encouraging.

We also have to wonder about how Victoria Azarenka, now 23-0 this year, translates onto clay as well.  She lost to eventual champion Li Na at Roland Garros last year, and in the final to Kvitova in Madrid in a tight match.  She also won a minor tournament.  She is playing with such confidence.  She is playing so great, muscling the field from right on top of the baseline, without even muscling serves.  She will probably be very tough to beat on clay as well, and we don’t see the field as overly dangerous right now.  And she thinks a match too, unlike Sharapova.

Sharapova has been horrible against Azarenka because she can’t get around the fact that she is getting out paced in a pace war, and has no discernible plan B for when a player out paces her.  Sharapova was thoroughly beaten.  Look, Sharapova’s not great at all.  Like Wozniacki was at one, Sharapova at two is a measure of the weakness of the field.  If this field was completely healthy, we don’t see Sharapova as a top 4-5 player.  She looks dejected against Azarenka and she should.  That is where the two players are at.  Sharapova’s penchant for keeping two hands on the racquet is killing her against Azarenka’s pace.  Azarenka is stretching Sharapova out on her backhand and Sharapova has no slice to fend it off with.  She must’ve had close to 40 errors today, and they were many times backhands into the net.  She only won 43 points in the final today.

Sharapova held serve only 3 times today, and was broken 6 times on 12 BP’s allowed.  They weren’t even loose serve games either, like they usually are with her.  She had something going with her serve down the tee.  Azarenka is that good.  She is a ball crusher.  The mph’s that Sharapova’s serve is down post shoulder surgery makes her serve simply ineffective against most power players who are good first ball return players.  Then, in the rallies that extend, Azarenka is pushing Sharapova left to right, and then stretching her out on the backhand.  Azarenka is a beast, sure.  Still, Sharapova must improve if she wants to win more majors.  Top competition can do the things that Azarenka does to destroy Sharapova.

We still would like to see Kvitova have her sot at Azarenka.  But there was no doubt that victory today, as well as Azarenka’s entire year, have been extremely dominant, and a beauty to behold.  And Indian Wells was pretty good this year, so we’re sorry we told you to stop watching it.  You know we don’t like Plexicushion, but it was a great event this year, and TTC’s coverage was excellent all week.  It’s a shame we didn’t get to hear Davenport and Gimelstob on all the men’s and women’s matches.

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Guillermo Garcia Lopez (above), slicing and dicing Andy Murray with the one hander, all the live long day.

It was our viewing pleasure to watch the pride of the isles, “the best world #4 of all time”, Andy Murray Saturday in his latest travail.  On successive Saturdays, Murray excited us with his losses, and we say to that, kudos!  About the best #4 nonsense, know that is no title we attached, but rather, something that we think Doug Adler’s partner of late, Sam Wilder (?) has been trying to make stick to sell soap probably while feeding into the great Andy Murray hype machine.  We don’t like Murray.  Never did.  Never will.  But sometimes we have to root for him, like when he plays Nadal.  Since we have to root for him at times, we’d like to see him play the kind of tennis he needs to in order to win.  We’d like to see him lean forward when he strikes his forehand, so that the shot has the full weight of his momentum.  One thing these guys should learn is that cute does not win big.  Must we recall Federer getting cute with Nadal on that drop shot toward the end of the second set last year at Roland Garros?  Or Federer blowing a threw the legs volley against Safin down under in 2005?

Cute doesn’t win.  So when Andy Murray draws a guy in and that guy is to be a lame duck at net on a conventional pass, and Murray tries to throw up a fancy lob when he has an entire alley both cross court and up the line, well, then there’s a moment where you say to yourself that Ivan Lendl in the kid’s box has to take that out of the playbook.  The opponent, GG Lopez, is not exactly a little man at 6’2, and going with an offensive lob in a night match subject to desert winds, is simply not very bright.  This play, one of the very few in the entire match dictated by Murray, which he lost when Lopez slam dunked the lob into the crowd, was everything wrong with the old Andy Murray, which he has supposedly shed like bad skin.

We know better.  It’s very hard to squeeze a yellow streak out of player.  Make no mistake about it.  Djokovic was a pussy, and that was a mental issue, and not a tennis issue.  Djokovic plays brave tennis.  His body and mind had to leave the pussy behind, and they did.  Murray is a different story.  He has never played brave tennis.  He’s a puke.  And since he is so good against the average guy, he rarely has to play brave tennis, and so he really only tries to play brave against Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer and aside from some small successes and moral victories, he hasn’t been getting it done against those guys.  The Lendl I know was like Djokovic.  Didn’t play soft tennis, but he was soft, and so he found a way to become hard.  Murray is physically hard.  He’s a great athlete, and at any given event, may be the best conditioned guy present.  Lendl is trying to adjust the kid’s style of play, because as our good buddies Justin Gimelstob and Doug Adler always say, backboard tennis is simply not good enough at the top level.

So TTC cameras kept showing Murray’s mum and Lopez’s team, but I don’t see Lendl anywhere.  This Wilder (?) guy talked and talked like Lendl was in the coaching box though, or, as if Lendl is God’s gift to coaching and that now Murray is a veritable terminator.  Then the cameras focus on Darren Cahill, decked out like a clown in crazy colored Adidas attire, and the announcers casually mention that Lendl isn’t there, again, and so Murray wanted Cahill there, because he can call on any coaches in the Adidas stable.  Now, we joked last week that Cahill was perhaps the only coach around worse than Murray’s mum and so that’s the guy he chooses, the worst pusher hack coach available, who we could imagine telling Murray it was a good idea to pussy foot around with Lopez and hit lots of balls to his backhand and keep the rallies going because a guy like Lopez will break down.

Clearly it was what Wilder (?) thought, who kept implying, broken record, that Lopez was not going to be able to sustain the level, and then almost creaming when Lopez went down love forty in about the 6th game of the 1st set.  But Adler gritted his teeth, clearly not a good match chemistry wise with this annoying fuck, and when Lopez had dug out of that hole and when about an hour later, had a 6-4, 6-2 victory, we were as gratified as Adler at the fact that a classic one hander, a shot maker, had stepped up and that backboard tennis wasn’t good enough, not even against the world #98.

While we don’t like Murray, we are past the point of hating him.  His tears in Melbourne 2010 sort of humanized him for us in a way, and we get all the pressure that comes with being perhaps the first Brit since Fred Perry to do something in the game.  We’d have been thrilled regardless of who the pusher was and who the glider was on Saturday night.  But Lendl is off globe trotting to exos while his boy, in a week’s time, went from hot back to hangdog.  And Cahill, who comes from a different school of thought than Lendl, if you can call it that, is presiding over this horrible loss.

Lopez played brilliant tennis.  He had reasoned out that Murray’s game plan was not to try to win, but to make less errors than his opponent.  So Lopez did not make any errors.  Lopez went backhand to backhand with Murray and did not break down.  When he could take the ball early, he ripped the one hander and had Murray scrambling.  When he couldn’t, he sliced the backhand, totally neutralizing Murray.  He even hit a clean winner off a slice backhand, which was possible because Murray guessed the wrong way, and Lopez was all over it.

A lot of times, really big name guys don’t get totally into the commitment aspect of coaching on the tour.  It seems like Lendl is that type of guy.  You can’t even describe Indian Wells as a minor event if you tried.  5th major?  Nonsense.  There are four majors, and that 5th major talk is frankly disrespectful to the history of the game.  But how is Lendl not here for Murray?  Murray needs a full time coach.  We never sound any alarms when guys lose in the Masters Series, because for all of that nonsense ‘kinda major’ type talk, it was just one match.  But we see some things breaking badly for Andy Murray, and he needs to pay attention because he is not a major champion and he is very unlikely to change that at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.  His youth is vanishing, and we feel, given his propensity for the yellow streak, he is far from a lock to win any major ever, and may go out with a fat zero by his name.  If we had to bet on a number of majors for him in fact, we’d happily take zero.

Less of a problem for our lefty love, Petra Kvitova, who somehow lost to American Christina McHale last night.  Kvitova has the hardware, for one.  For her, a slump is more permissible.  Sure, she hasn’t played great tennis, and has little business losing to McHale, but McHale is making her name as the American Radwanska after all, is she not?  We don’t think it’s more than a little slump.  It’s not like an Ivanovic slump where she wins the major and then goes underground.  Kvitova won Wimbledon, then didn’t have the ideal summer, but ended the year as the veritable number one, winning the YEC and the Fed Cup, virtually unbeatable the final 9 weeks of the year.

We think Kvitova might have figured on winning down under, and that loss to Sharapova was a bad shock to her system.  In our minds, she was a big favorite in Melbourne, and she had been virtually untouchable coming in, and could not have been quivering at the thought of taking on that field.  We can’t argue against Azarenka right now, who has definitely proved she earned the ranking.  But we will remain resolute that Kvitova is the better player of the two, and we’d expect that to begin to bear out again on clay the way that it had on indoor hards at the end of 2011.

Kvitova is a better clay courter than Azarenka, and probably, like a lot of people, she can’t wait to get off these tacky American slow hardcourts.  BTW, just saw Mardy Fish get finished off by Matthew Ebden.  Good of Mardy to put a youngster on the map like that.

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