Radek Stepanek

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.

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The much anticipated Milos Raonic (above) versus Rafael Nadal third round dream matchup was shattered today when Raonic injured his back as he fell in pursuit of the ball, in the first set against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.  Raonic was forced to retire up 3-2 in the first set, and with a break of service in his pocket.  Theoretically, Raonic’s game should be feared on grass, but the young Canadian, in actuality, hasn’t had much practice.  A great shame.  Nadal/Raonic would have been one of the premiere matchups of the tournament and one of the most interesting matches of the year.  Hopefully, the kid gets his back right in time for the American hardcourt season, and we’d expect him to be much better when he returns to SW-19 next year.

How about Venus Williams having to fight for her life against an old lady?  Date-Krumm, at around 41, played some old school tennis, especially in the clutch, winning 61% of the points on second balls and coming to the net a stout 54 times.  The Japanese woman had to work hard for every point, only hit one ace in 2 hours and 56 minutes, and truly made Venus earn it.  And now we worry about Venus having played too much tennis so far, going into her 3rd round matchup with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who, after “upsetting” Jelena Jankovic in round 1, came back strong today, stomping Monica Niculescu, 6-3, 6-0

The Williams sisters are paying the price for returning from injury on a specialty surface.  MJMS has never beaten Venus, but she is playing great, and is on her best surface.  The 3rd round matchup will be a rematch of their 3rd round match from 2008 which Venus won 6-1, 7-5.  We have a heavy rooting interest in Venus, obviously, and we’d hate to see her lose in this spot. 

On the men’s side, Stanislas Wawrinka surprisingly fell in straights to Simon Bolleli.  Who knew the Italians could play so well on grass?  What a season they’ve had on grass on both the men’s and women’s side.  Robin Haase, a good grass courter from the Netherlands upset Fernando Verdasco, who was ripe for the taking after his 4 hour battle on Monday with Radek Stepanek.  Dimitry Tursunov finished off his first round match and his opponent, Ernests Gulbis, who is flat under-achieving, truth be told.  Tursunov took the last 2 sets in tie-breakers, the first of which he took fourteen points to twelve.  And we were obviously glad to see one handers Richard Gasquet and Grigor Dimitrov pull through.  Dimitrov will have to turn it around quickly, because he has Tsonga bright and early.  Here are those, and some other interesting lines for day 4:

Dimitrov:  + 450

Tsonga:  – 800


Ferrer:  – 750

Harrison:  + 425


Almagro:  + 165

Isner:  – 225


Soderling:  – 350

Hewitt:  + 225


Troicki:  – 350

Lu:  + 225


We are happy to take our chances on some of the younger guys like Harrison and Dimitrov tomorrow, especially at these prices.  Isner/Almagro is a tough call.  We wouldn’t touch it.  Soderling/Hewitt should be a great spectacle, and both players were pushed in round one.  Not listed above, but interestingly enough, young Aussie Bernard Tomic is a (-225) favorite to advance versus Igor Andreev.  We wouldn’t touch that either.  But we are all over Yen-Hsun Lu, who, recall, upset Andy Roddick in the round of 16 last year.  Lu is a very tough out, and we aren’t sure about Troicki on grass.

Anderson:  + 2500

Djokovic:  – 10000

Anderson is a 6’7, mobile, bomb serving stick.  The Djoker can’t be in love with this draw card.  We like Anderson’s line.  Would you rather bet 10000 units to win a hundred, or bet a hundred to win 2500?  And for the ladies:

Wozniacki:  – 3000

Razzano:  + 1200


Robson:  + 1400

Sharapova:  – 4000 


Zheng:  – 225

Doi:  + 165


Bartoli:  – 3000

Dominguez Lino:  + 1200


Halep:  + 700

Serena:  – 1500


How is anyone comfortable laying thousands on any of these favorites?  It would be a nice story if Robson won, and Sharapova’s in fine form, but, it’s not minus 4000 form.  Take a flyer.  Wozniacki?  Upset waiting to happen.  Serena?  Probably wins, but that’s bad betting at negative 15.  And we threw Moi/Zheng in there, primarily because we called Moi over Mattek-Sands, in what was one of the worst lines we have ever seen in round 1.

Na Li:  – 160

Sabine Lisicki:  + 120

And why is Li Na getting so little respect?  We think it backs up our opinion of the women’s game nicely, and clay court tennis for that matter, with her being the current French champ, but we also think she’s a good bet in this spot.  Stick with the mixed channels for all the action.

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Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (above), who “upset”  15th seed Jelena Jankovic today, as we expected.

As you know, we were on Radek Stepanek today, and unfortunately for us, after taking the first 2 sets from Fernando Verdasco, whom we think is a quite poor big match player, the Spaniard got out of jail, winning 3 straight sets, and 9-7 in the extended fifth.  We aren’t about to apologize.  This is the kind of action we like, and we’d go the same way if there was a rematch of these 2 on grass tomorrow.  Some of other picks did a little better.  We think that Gonzo is officially back, after popping 25 aces and playing very clean tennis against Alexandr Dolgopolov, who got stung by an abysmal draw.  Gonzo hit 50 winners and had only 19 UFE in a very entertaining match in which Dolgopolov played pretty well, save for his weak second serve, now very exposed come fast court season.

We loved Ryan Harrison and along with Gonzalez and Martinez Sanchez, we were very happy with a nice trio of wins from those dogs.  Simply put, Dodig was not the same player he was last week against Harrison, who dominated every positive category except aces.  Harrison will play David Ferrer in round 2, and we’ll be liking him again in that matchup on Thursday.  Harrison is a very tough kid, for an American.  Very atypical of the sort of tennis brats our nation has been raising.  Speaking of brats, how about that Melanie Oudin, who caught a bagel and a breadstick from Ana Ivanovic, in the route of the day.  Oudin should give it up.  How sad was that performance, in which she won a mere 15 points out of 39 on serve, and a meager 8 points in the return game?

Frankly, we are absolutely sick of seeing her touted as a rising American.  She has gotten by too long on her opponents double faults.  If we trot her out for Fed Cup again, I’m gonna puke.

We thought Lleyton Hewitt would out-tough Kei Nishikori on the grass, and he did, for his 104th career win on grass.  We also thought talented 1-hander Sergiy Stakhovsky would roll British hack Daniel Cox, and he did.  We had Isner going through, if you recall, with few breaks of serve, and we loved Dimitrov, and fully expect him to come through when his match is resumed tomorrow.  The Bulgarian 1-hander who has been called by some a Federer clone wass up 7-5, 7-5, 3-3 when darkness fell.

On the women’s side, sure we went against Wozniacki, as we will in every round until she is eliminated.  We weren’t impressed with the short work she made of Parra Santonja, and have no respect for her game or rank.  As we expected, Irina Falconi, a terrible favorite, fell easily to Stephanie Dubois of Canada, 2 and 2.  Tamira Paszek came through againt Ayumi Morita in 3 sets, and will draw suprise winner from New Jersey, Christina McHale in the second round.

And before we get to the morning’s odds, we’d just like to mention that Serena had a very tough match and seemed, by her post match comments, just happy to be there and to have won a match.  We have seen her get hot many times, and many times, off of long layoffs, notably dusting Justine Henin, and silencing the “Serena is fat” bandwagon by winning at Melbourne while fat, but we just feel like this may be a bit too much for here here, despite a favorable draw.

Serena may bow out early.  And we might be betting against her.  As for tomorrow’s odds:

Nadal:  – 12000

Sweeting:  + 3000


Fish:  – 400

Istomin:  + 250


Hanescu:  + 700

Roddick:  – 1500


Paszek:  – 175

McHale:  + 125


Dulgheru:  + 250

Kuznetsova:  – 400


We think Kuznetsova’s movement is suspect on grass, and we don’t like her as a big favorite here.  McHale has a fighter’s chance in what is basically a toss up.  We hate Roddick at minus 1500, and Nadal at minus 12000.  I mean, who really wants to lay 1500 units or 12000 units to win a 100.  I’ll take my chances with the dogs at those rates.  We also don’t like Mardy Fish much at (-400), and don’t think he’s much good in the big spot.  There are a lot of 1st round matches yet to come off, and we spoke about some of them yesterday.  We didn’t mention Kristina Barrois,  a one hander whom we have a soft spot for.  We are pulling for her, a slim favorite over Petra Cetkovska.  And Bethanie Mattek-Sands is (-600) against Misak Doi.  Wow.  Another sign of how bad the women’s game is.  Gun to our heads, we’d say Hanescu/Istomin would be our long shot parlay of the day.  Maybe throw in Ryan Sweeting if we are feeling really crazy.  A 5 unit 3 team parlay there would net 4340 units, if the stars aligned.

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Impressive young American Ryan Harrison, who once again bulled his way through qualifying, with Pistol Pete Sampras (above).

There are some very interesting matchups, as well as odds, for Day 2’s action at The Championships.  Take a look at the odds and our thoughts, below:

Ivan Dodig:  – 275

Ryan Harrison (USA):  + 185


Alexander Dolgopolov:  – 400

Fernando Gonzalez:  + 250


Grigor Dimitrov:  – 225

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe:  + 165


Nicolas Almagro:  – 180

Jarkko Nieminen:  + 130


John Isner:  – 250

Nicolas Mahut:  + 175


Kei Nishikori:  – 110

Lleyton Hewitt:  – 130


Bernard Tomic:  – 180

Nikolay Davydenko:  + 130


Ernests Gulbis:  + 175

Dimitry Tursunov:  – 250


Frank Dancevic:  – 500

Ricardo Mello:  + 300


Andreas Seppi:  – 225

Albert Montanes:  + 165


Wozniacki:  – 5000

Parra Santonja:  + 1500


Medina Garrigues:  + 165

Goerges:  – 225


Kerber:  – 200

Robson:  + 150


Falconi:  – 175

Dubois:  + 125


Jankovic:  – 300

Martinez-Sanchez:  + 200


We didn’t know much about Ivan Dodig, to be honest, until we saw him play a few very sensible grass court matches last week.  Still, we see young Texan Ryan Harrison as a special player to be, and we like his recent work, most notably, a big win against a very hot Milos Raonic at Indian Wells.  We’d take Harrison, who is looking for his 1st win on European grass (he had a couple of wins in Rhode Island last July).  We like Gonzo as a big underdog.  Dolgopolov has underwhelmed on specialty surafaces, and though it’s hard to know how well Gonzo has healed from his knee problems, he is a big time player with an immnse serve and forhand when right.  you know we love our one hander Grigor Dimitrov, especially in this matchup with a relative unknown.  Dimitrov has progressed very well in the last year, and a win tomorrow would be a nice step for him.  Giant John and Mahut set to rumble again.  Mahut is a kid we just love because he has a great attitude, great hands, and plays the right way.  But we’ll take Isner.  Neither guy has much of a return game, which hurts Mahut more against the 6’9 ace machine.  Japan’s finest, Kei Nishikori, against former champ Lleyton Hewitt…hard to tell how right Hewitt is, but he’s a fighter.  Keep that in mind.  Welcome back to high level tennis for Dimitry Tursunov, who had 3 major ankle surgeries in the last 2 years.  Against Gulbis, we should see some giant groundstrokes, and not much holding back.  Would be a great win for either guy.  We have always loved 1-handed Canadian Frank Dancevic, a heavy favorite tomorrow.  Good luck to James Blake against Baggy…he’ll need it, and he desperately needs a win and some confidence. 

On the ladies side, we think Caesar’s is crazy to put such a ridiculous number on Caroline Wozniacki.  We’re taking APS and the plus 1500.  It girl, flavor of the month, talk of the villages, Julia Goerges, is such a slight favorite over AMG…can it be right?  Just another shining example of how weak the women’s game is.  We’d love to Laura Robson, the young Brit, come through.  American youngster Irina Falconi, who has perhaps played 1 or 2 good weeks of tennis is her young career, is favored tomorrow.  We’re skeptical.  We love Martinez Sanchez, probably the best lady Spaniard on grass, and think she will give Jankovic, whom we despise for her gutless, hack style, much trouble.  And though not listed above, we like Radek Stepanek a lot at (+ 150) for an upset special over Cahill’s special boy, Fernando Verdasco.

Nice parlay opportunities tomorrow with the dogs.  If you want to get crazy, go Parra Santonja, Harrison, Martinez-Sanchez, Verdasco, and Gonzo.  A 5 unit wager on that combo would pay out 5,985 units should the stars align.  And please remember that we like certain bets, but don’t necessarily believe they will come in.  That’s why it’s gambling, kids.  May as well try to win big if you are going to play.

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Isner and Mattek-Sands (above), champions at Hopman Cup in Perth.

Roger had a little trouble with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Doha semi, who seems to come to Australia and always play his best tennis.  Tsonga, a big man, really capitalizes on the two month break and is always at his best when he’s fresh.  Sure Roger won the first set easily, and had to take the second in a breaker 6-3, 7-6 (3), but Tsonga has the game to challenge Federer, though that challenge was only slight yesterday as Federer continues in fine form.  The great man was again barely challenged this morning in Federer/Davydenko XVII.  Davydenko, who dusted world #1 Rafael Nadal in straights Friday, got dusted by the great man for the 15th time in 17 encounters, 6-3, 6-4 in little over an hour.

And we’re gonna take a sec to toot our own horn here, because in last month’s piece about Roger and Venus, we mentioned the fact that a healthy Davydenko is a bad matchup for Rafa, and well, what we saw in our crystal ball came to pass some 6 or 7 days later.  But this is primarily about Roger, of course.  The great man takes his 67th ATP tournament victory in his 95th finals appearance.  Those numbers are a testament to Roger’s brilliance and consistency over time.  Federer has been serving lights out on the Plexicushion, only broken once so far in 42 service games leading up to the final.  Today Federer won a staggering 40/51 points on serve, and faced no break points. 



This is not to say that Davydenko did not play well.  He played to a very high level, but could never mount an offensive against Rog, who we will repeat, appears in his finest form since 2006.  With more results in and more time to analyze, it would appear that Paul Annacone has focused on Roger’s serve, and impressed upon him the absolute necessity in holding serve.  We haven’t seen Federer throw in more than 2-3 bad service games since October, and he dominated Nadal on the strength of his serve, and agressive first strike tennis at the YEC in London to end the year.



Next stop for Fed is likely the Kooyong Classic, a well run Melbourne exo where Roger and a few other big names usually get 2 or 3 matches in.  Remember a few years back that Federer lost to Roddick at Kooyong, and then demolished him in the AO semi-final, as the great man obviously keeps a few tricks in the bag until he hits Rod Laver.  Andy Murray is also expected to show up at Kooyong, and it could be interesting to see Roger playing coy with the other Andy there.  Speaking of Murray, the lad completely out-classed Giant John Isner in the men’s portion of the final B tie at Hopman.  But thankfully, Bethanie Mattek-Sands had already clinched the Americans spot in the final with a trouncing of teen Laura Robson.  As for Isner, he only managed 2 paltry aces versus Murray, who set the tone in the match’s first game with an easy break of Isner’s serve.  The Isner serve, gigantic in terms of MPH, was no problem for the quick reflexes of Murray, who dialed in to Isner’s serve very easily, and on some returns, took the ball close to 2 meters inside the baseline and struck 1st ball return winners.  We aren’t quick to praise Murray who we despise for his passive style, but as Fred Stolle remarked, Murray delivered quite a wakeup call to Isner, and illustrated vividly the difference between world’s #4 and 19.  If Isner doesn’t play aggressive first strike tennis on the Plexicushion, which is a hard surface to hit through on, he has zero chance.  Murray moved the ball around, and the lumbering Isner was the one on the defensive.  Murray tired Isner out with side to side rallies, and executed several almost perfect drop shots that left Isner frozen in time.

In the end, no cause for alarm for the Americans, who faced Belgium unexpectedly in the final, because the group A leaders, Serbia, had to drop out of contention due to an aggravated stomach muscle suffered by Ana Ivanovic.  There are no injury replacements permitted in the Hopman Cup.  Though Henin gave quite a lesson to Mattek-Sands in the first match of the tie, clinically dispatching her, Isner shook off the loss to Murray quite nicely in defeating Belgian youngster Ruben Bemelmans.  As is often so fascinating with Hopman Cup, the tie came down to the mixed portion, where you have Giant John Isner serving to one of the greats, Justine Henin, giving away a foot and a half to the American.  Unlike Serena, who has carried the US to several Hopman Cup titles, the best female could not elevate her squad to victory this morning.  Isner and Mattek-Sands defeated the Belgian team, and we are very hopeful that they will remain paired and take a run at the mixed title in Melbourne, where the AO begins in 8 days.



In Brisbane this morning, Andy Roddick overcame a loose second set and a very powerful opponent with a big serve, South African 24 year old Kevin Anderson, who played his college ball at the University of Illinois in Champagne.  We have seen the poor returning Roddick have big difficulty with big servers, notably John Isner in the round of 16 at the USO, and of course Roger Federer.  Anderson served big, and kept Roddick off balance with his pace, which prevented Roddick from taking control at the net.  In the 3rd set, Roddick made an important adjustment, following slice backhands in, which travel slowly and give him the time to set his feet at net.  Good to see from Roddick, who doesn’t always have a strong plan B.  Roddick took out Anderson in 3 sets, and played the majority of the big points better than his opponent.  Roddick looks to be in great physical condition, and may have dropped a few pounds.  As the match wore on, he seemed like the guy better able to be at war, while fatigue seemed to creep in for the young Anderson.  Dandy Andy will take on Robin Soderling in the final tomorrow (Soderling easily straighted Radek Stepanek earlier), and we love Soderling’s game over the past few years, and figure he will be favored going in.  We’ll pull for Roddick, but we are figuring on Soderling having too much pace and being too aggressive for the safer Roddick to stay with.

By the way, our woman Brooklyn Decker was looking very casual next to Roddick’s ace coach, Larry Stefanki, in the player’s box.  We also well await the Decker/Jenni Mostrom matchup tomorrow morning.





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Jarmila Groth in civilian clothes (above).


World #42 and up and coming Australian female Jarmila Groth served notice of her serious game to the world once again, with an impressive straight set victory over country-woman and world #6, Saamantha Stosur.  Groth served big in defeating Stosur, the 2010 French Open finalist, 6-2, 6-4 with relative ease. The Brisbane International, which features both a mens and female field, was the site of one of the 23 year old from Melbourne, Groth’s, most impressive victories to date.  The tennis world and Australian tennis has certainly taken notice.  The win sets up a 4th round encounter with Andrea Petkovic who opened the tournament with an easy win over Australian Jelena Dokic, 6-0, 6-1.

For Groth, the tournament seems imminently winnable at this point, with a weak field including Marion Bartoli, Pavlyuchenkova, Safarova, and Cibulkova remaining–all players that we think Groth can hang with.

The mens side seems a bit tougher, with Baghdatis, Soderling, Istomin, South African giant Kevin Anderson, and Andy Roddick still floating around.  Roddick kicked off the new year with an easy 6-4, 6-2 win over Ukranian Alexander Dolgopolov, and claims he is at his “healthiest in months.”  Roddick looks to repeat as champion in Brisbane after a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) win over Radek Stepanek in last year’s final.

Roddick would seem at this point to be on a collision course with #1 seed Robin Soderling.

In Doha, world #1 Rafael Nadal began the year in impressive fashion with a 6-3, 6-0 victory oover Karol Beck, a player who we feel has done his best to mime Nadal’s whip topspin forehand.  Today, Nadal is locked in more of a death struggle.  At the moment, Nadal has just been bageled by Luckas Lacko, after winning the tight first set in a tie breaker.  7-6 (3), 0-6 at the moment as the 3rd set is about to begin.  With Nadal already lamenting his lack of rest this offseason, we are wondering if he is starting the year fresh–something he obviously needed to do.

Federer kicked off the year with a tight win over 21 year old Dutchman Thomas Schoorel 7-6, 6-3, and made another highlight reel tweener shot in the match, which was frankly too close for comfort.  Federer said that his unfamiliarity with the young Dutchman worked against him.  See the latest Federer tweener at the link below:


Today, Federer defeated friend and countryman Marco Chudinelli in a tight 2 setter.  BTW, Nadal has steadied himself, and is now up an early break in the 3rd set versus Luckas Lacko.  Nadal leads the 3rd set 3-0, 40-40 as we write.




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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Roger really the best?  Of all time?


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