Robby Koenig


Federer (above), arms raised in triumph.  Because of his win and Nadal’s loss early this week, he will have a better chance to raise the arms 3 weeks from today at Roland Garros.

With his 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory today over world #7 Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer has claimed the Madrid title for the 3rd time in his career, becoming the first man to ever win the Mutua Madrilena title on its controversial blue clay.  For Federer, it was also his 20th Masters shield, his 74th career title, and his 3rd shield of the year, in what has been a very strong campaign so far.  But in what may be the best development of the day, Federer has passed Nadal in the rankings, and will likely hold the 2nd spot through Roland Garros, which means that Federer should have an easier draw than Nadal, and may possibly avoid being in Rafa’s bracket.  If that’s the case, then Djokovic and Nadal, the tour’s two chief cry baby complainers, would possibly have each other in the semi-final at Roland Garros, where they could literally kill each other, if we’re lucky.  We’ll get back to them later.

As for Roger, what a week.  In the opener, he played in one of the year’s most entertaining matches, so narrowly defeating the comer, Milos Raonic.  We billed that match for you and it was probably even better than advertised.  We always have loved betting tennis because the difference between players, even disparate players, is often way slimmer than the odds would purport.  Like today.  There really wasn’t much separating Berdych and Federer, and the big man had a lot of chances late, jumping out to 0-30 on the 1st 3 games on Roger’s serve in the third set.  Berdych also broke back at 5-4 when Roger served for the match, then hit 3 aces to dig out of 0-40 in the next game, before Federer broke and served it out for good.  These matches this week, a grand Serena, stirring upsets of Djokovic and Nadal, and Federer throughout, saw a high level of tennis on display.

Even better perhaps than today’s match, in which both players had positive winner to UFE ratios, was the Federer-Raonic affair.  Federer was down 4-6, 5-5 (30-40), and on second serve, Federer came in, a tough proposition with Raonic passing him all the live long day, and had to come up with an extremely difficult half volley, which for him landed on the back of the line, sliding just a bit to force Raonic into a forehand error.  Federer then worked the hold, and at 4-6, 6-5, in the 21st game of the match, finally won a few points off Raonic’s first serve.  In the 1st 20 games of the match, Federer did not win one point off of Raonic’s first serve.  Incredible, really.

We have to say how impressive Raonic is, yet again.  This kid has the best flat forehand in the game today.  Federer, thinking he had a good play in approaching to the Raonic backhand, got torched.  He was only 15 of 29 at net, and yet, as one of TTC’s best voices, Robby Koenig said, he got the point he absolutely had to have.  Because if Raonic gets that break, he serves out the match and wins 6-4, 7-5, and Federer is still 3rd tomorrow.  He also has the best serve in the game right now, and has only really scratched the surface.

The Fed camp must’ve readjusted their gameplan going into today’s match with another big man with big strokes.  Federer only came in 5 times today, which was the better play, to make Berdych have to go side to side a lot.  Not that Berdych was complaining about his footing and movement on the blue, like some.  Just because he isn’t the most mobile guy.  For that matter, the only time Raonic was really exposed by Federer was on drop shots.  His laterals were tremendous.  So the work for he and Galo Blanco, and we are sure they are already back at it, is digging forward to play droppers and short slice.  One last bit on the Berdych match as well.  Berdych was slow to a drop shot in his last service game, and his forehand clipped the tape and popped long.  That little play does not adequately separate a -330 favorite from a +250 dog.

But Roger loves Madrid, loves the altitude, which adds a little zip to the ball, and also like those blue courts.  And if he didn’t, he still worked out, far far too classy to complain about a tournament so good for the game.  Djokovic and Nadal should take a lesson.  First Djokovic.  He trashed the blue clay, and also trashed the ATP, and said that the former president, who ok’d the blue, was only thinking of himself.  Now maybe it’s me, but I am having a hard time figuring out how the former ATP president personally benefited from these blue courts, unless he took a bribe from the manufacturer.

Look, we all know the ATP is shit.  We may question the dubious stats that Mutua Madrilena released about the blue clay being 27% easier for players to see the ball on, and 21% easier for fans to pick up the ball than on red clay.  While dubious to us, we must also be honest and say we did think it made for a striking court and visually pleasing tennis.  Probably because the courts played fast and we didn’t have to snore through war of attrition tennis for once.

Spray painted blue clay, recently spray painted at that, is obviously going to be quick and slick.  Instead of whining and crying, Djokovic and Nadal, who have dominated the game playing war of attrition tennis, should take the changes as a compliment.  Even in Spain, they are tired of the same players and styles dominating.  Every decade or so they will speed or slow the courts.  They slowed the courts because big serves were prevailing “too easily” and now we see they are speeding the courts because guys aren’t hitting winners.

Djokovic’s rants were classless.  And in his 2nd match against Wawrinka, it was Wawrinka who was frustrated with the court, smashing his racquet to bits on a changeover.  But Wawrinka is also too classy to complain.  As for Nadal, who says he’s never playing on the blue again, well, he should be more real.  Nadal wouldn’t miss a match, let alone a tournament on clay if he was dying.  He played at meaningless Barcelona in a 500, when Djokovic and Federer haven’t played any 500’s on clay this year or last.  When Nadal goes into his yearly, um, slide, it’s always because of cumulative effect, the toll of his matches.  So why play last week?

Because he’s a greedy, whiny moron.  No one really honestly says what’s going on with Nadal.  Nobody calls him out for bad sportsmanship when he stalls, or shadow boxes, or does his dumb laps or takes his little penguin steps, and fails to play to the speed of the server.  We’d love to see him skip a tournament in his home nation on clay, but it isn’t going to happen.  So why cry?  He lost one match on clay in a year, and the time he loses, against a friend of his who finally gets to beat him after 14 previous losses or whatever it was, he has to complain.  What a glaring lack of sportsmanship.  The guy was up 2 breaks, 5-2 in the 3rd, and 15-0 when he put an easy smash into the net bottom.  From there he got swept out like trash.  That’s the issue, not the clay.  Like Billie Jean King said of the surface, and of the complaining, champions adjust.

The first woman to win on the blue was Serena, who pretty much invalidated Azarenka’s banner year in about 55 minutes today, with a 6-1, 6-3 win over the now shaky new queen.  In all likelihood, Azarenka was probably really done for in about 25 minutes after the 6-1 first set drubbing.  We bet Azarenka, theoretically, and that was a bad bit of business, as we knew well it might have been.  We said as much.  In retrospect, with Serena laying waste to the competition on similar green clay in Charleston @ the FCC, we perhaps should’ve known better.  But we still think for Serena, success on clay today doesn’t necessarily translate into success on clay tomorrow.  But moving up from #9 with a stout win means she will play an easier draw at RG.

Here’s a nice stat for Serena Williams that we saw today and which earns her even more kudos.  She has now beaten 13 world #1’s in her career, the 3rd most of all time.  If you can name them all, we’ll owe you a bit of our own clay, a smoke-able number.

As for Berdych, you are still a winner, friend.  You get to go home with Ester Satorova.

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

Grumpy as we are, and as big as they come in terms of our patronage of Roger Federer (struggling above), there’s just no way we can sugarcoat this.  Any of it.  By the way, great job (that’s sarcasm) by ESPN, finding a way to not televise one of the best nights of live tennis in both the men’s and women’s games when they are the exclusive rights holder, going instead with boxing or little league baseball or NASCAR or poker or whatever it was they were trying to pass off as programming, and will do so again today, finding new ways to submerge our game in a cesspool of Americana.  But we were able to, thank God, pick up the feed to both matches live online, at the suggestion of one of our readers, who has a cool live streaming tennis site, and another site we found with a Google search.  http://watchonlinetennis.com/ and www.fromsport.com have been saving my life over here, and we are currently watching Stosur and Vinci live in the first ladies quarter-final from the Rexall Center in Toronto.

There are multiple feeds to every match available, and for Roger/Tsonga, we were lucky enough to find Robby Koenig’s and Jason Goodall’s feed.  Goodall asked Robby what was wrong with Roger while the players were snapping practice serves.  Koenig was pointed, essentially lambasting Roger for having “no plan B”, for continuing to go for his shots when they aren’t working, and for not showing a lot of fight, particularly in his Wimbledon loss to Tsonga.  We have to agree.  In a best of 5 set match, one has plenty of opportunities to change the momentum in match.  Slow the pace, speed the pace, call the trainer, take a bathroom break…do something.  I mean, we say what we want about Nadal, obviously, but we have to hand it to him for being able to change a match’s momentum.  In his last 2 major finals alone, Nadal changed the momentum at the end of the 1st set at Roland Garros that basically sewed up his 6th title there, and did so again, admirably, in defeat, to get the 3rd set from an unbeatable Djokovic at Wimbledon.

Roger?  It almost seems like he wants off the court at times, rather than digging in.  Sure he dug in against Nadal, 2 hours into the match, against his greatest rival, when the match was all but over.  But against Tsonga, up 2 sets to love, he just slid back down the mountain like an avalanche.  Okay, so we are in a mood and tough of on Roger here obviously, but we won’t apologize for it.  Was he due to lose a match at a major after winning essentially 175 and losing zero when up 2 sets?  Fuck that.  For us, it marks a different Roger.  And to see Roger in a return engagement with Tsonga here last night, watching him drop the first set in a breaker without facing a break point, and to, in the end, see the great man fall to the same guy not named Nadal or Djokovic in 2 of his last 3 matches?

We’ll come back to that.  Paul Annacone came in, and we know what he’s about.  I wouldn’t say he hasn’t made a difference.  Roger is hitting more aces, and has his serve percentages up since Annacone came on board.  Roger is serving and volleying more, and he’s winning a high percentage of those points as well.  Overall, he is getting to the net more and finishing pretty well there.  Last night in the second set, Roger’s set, he finished 12 points at net, and on this fast court, Tsonga could only get in 3 times.  These aren’t the problems.  For Roger, it’s pressure serving, and not bearing down on break points, a plague in big spots for him going back to the FO final in 2007 when he blew 18 chances, the Wimbledon final against Nadal in 2008 when he did not break serve at all (and let’s face it, Nadal’s strength is not his serve), and the 2009 extended fifth set final when it took him about 5 hours to finally break Andy Roddick’s serve.

It’s a much different denouement for Roger than for Pete Sampras, the closest comparable.  When Pete began to slide, he packed in to the net much more, often looked like a dead man walking, and was frequently passed like a sitting duck.  But Pete’s serve rarely faltered, and the great man could still muster up big man tennis when he served.  And he could still catch lightning in a bottle, showing enough flashes of brilliance to get him his last USO title as an unseeded player at the age of 31.

When just about every set is going to a breaker, and one successful chip and charge could be all you need to grab a mini-break and thus the set, then you can still look dead as a dog on certain points and win.  Like John Isner.  The guy looks spent, but pulls out big serves, deft volleys, and huge forehands when he needs them, and often, it’s all he needs.  Obviously Annacone has stressed this style to Roger, who seems content to abandon it.  And speaking of big forehands, these alarming trends could be stopped cold if Roger stepped up and took control of points with his forehand, rather than allowing guys to pepper his backhand, Nadal style, until the wing breaks down and he’s shooting and spraying the ball long and short and wide. 

Roger had a golden opportunity here.  Nadal was vanquished, paving a smooth road to the final, which Roger needed to make in order to defend his points.  Cincinnati is coming up, a place where Roger aabsolutely loves the court speed.  Roger is the two-time defending there, and he’ll need to defend those points too.  But moreso, it’s a place where he has probably looked the best overall in the last 2 years, bar none.  If he is not himself there, then what we have come to know of Roger being himself might be by the boards.  Today’s action below.

Masters 1000 Series Men — Montreal

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12:00 PM EST

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Mardy Fish:  – 160

Stanislas Wawrinka:  + 130

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2:00 PM EST

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Tomas Berdych:  – 170

Janko Tipsarevic:  + 130

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5:30 PM EST

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  – 360

Nicolas Almagro:  + 280

——-

Novak Djokovic:  – 1000

Gael Monfils:  + 600

—–

Canadian Open Ladies Championship — Toronto

____________________________________________________

1:00 PM EST

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Galina Voskoboeva:  + 400

Victoria Azarenka:  – 600

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3:00 PM EST

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Agniezska Radwanska:  – 125

Andrea Petkovic:  – 105

——–

7:00 PM EST

——–

Lucie Safarova:  + 400

Serena:  – 600

……..

By the way, huge props to our girl Serena on a most gutty win last night over Jie Zheng.  Though it’s more easily willed in the women’s game due to diluted talent, Serena has been able to will some impressive victories since coming back, after having bad starts.  At Stanford against Bartoli, the French women we despise so much was dominant early on, blasting serve after ugly serve, and making us think perhaps she had Serena’s number.  And then Lady S pulled it together, reeled off about 8 consecutive games, and walked away with her first title since the comeback.  Last night, Zheng looked to be timing the ball like Ted Williams, and you might have said to yourself, ‘well, Serena’s gotta lose sometime.’  But Serena kept coming, doing whatever it took.  Shots on the run, groundstrokes on the line, a magical lob, angles that stretched the diminutive Zheng off the court, ridiculous passing shots.  That was probably the match she needed to win in order to claim her first Masters level event since she has returned, with Clijsters, Zvonareva, and Kvitova all losing this week.  And Kvitova’s loss, 6-1, 6-2 to Petkovic, is a further blight on the women’s game that should bolster even further the confidence of the Serena camp with The Open approaching.  I mean, could anyone imagine the last 3 Wimbledon’s Mens Champs getting dusted like that in their next action after SW-19?  Wouldn’t be happening.  If and when Serena dusts Safarova this evening, she’ll face Azarenka/Voskoboeva in the semis tomorrow, and then the Stosur vs. Radwanska/Petkovic winner in the final.  If our math is right, a winner’s trophy here could see her crack the top 30 in Monday’s rankings.

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