Stacey Gardner

Stacey Gardner (left, above) and Ester Satorova.

Originally we were going to light up The Tennis Channel for it’s diminished coverage of our beloved Hopman Cup, which is a celebration of tennis, a multi-national competition sometimes decided by our dearly beloved mixed doubles–how novel–and the greatest of New Year’s pick me ups.  It is true that TTC only televised three sessions of the Hopman Cup, but in it’s quest to cover American tennis primarily, and with the blah team of Mardy Fish and Bethanie Mattek-Sands representing America, could we really blame them?  In this day and age, if you can’t find just about any tennis online live, you have no business criticizing the The Tennis Channel anyway.  But criticizing Fish and Sands?  That’s a cottage industry.

Well, if you hearken back to last year when John Isner–a winner–and Sands partnered up to win Hopman Cup XXIII, you couldn’t have been too displeased with Sands, who perhaps had no business tussling with Justine Henin, but who did pull her weight admirably in perhaps sharing with Isner in her greatest tennis glory.  And was it not a sight to see Justine Henin returning serve to John Isner?  Let’s face it, Sands is a middling player at best, a blight on our Fed Cup team, a high socked, neon dyed chubby little picture of bad fashion with the girliest popgun forehand in the women’s top 55, but she is not a disgrace to American tennis.  The girl gets doubles, understands well her limitations, and therefore uses the net, approaches as much as possible with nice touch at net, and again, she came through as much as one could expect her to last year to get USA her sixth Hopman Cup.

It’s not her fault that her meager game gets trotted out so regularly to horrible results by Mary Joe Fernandez.  That would be the USTA’s fault.  So when the Czech sounded the American death knell the other morning, and Sands got obliterated by Kvitova, as she should, and when Fish got abused by Berdych, as expected, we put no blame on Ms. Sands.  After all, the Americans were up a break in the second set of the mixed, and it was no fault of Sands that Mardy Fish blew about ten volleys in 4 games and netted four crosses in the exact same damned spot in the net.  As our mate Fred Stolle aptly pointed out, if Fish were tired from being beaten so badly by Tomas Berdych, that was not an excuse for dead legged tennis in the mixed, crossing like a kamikaze to blow volleys that the 12 year olds over at the NYJTL make regularly in the school yard.  Fred Stolle, who we only get down under and occasionally during mixed package major season, the first seven days of the majors, when we are very lucky.  Fred, why couldn’t you have stayed with ESPN back in the day and that hack Cliff Drysdale have gone?

Fish Fish Fish.  The worst thing anyone could possibly do is to put their faith in Mardy Fish in the big spot.  Now you might say, well, didn’t Fish win the bespeckled tennis ball with a driven Serena a scant few years back?  Yes.  But Serena is so great that she can make Mardy Fish a winner for a week, something we’ve yet to see anyone else do.  She carried Fish, she banged unreturnable serves to the men and women, and her presence on just about any doubles team has generally always produced medals and champion trophies.  It was lucky for Mardy that Serena likes bling so much, was healthy, and so motivated to get another blinged out tennis ball from old Lucy H.  For when Fish had the opportunity to take home the gold, he lost in five sets to…Nicolas Massu.  And he’ll never live that down.

And the excuses abound.  And that’s just tiresome.  Like hearing about Mardy Fish’s ankle all summer.  Let’s face it.  Nadal is more heavily taped up on a day to day basis by a lot, and he only wins majors.  While Fish is rationalizing to the cameras on Hopman Cup that at least Bethanie got in some matches.  Again, Sands is not the dominant player here.  When she won, it was Isner, and when Fish won, it was all Serena.  But can’t Fish state a grand intention for once, even if it’s only at Hopman Cup, where he is a past champion paired with the defending champion?  Instead it’s always like, ‘well maybe I can make the quarters.’

So we aren’t upset that America lost, considering the roster, and that so many other rosters were much much stronger.  Had a special eye on Bulgaria with our lad Grigor Dimitrov, the best up and coming one hander in the game, and Tsvetana Pironkova, Wimbledon’s mistress–quite a team.  BTW, Dimitrov did not look like a prodigy but rather, a prodigy realized, when he spanked Mardy Fish 6-2, 6-1.  Loved France with super talented one hander Richard Gasquet and two-hander Marion Bartoli, an utter hack but taken with Gasquet, a very diverse tandem.  And the Czech obviously were going to be heavy favorites because they were loaded, with Kvitova a given to win and Berdych sitting very pretty.  If the Americans could have actually stretched it out TTC would have shown us more tennis, but they still had the good grace to televise the final which we happened to catch last night at 4 AM, and despite the lack of drama due to the sweep and the no mixed match which would’ve been a hot contest, we got to see the dominant left hand of Kvitova, the dominant serve of Berdych, and the flair of Gasquet, one the game’s best shot makers.  Gasquet took the backhand early and made many beautiful backhands up the line, made incredible forehand return winners, making for a very interesting match which Berdych took 7-6 (7-0), 6-4.  Berdych is in fine form.  His return game was clicking, popping several huge forehands for winners in his own right, and even on the tacky blue plexicushion, we felt the indoor conditions made the court play extremely fast.  It was bang bang tennis, and both guys should get credit for going for shots, coming forward, and pursuing the attack.

A nice bit of warm spirit after the contest was when Bartoli came down to console Gasquet after the match, and when Kvitova came to congratulate and celebrate with Berdych.  This is a great competition and always has been, in the name of the great Harry Hopman who coached from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Gerulaitis, and who stressed the serve, the overhead, and getting to net and sticking your racquet out.  Unfortunately from a sentimental aspect, the event has had its last run at Burswood, but is sounds like the Hopman Cup is moving to an even better venue in Perth’s new arena.

It’s no real comfort to America, but Fish goes home with Stacey Gardner, so obviously these losses aren’t sweated too heavily.  And Berdych to Ester Satorova.  Damn.  We should’ve had a battle of the tennis babes featuring those two.  But there’s still time.

Crack (

Can Mardy Fish ever win a decent sized match? After going up a break in the 3rd set against Nadal Sunday, Fish hands the break right back to Rafa in the succeeding game, and as soon as lost the first point of the tie break on serve to go down 1-0, the match was over. Not only did Fish hold a 3-2 lead in the 3rd, serving for 4-2, but he also broke back after going down one love in games. How many times can he really expect to break Nadal in a deciding set?

Fish has done a lot to dodge the label we gave him a few years back when he was all pudgy and before Stacey G came along (“embarrassment to America”), but it is rather sad to still see such a laborious learning curve. His first time in any big spot is a guaranteed loss. Oh he’ll spank Feliciano Lopez in some little event nobody’s watching, but when we need him, playing A in Davis Cup, he blows it. Look at how long it took Fish to get a singles win off good buddies Blake and Roddick. Not until he was 27. Not against Nadal in the first 7 tries. Once against Roger — Mono Roger. And so in his 1st try at the YEC, his failures have been par for the course.

Fish is a backhand player. When Nadal, and today Tsonga, give him good looks on the backhand, he is a fool not to go for winners. Fish might have lost the belly roll, but baseline to baseline will never fly against Nadal. Tsonga, an aggressive guy, is gonna be all over those backhands that Fish just rolls back. So it was. Today Tsonga bested Fish 7-6, 6-1, so now Mardy is 0-2 with only 1 set in the bank. His odds of beating Federer Thursday are nil and even if he does, he is still likely headed home early. Or for Fish, right on time.

It’s a shame since a lot of younger players will be in the mix next year, like Del Potro for one. It took Fish 30 years to work out 1 YEC opportunity. We wouldn’t rush to pencil him in for any others. Too bad he doesn’t have the makeup to take advantage of such opportunities.

Later today:

Federer: – 250

Nadal: + 175

So Roger is a sizable favorite over Rafa in what will be their 26th career tilt. Must be the surface, Federer’s lifetime unbeaten streak against Rafa indoors, and his current 14 match unbeaten streak indoors. The man still rates on a fast, windless court. Still, we wouldn’t touch this action. Nadal is quite a dog. Though we expect Roger to come through and for Tsonga and Nadal to battle it out for the other semi-final berth from their group.

As for Andy Murray’s dud against Ferrer yesterday, we understand he is lame and that there’s intense pressure in front of a UK crowd, but crying injury is bad form. We thought it was an Uncle Toni press affair, sans the accent.

Crack (

Mardy Fish’s lovely wife Stacey Gardner (above), who we’d be surprised to see in such good spirits tomorrow on court 1 when her husband takes on Rafael Nadal.

The big 4 on the men’s side have found their way to the quarter-final round for the 2nd straight major, and we’d be pretty surprised if they don’t all press ahead, making it two straight major semi-finals in which Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, and Murray participated.  Let’s review the latest lines from Caesar’s Palace:

2011 The Championships at Wimbledon Mens Quarter-finals


Rafael Nadal:  – 600

Mardy Fish:  + 350


Andy Murray:  – 1200

Feliciano Lopez:  + 600


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  + 350

Roger Federer:  – 600


Bernard Tomic:  + 550

Novak Djokovic:  – 1000


In what is fortuitous scheduling for 6 time champion Roger Federer, the great man takes on 12th seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga up first on centre court.  Should we consider Federer will win, in what could be a tough match–probably the most “even” of tomorrow’s quarter-final matches–then we are counting the few hours of extra rest he will get over probable finals counterpart, Rafael Nadal, who is up second on court one versus American Mardy Fish.  So we are jumping ahead.  Should we not?  Maybe we’ll be sorry tomorrow, but we think not.  Federer is 4-1 lifetime versus Tsonga, and in his only loss, if truth be told, Fed seemed a tad disinterested after getting out 5-1 in the final set in 2009 in the quarters at Montreal.

Federer did not take a lesson from the experience, eventually playing a very disinterested US Open final against Del Potro, which he would lose after leading 2 sets to one–the only time Federer has ever lost a major final after winning 2 out of the first 3 sets.  Perhaps Federer had that in mind when he next met Tsonga, in an Australian semi which was an absolute clinic, 2,3, and 2.  Or perhaps, Tsonga’s balky knee and back were the reason he provided Roger so little competition, as were the rumblings fro Melbourne.  The fact is, Federer has taken 10 of 12 sets from Tsonga lifetime, and holds serve with tremendous ease against the Frenchman, a fact that bodes poorly for Tsonga on grass.

But how do we skip Roger through to the final though, when Djokovic still will stand in his way?  Well, we don’t think the Djoker has the swing of things yet on grass.  There are 2 supreme grass courters right now, and they are Federer and Nadal.  Federer has been playing the big game of late, moving in with ease, making multiple volleys on one point, drop shots, is ripping the backhand, and his forehand is moving quickly through the court.  Djokovic did not have a grass court warmup, and he isn’t quite in a league with the guys who can skip such a usual necessity.  We think it comes down to Federer getting a lot more looks on Djokovic’s serve than vice versa, but we’ll hold off from giving more on that until that matchup becomes a reality.

Speaking of the big game, was that Nadal playing it against Del Potro, for perhaps the first time in his life?  Indeed it was.  If Nadal plays like that the rest of the way, he’s a virtual lock to repeat.  If he plays like he did against Muller (who does have a win versus Rafa at Wimbledon in the books), then we see Federer getting his name on the chalice for a 7th time.  Nadal hit some 60+ winners, was only broken once, hit 13 aces, and played excellent tennis up at net in the round of 16.  So he went off for a little MRI.  Of course it showed no damage.  Are we suggesting Nadal is faking?  Let’s just say he’s quick on the trigger finger when it comes to trainers, and the crass mention of injuries as excuses, before and after he wins and definitely, when he loses.

We’ve seen this script played out before.  Mardy Fish may be 10 pounds lighter than the last time they tangled, but he is still zero for his lifetime against Nadal, and with good reason.  Fish can not hang with Nadal on the baseline and it’s a baseline game.  When he rushes the net, Nadal usually has the goods to pass Fish.  And don’t bring up Mardy’s aces versus Berdych.  So he struck 25.  Against Berdych.  Nadal is so far better of a returner than Berdy that Fish could turn around and go relatively aceless against Rafa.  You know we are notorious for going underdog, and for going against Nadal, but we think Fish is a terrible bet in this spot.  Has he ever really played well in a big match?  And in going back over the series, sure there have been some close sets, but Nadal has won 12 out of 13 of them.

Murray/Lopez has been all Murray in the past, and we expect it to continue.  Lopez can hurt Murray with his serve and the big lefty forehand, but the patient Murray always rides out Lopez’s hot streaks against him until they flame out.  We like Murray in 4, and in 4 matchups so far, Murray is yet to lose.  Let’s be frank.  While Lopez’s best surface is grass, he is a good cut and a half below Murray.  The only way we see this working for Lopez, or Fish for that matter, is if the ankles and/or knees/feet of their opponents fail.  And even then, we don’t see it.  Sure Murray goes out to centre court with a lot of pressure on him, but this isn’t Andy Roddick circa 09 that he’s facing.  Roddick has the ability to play enormously safe tennis, and usually does.  He lulled Murray into a sense of security in that match, and then stormed the palace gates.  Lopez is not the disciplined champion that Roddick is by any stretch, though he is the only man in the field left besides Roger with a win over Nadal on grass.

But tennis is all matchups, and Lopez matches better with Nadal than Murray, like Fish matches way better with Djokovic than Nadal, and has played him to many a nailbiter.  In tomorrow’s matchups, we are heavy with the favorites.  Bringing us to the intriguing Tomic/Djokovic matchup.  On paper, it’s all Djokovic.  Gun to our heads though, we might like the young Aussie.  He’s got a grass court pedigree, and in beating Soderling, we take from that his obvious capabilities.  Murray is a guy who practices on these lawns more than any other guy, because of Davis Cup.  We don’t necessarily feel the magic here with regard to Djokovic, who in our mind, has a lot to prove still on grass.

Are we going with Tomic tomorrow?  No.  Djokovic has lost all of 1 match this year, recall.  But we might like him as much or better than any of the other dogs, considering he’s playing a dog who has rolled over and quit in big spots in majors before.  And Tomic doesn’t have a lazy bone in his body.

Crack (,

James Blake and Novak Djokovic (above).

There are going to be some very interesting matchups on Sunday for the true tennis fan.  It’s not like we didn’t enjoy watching Roger take Radek Stepanek to the woodshed this afternoon, or that we weren’t interested in the troubles of both of the Andys, but tomorrow is to be quite the day.

It gets started early with a very intresting matchup on Stadium, Mardy Fish vs. Richard Gasquet.  Back to the scene of the crime for Gasquet so to speak, whose career was derailed in Miami when he exchanged fluids with a Miami woman on Cocaine.  That interaction led to a failed drug test which has since been set aside, but the net effect essentially set him back 2 years.  The promising Frenchman with the game’s most beautiful one handed backhand took a while to get back on track, but it appears that he is in fine form again.  Recall that Gasquet is a Wimbledon semi-finalist who beat Andy Roddick in that quarter-final, coming back from 2 sets to love down.

We love Gasquet.  And Stacey Gardner (below). 

We try to love Mardy too, but it’s hard.  Especially tomorrow.  Gasquet, blessed with incredible talent, seemed like a guy who’d never put it all together.  We think the brush with the Coke rap has forced him to to appreciate the game more, and we’ve never seen more heart  or fire from him lately.  Key Biscayne’s Agile court surface would seem to favor both players and their aggressive games.  We’ll take the one-hander.  We still expect the big things from Gasquet that we’ve always expected, and like that he’s back on the right path.  And his recent drubbing of Andy Roddick was very impressive, which we’re sure good friends Fish and Roddick discussed.

Major champions are in action on the women’s side with another one-hander, Francesca Schiavone, and Kim Clijsters both featured.  But there will be heavyweights going all day.  Beat this: Juan Martin Del Potro versus Robin Soderling.  Talk about ball crushers.  Great for the game that Del Potro is becoming a factor again, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little too hot for Soderling to handle tomorrow.  Soderling, having a great year, is yet to produce much on American soil, and JMDP might just thrive in this environment. 

Giant John Isner in action against Murray’s slayer, journeyman Alex Bogmolov Jr.  Interesting that Murray has given career best wins to Donald Young and Bogmolov Jr. in successive tournaments.

How charitable is the Scot?  That’s what happens when you keep pushing balls back and you never take any initiative.  Speaking of charity, the very gifted but now scorned James Blake, will take on Novak Djokovic, still undefeated this season.  If Blake ever wanted to do something, having let myriad opportunities just slip away, tomorrow night might be a good time to go for for broke.

Crack (,

Roger Federer in his sporty pink Nike duds (above).

World # 2 Roger Federer was in fine form on Sunday, dispatching the new and much improved American Mardy Fish, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-4 for his 17th career Masters shield, and for his 63rd career title.  Fish didn’t make it easy for Roger, who didn’t break Fish’s serve until the 9th game of the third set.  But Federer seemed to have his hardcourt game going strong, as he only allowed 1 break chance in the match, which he saved.  Federer was not broken in the match, and suffered only one break all week in Cincinnati, which came in Friday’s straight set win over Nikolay Davydenko.

For Federer, the two week period which included him making the finals in Toronto and Cincinnati consecutively, was the first time that Roger made back to back Masters finals since 2007, when he also lost in the finals of the Rogers Cup (to Novak Djokovic) and then won Cincinnati, taking out James Blake in the final.  Federer takes the trophy and a check for $443,ooo–only his 2nd tournament victory of the year, his first since winning his 4th Australian title, and record 16th overall major over Andy Murray in straight sets at the beginning of the year.

In addition to successfully defending his rankings points from last year in Cincinnati, Federer took home his 4th career Cincinnati title (05, 07, 09, 10)–usually a good sign heading into The Open.  Federer flashed the impressive footwork off both wings while incorporating a more aggressive style that saw him get to the net 9 times in the matches first 3 games.  Federer finished off many points at the net.  At one point he served and volleyed on consecutive points–a real rarity in today’s game, and Roger finished many points at the net even on his return games.

For Mardy Fish, the match must have brought back memories, as for much of the match he and Roger seemed destined for 3 trie-breakers, which is how Fish fell in the finals here at Cincinnati in 2003 to good buddy Andy Roddick, who went on to win his first ever major weeks later in Flushing.  Fish is now 0-3 in Masters finals (Cincinnati, 03, 1o, Indian Wells, 08), and has run his record to 5-11 in career finals.  But overall, the week was a great success for Fish, easily America’s best male singles player right now.  Fish took out both Andy Murray and Andy Roddick on his way to the finals this week.  Since Queens Club, Fish has made 4 singles finals, two coming on grass, and even won the Farmers Classic doubles title with doubles ace Mark Knowles.   Fish also won the singles titles in Newport and Atlanta to kick off the American summer season.

Fish served big, smashing 18 aces, but peculiarly, did not hit a winner on his forehand until well into the 2nd set.  At one point, Federer held a 19-0 edge in forehand winners, but Fish kept the match tight, and his nose in front for much of the way, by keeping a lot of balls in play.  Federer came in very motivated to beat Fish, citing his memory of their last encounter, when Fish beat Roger 6-2, 6-3 in the semi-finals of Indian Wells in 2008.  Roger complimented Fish’s play before the match, calling Fish a real threat coming into The Open because of his new found fitness and ability to attack the net, which most players lack.  Federer also said that Fish had great hands and extremely good coordination, whether it be on his backhand side, up at net, or even on the golf course.

It almost sounded like the two may be golf buddies.  For Federer, the sluggish footwork that lost him last week’s title in Toronto, and which had Federer fans quite worried, was exceptional in Saturday night’s easy win over Baghdatis, and yesterday.  Federer seems to be playing as well as right now as he did at the Australian Open, a good sign for those hoping he comes out on top at The Open, where he can collect his 17th major title.  Federer will be looking for his 7th consecutive finals appearance in Flushing, his 6th US Open title, and his 10th hardcourt major victory.

Federer was coached by Swiss Davis Cup Captain Severin Luthi this week, but the influence of new coach Paul Annacone, who was not present, was present.  Federer looked exremely fresh, and decisive in his ventures to the net.  He also snapped off several one handed backhands down the line that took fish out of the play, and frankly, that made you say “Ooh.”  Federer attacked behind the slice return quite frequently, what we call the “Chip and Charge”–a great play for Roger, blessed with the best hands in the game, and one that shows the direct bearing of Annacone on Federer’s game.  The beauty of the play is that win or lose, it’s over quickly, and can save Federer from expending a lot of needless energy in points.

The title was Federer’s 44th career hardcourt win.  With the win, Federer also finished tied for 1st in the US Open Olympus Series with Mardy Fish and Andy Murray, winning the series that could substantially bolster his summer earnings if he wins the US Open for the 2nd consecutive time and for the fourth time in his career.

–Crack (


World # 2 and 16 time major singles champion, Roger Federer, ran his career record versus world # 6, Nikolay Davydenko to 14-2 this evening with a 6-4, 7-5 victory in the quarter-finals of the Western and Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati.  For Federer, it’s been an interesting week of inactivity.  Roger won his 2nd round contest against up and coming Uzbeki, world # 53 Denis Istomin, when the youngster retired with Federer up 5-2 in the 1st set.

Federer received a walkover in the 3rd round when his opponent, German one hander, Philipp Kohlschreiber was forced to withdraw due to injury, setting up a quarter-final showdown for Roger in which he’d have to face either Davydenko or Ferrer, the latter whom Roger is 10-0 against.  Since Davydenko outlasted Ferrer yesterday in a tight 3 sets, Federer had to go toe to toe with Davydenko, who has both of his career wins over Federer in the last year.  But Roger made fairly easy work of the would-be Austrian defector, banging 12 aces while winning 32/41 points on his first serve, and breaking Davydenko 3 times in 11 opportunities–an average of 1 break chance in each of the Russian’s service games.

Roger comes out with the win in 1 hour and 39 minutes, and will face tonight’s winner, Marcos Baghdatis, who Federer defeated for his 2nd Australian Open title, or world # 1 Rafael Nadal, who has not faced Federer on a hardcourt since his 5 set major victory over Federer in Melbourne in 2009.  The two rivals have not met on a fast hardcourt since the semi-finals of the Year End Championships in 2007, and have not met in the semi-finals of an open event since Roland Garros in 2005.  Nadal is yet to advance past the semi-finals in Cincinnati, which is the only Masters Series event that he has never played in the final of.

Nadal and Federer are on the same side of the draw, despite being ranked 1 and 2, because Federer was 3rd in the world last week when the draws for Cincinnati were announced.

On the other side of the draw, a re-invigorated Andy Roddick, who just last week seemed to be talking about a lack of energy and suffering from mononucleosis, defeated Robin soderling lst night in impressive fashion, blasting 26 aces, and then today took out Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-5 today in 1 hour and 21 minutes.  While this week has been good for Roddick, who should have already done enough here to return to the top ten next week, I can’t say I didn’t cringe when loyal Roddick supporter Patrick McEnroe, upon seeing Roddick make consecutive backhand touch volleys, called the net play “Fish like.”

No disrespect this time around to the newly dedicated Mardy Fish and his three recent titles (Newport on grass, Atlanta, and LA in doubles with Mark Knowles), but they have been talking about Fish this week like he’s Roger, and Andy like he’s Fish.  Fish may have gotten the impressive victory over Murray today, who himself is on a roll in terms of giving landmark top 5 wins to Americans this summer (Querrey, Farmers Classic F.), but Roddick took out Soderling, which seems to me the taller order.  While Roddick/Fish makes for great copy in a semi-final, All-American, the two kids who lived together growing up (Fish lived with Roddick’s family so that he could play tennis) and who were working out together at the Roddick compound in Austin just last week, facing off, I have to say I will be rooting for Roddick hard tomorrow.  Roddick may have had a bad Wimbledon, but he did win 2 rounds at Roland Garros, and has been to 2 Masters Series finals this year consecutively (Indian Wells, Miami).  Dandy Andy’s Australian effort was hampered by injury, but he still almost came back from down two sets and gimpy versus eventual semi-finalist Marin Cilic.

Roddick is the bigger star.  When he’s right, he owns Fish, and it would be great for tennis to see a powerhouse final like Federer or Nadal versus Roddick on Sunday, especially after we were led to think that Roddick’s recent woes and health issues might impinge on his US Open efforts just last week.  

Win or lose for Fish, he will re-enter the top 25 next week, which will include four Americans for the first time in a couple of years.  In case you’re wondering, Fish last went to a Masters final at Indian Wells in 2008, where he beat Roger Federer and lost a tight final to Novak Djokovic.

–Crack (,

Next Page »