Stanislas Wawrinka


federer_nadal_indian_wells_sferturi_finalaThe 2 fair haired boys (above) are back at each other in Indian Wells.

BNP PARIBAS @ Indian Wells — Men’s Quarter-final (Approx. 10 PM EST)

Roger Federer:  – 140

Rafael Nadal:  + 110

…….
The h2h is still grizzly (Nadal, 18-10), which won’t be helped by Nadal’s precarious nature, because we don’t really see him making it too deep at the events where Federer can make headway in the h2h.  Just like when Roger was king, and he’d lose to Nadal at 2 Masters Finals and the RG Final every year–his reward for constantly going so deep–while Nadal hid from Roger at the events where Roger has a surface edge, like Cincinnati (where they’ve never met), the USO (where they’ve never met), and indoors (where they’ve only met 4 times and only at the YEC).

Tonight’s match, should Nadal keep his appointments, will be the 1st in the matchup since Key Biscayne in 2004 when the players have met before the semi-finals, and only the 2nd time ever.  Frankly, after watching Nadal handle Federer in Melbourne last year on Plexcushion (a 2nd terrible defeat against Nadal at Oz), we were shocked to see Federer have such an easy time with Nadal, when he beat Nadal 6-3, 6-4 here at Indian Wells.  Especially surprising also considering that in 2011 on a similar court with similar if not the same weather conditions–cool and windy–Nadal gave Federer what was probably the worst hard court loss he has ever suffered (6-3, 6-2 with a 62-39 edge on points).

But really, that was Rafa at his all time best, not too far removed from completing the career slam, and this is not.  Obviously Nadal is not himself, and any time when that’s the case, we’d favor Federer in the matchup.  Though Federer didn’t look all that hot himself in fending off Stan the Man last night.  Federer said that he and Nadal both “have issues” at the presser today.  Federer seems to have a lingering back issue that a lot of guys are speculating about.  We heard some good conjecture from we think Mark Knowles, who claimed that Roger is hampered, from what he can tell, on overheads and stretches.  But like the great Johnny Mac likes to say, the Fed back is an injury that hurts way more when he is losing.  We recall the whispers about Fed’s back within 48 hrs of the great man laying absolute waste to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at Wimbledon, 2012.  Federer, a picture of health usually, has shown a tremendous ability to shake off back problems, which while they do nag, they have not proven degenerative.  And then you kind of say ‘well Roger doesn’t seem too bothered’ when he goes out and plays well, because unlike some, Roger has not spent his career whining about injuries.  Then Roger will lose to a Berdy or Soderling or Tsonga and suggest that he wouldn’t have lost if the back were not a factor.

For us, we see it as pride before the fall.  We don’t think Roger played hungry tennis against Soderling (RG, 2010) or Tsonga at SW-19 in 012, and against power players like that, the great man hasn’t looked good.  Sure, eventually a guy like Berdych is going to win a night match on Ashe and eventually Federer is going to lose one.  But the power is a problem, and seems to be Roger’s worst one, especially when really taking apart the recent losses and all the trouble he’s had with guys like Berdych and Del Potro, who serve big and who can control the baseline.  We don’t see it as as great a problem on quicker surfaces, then again, we didn’t think Dubai was that slow.  We didn’t think London was that slow at the YEC or any of the back end spots where DP got him at the end of 2012.

So we don’t actually see Nadal as the great threat to Federer he’s always been, and we won’t either, until or unless Nadal finds a way to make his legs his biggest weapon again.  Especially on a clay like surface as bad as this one.  Until that day, Federer has a more comfortable matchup here, back willing.

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

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

Men’s

Alexandr Dolgopolov

+15000

 

Andy Murray

+250

 

Bernard Tomic

+5000

 

David Ferrer

+2500

 

David Nalbandian

+25000

 

Fernando Verdasco

+20000

 

Gael Monfils

+15000

 

Gilles Simon

+25000

 

Janko Tipsarevic

+15000

 

Jerzy Janowicz

+6000

 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

+3000

 

Juan Martin Del Potro

+1200

 

Kei Nishikori

+10000

 

Kevin Anderson

+50000

 

Lleyton Hewitt

+50000

 

Marcos Baghdatis

+10000

 

Marin Cilic

+15000

 

Milos Raonic

+5000

 

Nicolas Almagro

+25000

 

Novak Djokovic

-160

 

Richard Gasquet

+10000

 

Roger Federer

+400

 

Ryan Harrison

+25000

 

Sam Querrey

+25000

 

Stanislas Wawrinka

+25000

 

Tomas Berdych

+3000

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Ladies’

Agnieszka Radwanska

+1000

 

Ana Ivanovic

+6000

 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

+10000

 

Andrea Petkovic

+10000

 

Angelique Kerber

+2000

 

Caroline Wozniacki

+3000

 

Daniela Hantuchova

+20000

 

Francesca Schiavone

+25000

 

Jelena Jankovic

+12500

 

Julia Goerges

+15000

 

Kaia Kanepi

+10000

 

Laura Robson

+8000

 

Maria Kirilenko

+15000

 

Maria Sharapova

+700

 

Marion Bartoli

+6000

 

Mona Barthel

+10000

 

Na Li

+2000

 

Nadia Petrova

+15000

 

Petra Kvitova

+1000

 

Sabine Lisicki

+6000

 

Samantha Stosur

+2500

 

Sara Errani

+12500

 

Serena Williams

-120

 

Shuai Peng

+25000

 

Sloane Stephens

+15000

 

Svetlana Kuznetsova

+15000

 

Venus Williams

+5000

 

Victoria Azarenka

+300

 

Yanina Wickmayer

+50000

……….

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)

Ryan Harrison (above) on the red clay of Roland Garros.  At 19 years and 11 months old, Harrison will be the youngest competitor in this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final round.

American “number one” and world #9 Mardy Fish has withdrawn from this weekend’s Davis Cup quarter-final tie in France, citing exhaustion or fatigue.  For the tie, which will be played on outdoor red clay, Captain Jim Courier has called on world #66 Ryan Harrison to fill in for Fish.  This marks the first time that the 19 year old Harrison will compete in live singles for the United States Davis Cup team.  While French Captain Guy Forget said earlier that Harrison is a future prospect at this point, and not an established player, we feel he may be underestimating this weekend’s USA squad.

We can’t fault Courier here with his pick.  You know we like Courier very much as DCC, and we haven’t really criticized him yet.  We’ll make a minor criticism here.  Courier opted to play Mardy Fish in the doubles with Mike Bryan, pulling Harrison when he felt America had best go for the definite doubles victory over Federer and Wawrinka, and they got the win.  But in watching how Fish “hurt his partner”, according to our old friend Fred Stolle, when teamed with Bethanie Mattek Sands at The Hopman Cup, when his lazy play cost America the match, we grew very irritated with Fish as a doubles player as well.  Fish had played earlier that day in Perth, and we guess he was exhausted.  Though that is no excuse.  We thought Courier should have gone for Isner in that spot.  Isner was hot, and he’s the guy that’s won a few doubles titles lately, and not Fish.

Then Mardy Fish goes on and has a pretty pedestrian start to the year.  Then he gets flipped by Juan Monaco in Miami, one and three.  I’m sorry, but that’s a poor effort.  Mardy Fish has got to do better there in that spot.  On hards, in Florida, heavy favorite.  Okay.  We lost a few theoretical units on Fish, so we are perturbed.  But who is surprised?  At any of it?  Fish is not a strong nine.  He comes up small routinely.  And it’s not as if he is so exhausted because he’s been winning titles left and right.  To get grossly abused by Juan Monaco last week, and to have his soft forehand totally exploited, was unimpressive to say the least.  We are happy to see this withdrawal.

Does Fish perhaps have Mono?  Well, we wouldn’t like to see it.  But we’d hate to see even more if Fish, claiming fatigue this week, ends up at Sabadell next week, ready to roll.  Because that would belittle the Davis Cup and mock America.  We think Fish should’ve gone to France.  He has to get ready for red clay by playing on clay, and nothing is better than a good couple of best of five set matches.  We think Fish is setting himself up for a poor clay season, which again, will not be surprising because it’s Mardy Fish we are talking about, and he’s bound to disappoint.

Ryan Harrison is a perfectly scrappy and quick player, and is well suited to the red clay.  We’re comfortable saying this, even though we are having trouble finding any wins of his on European Clay.  He won the Houston championship, upsetting James Blake, another all time dog.  Small time pressure player.  Courier had Harrison on the last squad and had him hitting with the team at points last year, and Courier is very comfortable with the selection.  Harrison is going to be thrilled to get into to this tie, and he is going to do what he does, which is scrap and retrieve and limit the errors, hit the occasional winner, and flash a decent serve game and good hands at net.  We think Harrison is setting up for a nice clay court season this year, and it will start this weekend.  Getting some real big matches in over there is going to do worlds for him, and at #66, he is on the bubble for Masters Series events coming up, and may have to play in to a tourny through the qualifiers.  This type of match play can be just what the doctor ordered for both Harrison and the US team.

Harrison is going to be a very good player, as perhaps Guy Forget is suggesting.  But the kid is a good player now too, and he may be a matchup problem for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he will play on Friday.  Harrison is going to get a lot of balls back on this damp court.  Tsonga is going to have a long day if he tries to muscle through the court.  And you know Harrison is going to play his balls off.  That’s his nature.  It’s been only by a slim margin that he lost recent matches to very hot players like Federer, Murray, and Raonic.

We don’t think Tsonga or Simon are in that class.  Harrison, yet to have a truly big notch on his belt, will also have a good opportunity in the reverse singles against Simon because they are mirror image players, and grinders sometimes have matchup problems with guys who grind really hard against them, and we feel Simon is that type of player.  Harrison has young legs and a young spirit, and despite his lack of notches, you can tell he’s a true competitor and a smart player.  He has also improved a great deal.

As for Fish, who will ever forget the absolute American nightmare at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he lost in the gold medal match to Nicolas Massu, losing after leading two sets to one?  Then the problem was that Fish was fat.  Now that Fish slimmed down and got with Stacey Gardner, he thinks he can play rally tennis and hits way more shots than he used to.  He had to improve his footwork and did.  But he still has to go for winners, and we don’t always see it.  The more tennis he plays, the more air seems to creep under that forehand.  Not a good thing.  And if he is tired coming into clay season, how can he expect to survive it and prosper?

Obviously a lot is thought of the French squad.  Vegas has them as the second favorite in the world group at (+400), second only behind champion Spain, at (+275).  But Vegas was counting on Gael Monfils to be the French B player, and with him on slow dirt in France, that is a lot to handle.  As it is, Harrison will go in and start things off against Tsonga in the first match on Friday morning.  We like his chances, and we aren’t as scared of France in this spot as we could be.  Everyone is going from hards to clay in this tie, and since America also did it in Switzerland against Federer and Wawrinka, we think they are in good shape.

It’s also nice to have the Bryans back together.  The Bryan brothers have never lost in the Davis Cup on clay (9-0) and are truly the linchpin of the American squad.

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

Mardy Fish (R.) with Jim Courier on Saturday, with whom his improved standing impart lies.

We’ve always liked the things Jim Courier has had to say, first as a commentator on USA Network, and now as Davis Cup Captain.  Starting with his first major remarks, way back to last year, when he captained his 1st tie in a suit and tie on a horribly kept clay court in Chile.  When asked why he didn’t cheer much, and why he wore the  real suit over the warmup suit, Courier said that his guys didn’t need a towel waver, a cheerleader.  What they needed was strategy, and that was why he was there.

Courier is more than strategy though.  He is a winner, a rock for our squad.  Recall in his first ever tie against Chile when Isner was robbed of a point in a return game in the 5th set of a rubber that would have given him 2 break points, when he had none previously.  But 15-40 became 30 all and within minutes, Capdeville had the break and Chile had the rubber.

Courier showed no emotion at all afterward, and did not so much as question the call that could have spelled out America’s demise.  What he would say was that in a 5 set match, Isner has to return serve much better.  No one, he said, could expect to win a match without earning a break point, calls or no calls.

That has been the difference between the McEnroe and Courier squads.  Courier is honest.  He doesn’t play the buddy game with guys who might need a kick in the ass.  Like Isner, who, on a worse clay court than in Chile, and against a better opponent in Roger Federer, managed 3 breaks of serve on an impressive 12 opportunities on Friday.  Isner is that much better, yes, and his Davis Cup experience has furthered his development.  Hard to imagine Courier’s affect on him in any but a positive light.  For that matter, we think it little coincidence that Mardy Fish has played so well since Jim Courier became captain, making his first ever YEC last year.   Courier was emotionless after Isner’s epic win.  He was almost stoic.  Courier was the person in that horrid muck bandbox who believed in Isner’s ability to win most.  And why would he celebrate any win in a tie that was still in its first day, far from over?

Courier knows winning and understands the urgency.  So when he inserted proven doubles player Mardy Fish, after Fish’s 4 hour and 20 plus minute rubber on Friday, to play with Mike Bryan, the move smacked of USA’s realization of the immense importance of that doubles match.  Very un P-Mac like.  We were never big fans of little brother, ever, whether as a player, a coach, broadcaster or what have you.  We will say that it wasn’t a question of work ethic.  And that P-Mac stepping in to coach Andy Roddick after he and John Roddick split, was also very good of him.  Though, with Roddick’s importance to DC, he didn’t have any real choice.

We think substituting Fish for Harrison was the right move and suggested it here on Friday.  Well, Fish or Isner, for that matter, since the last time Fish played tired doubles he left Bethanie Mattek-Sands hanging out to dry at Hopman Cup.  We also think Courier is the type to have less of a problem making that call than buddy buddy Patrick McEnroe, and that if he thought Fish tired, he’d have used Isner instead.  McEnroe was always very proud of the fact that players played for him, a big problem in DC and Fed Cup.  Part of the reason they played for him, he felt, was because he didn’t really ask them to do too much.  We see that point, knowing full well some top players have shied away from the international team competitions.  Others have played and then thrown their country under the bus.

But if we are to closely examine this, the players want to play and they want to win.  So if Courier facilitates that, then he is a good captain who will keep guys interested.  Let’s be real.  Fish and Isner both just had career weekends playing for country.  And if the Williams sisters were able to be whole last weekend and had it been a hotly contested tie, Venus, Serena, and all of the nation would have wanted them to take part in the doubles, they being the all time team they are.

Obviously this weekend was not a banner one for Federer, whose abilities were limited by the poor quality of the surface.  If you saw the doubles Saturday, you may have seen an absolute rarity: Federer swinging and completely missing on a ball (backhand).  We’ve always maintained and always will that clay is strictly low rent, and tends to work better for lesser talents.  That said, Federer needed to adjust to the court.  The player who did was Isner.  Isner played big man tennis and was prepared to do so from the start.  He stuck with it even after going down a set.

Was Roger unprepared?  We think so.  It seemed like he thought he could roll out of bed and win.  Last year we began to criticize Roger for his lack of participation in DC, and noted that Tsonga and Berdych, who defeated the great man at Wimbledon in successive years, both play a lot of DC and may have been better prepared because of it in a 5 set format.  This year, players who do not participate may find themselves without Olympic eligibility.  Federer, who has never won a DC, should be amply motivated to add the distinction to his otherwise stellar resume.  But he looked listless over the weekend at Fribourg, which might suggest that he was only there to satisfy Olympic eligibility requirements.  In fact, we thought it an extremely poor showing by the entire Swiss Tennis Federation, from planning to execution.  Why would they choose to play this tie on indoor clay?  Surface selection is the responsibility of the home team’s captain.  Severin Luthi, captain and Federer co-coach, put his team at a disadvantage by choosing a surface so incompatible with  its best player.  We do not espouse the logic that Federer would excel on that clay because he is Federer, likely the 2nd best clay courter of this era.

What is fact is that Federer had not played on clay since early June, some 9 months.  Federer went deep at Melbourne, and has been resting.  He hasn’t been practicing on bad clay as Isner and Fish have been, since their early Australian ousters.  Courier knows a thing or two about success on clay, and is the first American in the modern era to win 2 French Open titles, doing so in back to back years.  He is vocal about America and its lack of success on clay in recent years, and has confronted head on the perception that America doesn’t practice on clay enough to be successful, by practicing his guys hard on dirt.  If Federer looked unprepared, then Isner looked completely prepared, hitting several kick serves that bounced up over Federer’s head.  He knew the court and he liked the surface, and said so after the match, citing how slow courts actually work to his advantage because he has more time, tennis’s most precious commodity.

Luthi is a very poor DC captain.  He failed to enlist Federer in DC for so long, and now that he has him, has failed to get anything out of him.  Next to Courier, Luthi looks out of place in his Yonex tennis reds, but that is not the only reason he is looking bad next to Courier.  This tie should have been played in Federer’s home town, Basel, on hard courts where Federer has prevailed as champion 6 times, including last fall.

On a bad court, it takes more than just cursory practice to adjust, especially when switching surfaces.  While Federer has proven in his peak prime that he can go clay to grass without much warmup, he is no longer peak prime Federer and he wasn’t switching over to grass, where he has 6 Wimbledon titles.

Luthi seems to have benefitted much from his association with Federer, but has Switzerland benefitted that much from the association?  Luthi has kept his captaincy we feel, ironically, due to his friendship with Roger, while not even getting Federer out for Davis Cup.  The buddy buddy approach is not one you will see from Courier, and had it really worked best with Roger, we doubt he’d have hired Paul Annacone to do the heavy lifting.

America will play France in the quarter-finals on the first weekend in April.  While Roland Garros may be the venue, we expect the French to choose an indoor hard court.

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

America’s de facto singles A player, John Isner (above), newly outfitted by Lacoste (way to play it, big man!)

Giant John Isner was the bigger man today, stunning Roger Federer 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the second rubber of the 2012 Davis Cup’s World Group 1st round.  The win by Isner gave America a 2-0 lead in the tie.  Earlier this afternoon, Mardy Fish finally came up big for America, coming from two sets to one down to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka in 5 sets, 9-7 in the 95 minute 5th set.  While Fish-Wawrinka was laborious at best, Federer-Isner was downright jaunty in comparison.  Isner was able to take care of business in under 3 hours and notched his first victory over Federer ever.  The win was actually Isner’s first ever against any of the top four, previously 0-2 versus Federer, still 0-7 combined against Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal.

As Roger might be telling the media back in Switzerland right now, the record doesn’t tell the whole tale.  American tennis fans have had to take notice of Isner’s impressive display against Nadal on Spanish clay in 2010 in DC, which was as far as Nadal was pushed on the surface since the Sunday Bloody Sunday 4th round massacre he suffered at the hands of ball crusher Robin Soderling at RG in 2009, still Nadal’s only loss at the French Open.  And what about Isner’s performance against Nadal at the French last year, where he became the 1st man to take Nadal to 5 sets, and led in sets 2 to 1 before the Spanish comeback?

Isner is capable of some pretty big tennis, even on clay against the very height of the competition.  Aside from Djokovic, the only man able to beat Nadal at his own game on clay, the strategy seems to be to go right at Nadal, as Soderling and Isner do.  It’s not as though the big man is looking to trade shots on clay.  He is looking for knockouts, and looping spin often lands right in his strike zone.  Despite Federer landing some punches today on the red clay at Fribourg, he played tentative tennis.  Federer put 50 of 51 second serves in play, but did little with the ball on second serve in his middle game, creating enough opportunities for Isner to manage three breaks of serve, which proved to be more than enough.

Isner must be credited for playing so aggressively on clay today, and as habit.  On points the match was incredibly close, 126-120.  Probably not much of a coincidence that Isner took 14 points at net to Federer’s 8.  Isner has shown a penchant for knowing what it takes to have a chance against much quicker guys on clay, given his size and comparative lack of mobility.  Isner saved 11 0f 12 break points against, made 34 service winners, and out-winnered Roger on the forehand (28-22) and backhand (9-6) wings.  Let’s face it.  If you have more forehand winners than Roger, you are well on the way to having him beat.  Also impressive was Isner’s 7 first ball return winners, and that he won the total winner count decisively (85-66).

Back to the speed of the match for a moment.  While we appreciate that both men like to play fast, from the middle of the second set out, the match had a very Wimbledon/Tsonga like feel, obviously a problem for Roger.  Federer does not do enough to change the momentum sometimes in downhill contests, as this one was.  He seemed content to let this match sail by.  Big servers have stuck it to Roger in big spots over the last 3 years, and when these guys (Soderling, Tsonga, Berdych) get on their rolls, the match seems a fait accompli.

While Roger has to do more in the return game, go for more, mix it up more, stall more, take a timeout directly prior to an opponent’s serve game, take a stroll along the back fence or whatever, we are more concerned with praising those due right now.  John Isner played a phenomenal match, played the whole of it on his toes, and deserved very much to walk away the victor.  We have been touting Isner as America’s best big match player for some time now.  This guy is incredibly calm at all times, plays opportunistic tennis, and maximizes his chances.

We’d also like to offer a scant word of praise for our buddy Mardy Fish, who finally came up with important tennis in the spot, with a very impressive come from behind win.  Fish also played the bigger tennis today, and notably managed 34 forehand winners on a slow red court where his forehand tends to be rather anemic on most days.  Normally at this point in the tie, the Bryan sledgehammer would drop, and the tie would be virtually locked up.  But Bob Bryan and his swinging lefty serve will not participate in the tie because his wife has recently given birth.  Captain Courier, who has coached a hell of a tie so far, has made the curious decision as to partner Ryan Harrison with Mike Bryan tomorrow against Federer and Wawrinka, who make for a rather striking doubles team, and one who has had past success.

In our minds, both Fish and Isner are proven commodities in the doubles, and Harrison is a bit of a risk.  We hate to coach Courier’s squad for him, but it might be a wiser call to let Isner pair with Mike Bryan, especially since Isner was able to get off the court in reasonable time today.  Ryan Harrison has never played in a meaningful Davis Cup match, and so we’d be a lot more comfortable with a proven serve and volley doubles guy in this spot tomorrow with a place in the next round on the line.

Though America leads 2-0 and we could not be happier, Davis Cup often turns on or is decided by the doubles, and our ace pair, the 19-3 DC lifetime Bryans, will not be competing whole.  Should the Swiss pair win tomorrow, we can easily see Federer topping Fish in the 4th rubber on Sunday.  In that case, the tie would be decided by Wawrinka-Isner.  In that head to head, Isner leads 2-1 and has won their only matchup on clay (Belgrade, 2010).

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After a full year of complete domination on the men’s side in which reigning king Novak Djokovic passed out more bagels than any player in recent memory, his quest to end the year with the modern best all time record was dealt a fatal blow this morning in Basel. After a dominant 1st set over rising Japanese pro Kei Nishikori (above, bottom), Djokovic began to look tired. He dropped a 2nd set breaker 7-4 that had been level at 4 and then seemed physically spent in the third, when he gave away all 3 of his service games and was unable to earn any opportunities on Nishikori’s serve. Really Djokovic, who returned flawlessly in the first set, did little in the return game at all after the first set, managing just 1 break on only 3 opportunities. A far cry from The US Open final when he broke Nadal at will. The win is by far the biggest yet in the career of Nishikori, his first ever win versus a number one, and becomes the 1st Japanese man to defeat a world number one. Nishikori is also the first man to dole out a bagel to Djokovic in a season in which he has served up 13 bagels to others, 4 alone on the way to his 1st US Open title.

The loss today makes Djokovic 64-3. With the Paris Indoors and YEC the only events remaining, making for a maximum of 11 matches, it has now become impossible for Djokovic to top John McEnroe’s 81-3 1984 season, though some would probably argue that of the 2 all time great years, Djokovic had the better one.

We couldn’t be more impressed with Djokovic this season but we can’t go that far. People should recall that John McEnroe also played a great deal of doubles that year and along with Peter Fleming, made up the best doubles team in the men’s game. McEnroe also played considerably more best of 5 set tennis, and did the done thing by top players at the time by not travelling to Australia for the AO.

One should note Roger Federer’s magical 81-4 season in which he lost his last match, the YEC final vs. David Nalbandian after leading 2 sets to love when he suffered a calf injury, enabling Nalbandian to come back and win in what would be the biggest tournament victory in the Argentine’s career. Like Djokovic this year, Federer’s had won 3 majors in 2005 and would have topped McEnroe’s 1984 winning percentage without the loss to Nalbandian in the final match of the season.

Djokovic has obviously proved as the year’s best fast courter, taking home the prize at both Wimbledon and Flushing. We do feel Basel is playing much faster than those majors and that guys had success hitting hard to Djokovic on the backhand side, where he didn’t have the time to double grip and whip guys and made far more errors than normal off the double wing. Nishikori, having a solid indoor season seemed much more at ease today with the speed of the court.
We wonder if the Basel organizers have been listening to Roger Federer’s complaints about the lack of true fast courts these days, even indoors. Federer made such comments frequently and went out of his way to praise the courts at the Paris Indoors last year after beating Djokovic for his 4th Basel title on a seemingly very slow, tacky red indoor surface which has since been changed to the blue, faster track.

Federer defeated Stan Wawrinka in straights earlier to reach his 6th straight final in his home tournament.
Federer will play Nishikori tomorrow as he looks for his second title on the year and 5th at the Basel Indoor.
We’d also like to mention how good it is to see Sam Querrey on the court again. Samurai Sam is recovered from wrist surgery and should be moving up from world # 116 after making the QF round in Valencia. Querrey also won his qualifying round match today in Paris.

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

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