Dumbed Down

There is no better way to describe tennis on clay than tennis dumbed down. One of my favorite readers/commenters, blackspy, put it this way: “Clay is a surface that favours power & patience over technique, since points are won in a pretty specific way, most of the time.”

I one-upped you, comrade. Yours is a learned description and in a more transcendent part of the season, with the thump of grass or HC balls gracing the airwaves, we might turn to your more palatable expressions of how the clay affects the point.

But I prefer straight-up dumbed-down. The lesser player, made more of defense and a mess of “fitness” tends toward the depths of the draw, willing his way by outlasting, out-slugging his more skilled and frustrated opponent. This has always been the way of clay: tennis dumbed down.

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I was going to preview the Madrid draw but work got in the way and the draw suddenly shit the bed, anyways, so what’s the point.  Having said that, I didn’t get the chance to say Rafa got an absolute gift of a quarter. I was saying that in a worst-case scenario for the Spaniard. But with the Roger WD and Del Potro getting emotional and beating the flagging Thiem, holy shit. Rafa’s route collapsed.

People might say Nadal had Fed, Thiem and Goffin in his quarter so there’s nothing easy about that. However, pitting Fed and Thiem in a potential R16 is brutal for the world #3 and #14, essentially killing two birds with one stone: getting rid early of one of the real tests for Captain Clay. Of course, that never even came to fruition as both talents are already at home. Furthermore, Goffin seems to have really consolidated that loss to Zverev in Munich last week. I am not sold on the Belgian’s tennis. Even his run in IW was softened in my eyes in his match vs Cilic, the most over-rated USO champ in world history. Cilic looked drunk out there. I haven’t seen Goffin really impress, sorry.

So, the Spaniard’s draw was a gift with a worst-case-scenario. Now, it’s just a joke.

Speaking of jokes, how about our boy Dimitrov. This guy is a mess. He’s gone in Madrid, as well, which is, of course, not surprising but I am referring to Istanbul. Ha. Schwartzman gets the win. Schwartzman.

Tennis dumbed the hell down, folks. Schwartzman comes to us at 5’7″ and about 140 lbs. The winner here is the surface.

Estoril saw a couple of Spaniards rally their asses off in that final. Congrats to Almagro for finally notching another victory.

The point is this is the surface for everyone else. Of course, it’s still tennis and home to many many great matches, but it’s a surface for the lesser player. Tell me I’m wrong.

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I guess the big question is Novak. Can he regain his form. There is not a question at the end of that sentence because I think we know he should be fine.

The headlines are simply head-shaking. Nadal is in everyone’s head. Novak says, apparently, that Rafa is the one to beat. Sure, the Fraud’s clay legacy warrants such respect, but, please, all you psychotherapists out there, what was wrong with the guy all of 2015?

You give Nadal these kinds of draws, fine. Self-fulfilling prophecy. You know I’m not buying it. I’m not buying any of this until the FO, which part of me, like I said, hopes he wins, so the tennis world can just implode.

Part of me thinks the sport is spoiled, something’s rotten. It just doesn’t feel right, and I am not talking about Rafa’s re-invented form. The tour is a mess. A 35 year-old and a suspicious Spaniard who’s form is you-never-know-wink-wink are the only challenges to the world’s #1.

Sure Federer is failing at this point. Give the guy a break. As I wrote last July, he’s on his fare-well tour (I see people using that same expression now. Lol). Last year was his fare-well tour. This year is by-all-means his last hurrah. I actually heard someone say he’s going to play 2017 to chase Conners.

To complicate that, I have heard him say he is not chasing Conners, yet who would blame him for staying afloat in this crappy men’s field. He could play top-ten until he’s 40.

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Here’s how Madrid plays-out (gotta get back to calling these tournaments, which was a lot easier last year with grass and HC to contend with):

Djokovic should get his first test in the QF though I have not seen him play at all. Coric, some Spaniards (F-Lopez, Agut and Vinolas – not your top clay players btw), Ranoic or Tsonga are his obstacles to get to the SF. Nole should be fine.

Go look at the next quarter right now. Stan is a favorite? He has Kyrgios next, and the rest of the draw reads Cuevas v Monfils, Gasquet v Nishikori/Fognini. Damn. That is a beast of a draw.

Nadal has this left in his draw: Querrey, Pouille, Del-Po, Sock, Sousa and Granollers. If Sock finds the QF, I’m calling the American’s name: I have to. But that is a cream cheese quarter, folks. And if Fed and Thiem had form, they’d face-off in the R16. You’re welcome.

Reality Semi Finals:

Djokovic v Nishikori/Monfils winner? or does Stanimal show-up? or does Kyrgios have a run. . . What about the Italian Fog? Nice little bracket there, boys and girls

Murray v Nadal

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I have to take Djokovic in a final v Nadal. Although I could see Nadal crapping all over the clay to get this win if he survives his Madrid rematch with Andy, Novak should restore order.

But that might be too logical. This is clay.

My Guilt

This is the absolute worst topic for most sports fans to discuss and probably the most significant: drugs in sports.

Really, in just about every case, the public will never know.

There is only suspicion aside from the few cases where a failed drug test is reported (RARE) or an athlete admits to cheating by using PEDs.

There seems to be evidence that Lance Armstrong had failed some tests and paid to hush, in the past. But ultimately, he had to come clean because of mounting evidence via testimony from others.

Baseball has been practically soiled from PEDs. We continue to enjoy the game, but players are still using as is evidenced by a few failed tests here and there; a recent one makes this claim especially clear and it’s good to see MLB handing out stiffer and stiffer penalties; this guy got an 80 game suspension. Certainly, there are drugs in MLB.

The NFL has had and continues to see player use; denying that is ridiculous given the nature of those athletes and that sport. How much is used? Tough to say.

The NBA and NHL both have cases of drug use, as well. Professional soccer? Of course.

What many serious sports fans acknowledge, here in the States at least, is that suspicion surrounds Tiger Woods, who’s associations with doctors connected to certain MLB users is pretty well documented. But there’s only suspicion. Same goes for Kobe Bryant, who’s trips to Germany for certain treatments have raised a few eyebrows. But, again, just suspicion.

One development in any athlete’s performance that has encouraged suspicion is the incidence of injury. There is pretty decent documentation of how frequent and “early” injury is a corollary of PED use.

The case of Tiger Woods is very interesting in this regard. His collapse is mind-boggling. His bouts of infidelity have clouded the real issue with him: complete physical breakdown at a very young age in a non-contact sport.

But again it’s all suspicion.

Kobe’s physical decline, look it up, has fueled suspicion, as well.

In the end, people look bad having this suspicion. Suspicion is linked to fans who do not like a particular athlete who has success. These “haters” can try to undermine an athlete’s performance and legacy by raising suspicion of PED use.

But either way, “haters” and genuinely suspicious fans alike, will likely, in almost every case, never know.

And the reason we will never really know is that the corruption, we have to acknowledge, in most big money sports is capable of controlling some of this news.

Drug testing protocols and systems are not perfect.

The science of creating drugs and testing for them is an elaborate game of shadows.

We will never know, those of us watching and trying to make sense of these athletes and their games.

Most of the corruption of sport involves the money at stake. There is so much money at stake. Do not not understand this very obvious relationship between money and truth.

We have no idea what is really happening. Yet people will get hammered for raising suspicion.

Just ask the French Minister on the other side of the proverbial net from Nadal.

Him suing her, I think we all know, has no necessary bearing on the truth. He’s fighting for his reputation. Not suing her would have hurt him. He had to sue Bachelot. Period.

But also keep in mind that his request to make public all of his records is another ruse.

Why?

Because we will never know. Most of this perception – from these court proceedings, to drug test results, to test histories, passports, and so on, in light of the money at stake and the institutionalized corruption that most of us understand lives and breathes in our lovely naive midsts – is just that: our perception, which has considerable limitations.

We do our best to make sense of it all.

And most likely fail in the process.

Do I want to talk about drugs? Fuck no.

I am suspicious of Nadal’s legacy: a clay courter who got into the “room” with the other greats of this sport. I argue he doesn’t belong. Drugs? I don’t know. I don’t like his tennis, at all. This season’s clay proceedings have been another reminder. He’s a basket case on every other surface.

All of this finger-pointing now with Nadal, from all parties (Nadal, those suspicious of him, his defenders, et al.) really brings up the discussion of PED. And this post is a reminder that PED use in professional sports is . . . EVERYWHERE. We should not be shocked by any of this news, the finger-pointing, the eventual “innocence” etc.

We will never know.

So, sorry to spoil my blog with this very unappetizing garnish that accompanies unfortunately our collective buffet of pro sports. I don’t like the taste either.

I really just can’t wrap my brain around Nadal’s claim to fame.

That’s my guilt.

The Murmur

We have some very interesting off-the-court tennis news that probably helps clarify what’s going on on-the-court.

In the event that some wonder how I am dealing with Nadal’s rediscovered “formidable form,” I am humored, no longer at all discouraged that more people can’t come to question how this guy’s form and “confidence” are so unstable. Suddenly he’s the favorite at RG, according to the peanut gallery. I hope he wins RG. Such a mess he makes of this sport. It’s embarrassing. So, let’s do it: go all the way to the top, Fraudal. Who’s stopping you? This is pure mystery, pure fiction.

Today it was announced that Nadal has filed his defamation suit against the French Minister, Roselyne Bachelot since “he needs to defend his integrity and image as an athlete.” Okay. If that process is like anything American, the multi-million dollar athlete should come-out on top there. Go gettem, Nadal. As you continue to win these matches, reinventing your dominant self, the case against you is cemented. Keep it up. I will be here keeping pace with your frenetic, schizophrenic tennis.

Of course, last week or so we had Novak Djokovic and his now infamous: “If There’s No Proof Tennis Is Not Clean, Then Tennis Is Clean!”  The most worrisome point here is the exclamation mark, which I hope is the help of another and not Novak awkwardly and so vehemently making such an ignorant statement. There is recent proof and has been in the last few years despite goofball technicalities and so forth. There are drugs in virtually every other major sport in the world. Why would tennis be exempt? And yes the echos of Lance Armstrong in Novak’s words, as well as in my reasoning should make us all a little uneasy. The entire front of the peloton is getting busted, but Armstrong was clean? Didn’t make sense. Same analogy with the professional sports landscape. There are drugs through out, but tennis is not involved in that science, is somehow unaffected by this trend?

What I found pretty interesting was the talk among some seemingly knowledgeable tennis fans (who had been fairly supportive of Novak) who have begun to question his innocence. I have had a reader or two question Novak here in my comments, but I have refrained from suggesting Novak is involved in this sort of scandal.

In the end, there is no reason to think that anyone is above doping, especially with its sophisticated science, the fact that some “supplements” are permitted, but could be reclassified as banned substances later on. Clearly, there is a fine line between good and bad science and nutrition. As I have said, the top of the sport is in a very different world from you and me. Peter Bodo says the same thing in this 2006 post:

When it comes to the players, nobody, but nobody, is above suspicion; this doesn’t mean that I suspect everyone—or, for that matter, anyone. It just means that I don’t believe anyone is immune to the temptation of dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs. Top pro athletes, like fabulously wealthy venture capitalists, exist in a different world. They are playing for much higher stakes, with much deeper pockets, which opens up possibilities unimaginable to many of us. I’ll never forget Boris Becker, a close friend, telling me about the transfusions of calf blood he took as part of his drive to remain “fresh” for the game (it was not illegal) when he was making a big push for the No. 1 ranking. Boris was very matter-of-fact and blasé about it; he had to do what he had to do. But it struck me as pure science fiction.

So, as far as I’m concerned, everyone from Roger Federer on down to the most desperate journeyman is a potential doper. It just wouldn’t be fair to look at it any other way. In this regard, some readers accused me of “protecting” Andre Agassi while planting suspicions about Rafael Nadal when I analyzed their withdrawals from the Australian Open yesterday.

The fact is that up-and-coming champs and aging ones are vastly different, and driven by vastly different priorities. I’m not going to rehash the details, but I’ll say that in ways related strictly to his career and family life, it makes a lot of sense, in lots of different ways, for Agassi to skip the Australian Open and start his year a full two months after his younger rivals.

By contrast, the upcoming Grand Slam event offers Nadal his best shot at winning a major on a surface other than clay, and moving one step closer to challenging Federer’s ascendancy—something Agassi is unlikely to do in the foreseeable future.

Given the amount of time he’s had off and the fact that Nadal’s own doctor said in an official ATP press release that his foot is healed, I find his withdrawal from an event that will be without the defending champ, Safin, or Agassi, baffling.

Whether or not there’s anything more to this story, I can’t say. But I’m going to make a point in Australia to pin down some folks on some of the more compelling issues—like whether or not it’s possible to duck out-of-competition testing by simply not answering the door when the testers come around.

How about this article about the Monte Carlo final, an interview of Monfils. Trying to describe the match, he says this toward the end:

When I was down 3-Love, double break, with a champion like him, he was in control. It was too difficult for me. Physically he abused me, so it was partly physical. When he started hitting hard down the line, I had to chip the ball, whereas previously I was able to hit a good forehand in those cases. So he was very good.

6-Love is a bad score, but I had an opponent that became a lot stronger suddenly.

And the comments from Andy Murray got a lot of this conversation going, which coincidentally found a little more footing following his defeat to Nadal in the MC SF. Essentially, he wonders why some players “don’t go away,” seem not to get tired, etc. Sure I have been critical of Murray, a lot, but these are good conversations to have. Having Becker and Novak so vehemently try to discourage such dialogue is a head-scratcher.

Ultimately, these discussions are healthy. No question about that.

PS

Like I said in another post, there’s a lot to see in this list below. The tennis narrative, the plot twists and turns on and off the court, will continue to shed light.

All Time Masters 1000 Titles
1) Novak Djokovic 28
2) Rafael Nadal 28
3) Roger Federer 24
4) Andre Agassi 17
5) Andy Murray 11
5) Pete Sampras 11

The Clay Court Special (needs) ist

“Rafa showed signs of returning to form last fall. Then Doha happened, AO loss, and a less than brilliant SA swing. Making the SF at IW was a big confidence boost – I didn’t expect him to beat Nole there. Disappointing how Rafa went out in Miami but clearly he’s rolling in confidence now! I’ve watched his MC matches.”

Not picking on X or anyone, but I’m continually astounded by this odd fluidity of confidence with Nadal. Does he have bad months? Does he have some kind of condition?

No other “champion” has played like this and been celebrated like this. The injury excuse is bullshit. This is a very strange case of sensitivity, anxiety. . . Is he some kind of idiot savant?

And if you think I’m a hater, you’re feelings are hurt. I just want to hear someone rationally explain why his level is like a baby’s diaper – scary bad or crisp and clean.

I wrote that on a discussion board, responding to a comment and the tennis universe in general. Congratulations to Nadal for overcoming a bunch of soft-brained blockheads, but a win is a win. La Decima, as I said a long time ago, even in his state of top-100 level tennis, is at stake and manifesting itself.

Two things are disturbing.  The totally bizarre world that is Nadal tennis (see my comment above for further indication of what I am referring to), and the absolute shit show that is the ATP.

There is something so inherently wrong with the ATP right now, aside from Nadal.  Sure, Murray is echoing the obvious concerns. The inequality is the cause. The top of the sport has NEVER been so grossly insular. Drugs and the rest of the corruption stem from this inequality. Simple cause and effect.

But all eyes are on the clay and this very peculiar case of Nadal. I can see why I turned a bit from the sport back in ’09 or so. It’s a circus, this guy. His is not a case of class, of the highest levels of this sport that we have enjoyed through the years. He’s a clay court specialist, which I have been saying for years, more recently to absolutely obliterate the Fed/Nadal H2H. Nadal is practically a circus act. Folks, I’m not trying to be some kind of hater.

The baby’s diaper metaphor works. That’s not the case of Laver, Borg, Lendl, Mac, Sampras, Roger or Nole, et al. These unexplained highs and lows (it’s not injury) are reminiscent of some kind of personality disorder. What’s equally bizarre is the tour has no answer to these bouts of madness.

Monte Carlo QF

A couple of things I need to make clear. The clay court remains. . . how should I say this and not alienate too many people. . .inferior. Poor. Sure, I could resolve to say it is simply a different surface, gives the professional sport a little diversity, adds to the calendar, the seasons, etc. But it’s crap. Seems to have been brought to bear on the sport in order to neutralize bigger and stronger games from bigger and stronger players. I argue that the dirty tennis court renders the game a much less interesting and sophisticated version of the sport, favoring less equipped, more defensive players. I don’t think anyone can counter that general sentiment about the clay court.

The Monte Carlo quarter finals are here and, as we all know, the draw has been opened-up with the loss of Djokovic. Naturally, his saboteur is gone, drowned in clay by Monfils who seems to be doing his thing, looking destined for the draw’s top spot in the semi-finals. The athletic Frenchman gets the veteran Spaniard Marcel Granollers who knows his way around the clay (has a couple of FO R4 to his credit). Not going to put a lot of thought into that QF match.

The winner gets Federer or Tsonga, a more interesting match. Would we be surprised if Tsonga beats Federer? We should not be surprised. However, given what we’ve seen, Fed looks spot on to find his way to the SF, perhaps a little more motivated by the opportunity of no Djokovic (but that doesn’t really mean anything, when you think about it. Federer has to beat Tsonga. Period). Having said that, again, no surprise is the big hitting Tsonga takes down the Maestro.

What I like about Roger’s game so far (have seen a bit, most of the Garcia-Lopez match) is his instincts. He’s using a lot of variety, quick to net to finish, BH has looked especially good. I love how he’s finishing points when he can. But I’ve also seen him rush when he gets impatient, when his opponent takes the reigns of a rally. Federer cool is a tough assignment. I think he runs Tsonga around and advances.

Nadal beat Thiem, obviously. I watched some of this match. It made my skin crawl. The match reminded me of a Federer Nadal back and forth, with the one hitting the skin off the ball with big OHBH all over the court, big FH, solid serve, etc. And then there’s the muscular Spaniard running it down, getting it back. This is as much a characteristic of the clay as it is a characteristic of Nadal (they’re made for each other). This combination does not reward great offensive tennis. I watched most of the first set. Thiem looked better than the man of mystery, but the latter hung around and his clutch chops got him across the finish line first.

People, Nadal finding his confidence is just bullshit. Not sure what that means. Roger is off for a month or so, has knee surgery, coming off an AO SF, and gets right back into rhythm, on a new surface, new knee, etc. The Nadal excuse machine just doesn’t work. He’s either special needs, or he’s just a clay monster, or worse; whatever it is it’s an inferior brand of tennis that does not belong on the slopes of The Greats. Nadal’s career arc is a joke. And watching him defend against these better tennis players – sure it’s his style of tennis and it works now and then – does not make for a good watch.

Sure, I think he probably beats Wawrinka. Why? Because I don’t trust Stan and Fraudal seems to have his clay court specialist hat on. Stan should beat him. He seems ready to mount his RG-bound steed and play some clay like we know he can. But I have to see it to believe it. Again, he should hit the Spaniard off the court.

Remember, Nadal and his camp are honing their mysterious potions for a run at his tenth RG – la decima.

Murray v Raonic seems a toss-up, if you ask me. Raonic is no slouch on the dirt. Murray should cruise but he’s struggling, no doubt, and given that I don’t have a nano of faith in the big clumsy Scot, I like Raonic in the SF to play. . . Narinka. Sorry.

Let’s say we do have a Federer v Nadal clash in the final. This would be a tremendous opportunity to see how Ljubičić does with this assignment, if Roger is actually listening to anyone at this point, ever.

Watching Barcelona lose to Atletico Madrid yesterday, the idea came up that Barca struggles when they are not controlling the match, playing out of position, if you will, uncomfortable, from needing to change strategies, play more aggressively, to match the opponent’s aggression, whatever tactics they’re using. Barca couldn’t rely on their tiki-taka, small-ball possession first approach. They were lost. You could sense the disorientation.

That describes, more or less, Roger in Nadal’s clay kingdom. I want to see Roger v Nadal in the Monte Carlo final if this inferior surface and style of tennis deems that the end game. Let’s see the old man become born again on the shores of the Mediterranean.

At the same time, with all the nutty, bizarre clay plot twists, we could see Murray v Monfils.

Enjoy the tennis!

UPDATE: So Murray routs the Canadian and seems to have found some business-end-of-the-tourney form. Congrats. He seemed pretty listless earlier in the draw.

Sure enough, Stan did not make a showing or maybe Rafa has his “confidence” back. Do  you know how ridiculous this sounds? Rafa must be special needs. And Toni is his “keeper”? I need to explore this more. Looking so bad, so awful (not fighting injury) but turning it around. . . what in the hell is that? That we have Murray to save the world is a scary thought, but vamos Scotland!

Federer goes down in three. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like a good one. In the end, a great first tournament back for Roger. A lot of very big tennis on the horizon, so for both Djokovic and Federer, not huge set-backs. Happy for Tsonga. Please consolidate this win.

Sure, I want Murray to withstand the Spanish freak show, but a Tsonga Nadal final would be a fine consolation. Or maybe my Murray v Monfils (sarcastic) prediction will stand.

Carry-on.

Federer at the French and “Be Like Mike”

Djokovic’s loss

Wow, a lot of shit went down on the clay today, so I have to address that, but I had planned to write a little about the night in the NBA and my thoughts on Federer, having had a chance to see him play yesterday against Garcia-Lopez, his first match back from injury.

Don’t read too much into Djokovic’s first round loss. He was due, let’s say. One can only play so much good, invulnerable tennis for so long. The loss actually distracts us from the real issue of there being, really, no threat to Djokovic on the tour unless his form dips. That’s the narrative. Jiri Vesely, all 6’6″ of him, brought enough heat to bring down the Djoker on his home court. Can Vesely consolidate this result. Probably not. And so it goes on the ATP. Dominated by 1 or 2 players who might find a boogieman under his bed every blue moon.

Here’s what is worth mentioning about today’s loss, however. This does add some pressure to his play in about a month in Paris. He has to win that major, this year. Most observant tennis fans will acknowledge this. It’s a very tough tournament and he’s already had his trouble there. Sure, he could come back and win Madrid or Rome, but even winning one of those won’t lighten the RG load; Novak has to be feeling some level of burn-out, where he needs a break – which actually means losing today may have been the best thing that could have happened. 

The loss is also a tiny reminder to the church of Djokovic to calm the hell down. What if he doesn’t win RG? Imagine the possibility.

I wouldn’t worry about that at this point, but the loss is a loss. I think he needs the break.

The loss opens-up the tournament for sure.

I have always thought that life and sport at the highest levels are never easy. That’s what makes great runs, great dynasties so special – they overcome the odds, the insane difficulty of maintaining that dominance. Of course, Novak was going to lose at some point. His 2015 into 2016 run has been remarkable, historical. Do we have another 2012 on our hands, following his epic 2011? Probably not.

Funny that today only falls in-line a bit with what I saw yesterday, have seen over the years, and hope to see in a little over a month from now.

Federer at the French

The Federer match was very entertaining. First of all, what a treat to have him back in the draw. He looks like he didn’t miss a beat and Garcia-Lopez (#38) is not a piece of bubble-gum. The Spaniards are tough, especially on clay. I really enjoyed seeing the two men trade some brilliant OHBH. That’s close to being the best shot in the game. If you don’t have one, we’ll figure-out what to do with you when it’s all said and done. OHBH is the stuff of tennis royalty. No question.

Federer cruised but for a slight hiccup when he was up 5-1 in the second. Sure he struggled a bit closing, but the Spaniard hit some brilliant ground-strokes (OHBH) that made it tough on the Swiss. In the end, Roger advances. And this is certainly a better look than everyone’s clay dark horse Murray going three to get by P-H H.

So my thoughts wandered a bit on clay with Roger back in the mix, despite this being his final lap, so to speak, on his farewell tour.

Roger has had a brilliant career on clay. I have heard people say Djokovic is the second best clay courter of the era, or whatever. Go look at Roger’s numbers at RG. Sure, he hasn’t faired as well at the clay Masters (no Rome or MC, I believe), but he’s been to several RG finals and won one. Even Nadal has said Roger is perhaps the second greatest clay courter of all time (I could find the article if I had to). He made all of those finals during the Nadal heyday. And who can forget the “finger wave” 2011 SF between Djoker and Federer; that was a HUGE upset and a brilliant match. Anyone remember that?

All this to say, as I watched Roger look pretty comfortable on the clay yesterday, what are the chances?

Well (and this is before what happened today and I’m not even going to read too much into Djokovic’s loss), he has a tremendous game for the clay. History speaks for itself. Secondly, I think Ljubičić and he are developing a sound approach to the season, and although the injury has thrown things off a bit, playing a clay warm-up or two might be a blessing in disguise. Finally, the two-headed dragon: there really are no expectations for Roger on the clay (his only hope, as the expectations go, is the grass – WB). And the other edge: there’s really very few real contenders. Djokovic is the favorite and then who? Ha!

Should I put a poll up? My last post looks more and more silly bringing such spotlight to Wawrinka. I can’t see past is pretty outfits. This guys’s knees look fat. Does that make sense? He looks almost indifferent. What a shame. Granted, he could turn into the Stanimal, but I have more and more doubt. And don’t get me started on Murray. You think Murray beats Nadal or Stan to reach the final in MC?

My point is we could be overlooking Roger at RG. Yesterday’s match reminded me of this. If he can stay healthy and catch a few breaks, which everyone needs now and again, voila!

What happened today (Djokovic down, Berdych soils his shorts again) only supports my essay of Roger’s chances on clay. Again, I wanted to share these thoughts from watching yesterday’s match. Today is only gravy on the Fed Express I saw pull into Monte Carlo, fresh off injury.

Be Like Mike

What happened to Djokovic today adds balance to the tennis universe. It shouldn’t be that easy. I thought the same of the Golden State Warriors in their march toward history this season. The game has been too easy for them. This speaks to the mediocrity of the league at this point, but the success they’ve had couldn’t, I thought to myself, not be challenged. Something has to give. Too much of a good thing. This train has to come off the tracks at some point.

Until a week a ago, I thought almost for sure they will not win the championship. This kind of lack of resistance, lack of adversity can not go on as they run unchallenged to hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

About a week or two ago we found adversity. Suddenly they were struggling. Surpassing the Bulls’ regular season record was in jeopardy. Down the stretch they battled, having to raise their game these last four games of the season with history on the line.  Tonight, in fact, they are in position to break the record against a beat-up Memphis Grizzlies team, in Oakland (it’s 90-74 late in the third).

They still have to march through the playoffs and hoist that trophy to consolidate the record, but it looks like they will. They’ll overcome Jordan’s Bulls’ regular season mark along the way. What I like even more about their chances in the post-season is that they beat the #2 team in the land at home and on the road down the stretch – snapping the Spurs’ home unbeaten mark in the process. Stay tuned. The NBA playoffs, especially in the West, should be interesting as we get late and see the 2-4 teams that have any significance go head-to-head. The Warriors facing that adversity was key, in my book.

The other big event tonight is Kobe Bryant’s last game as a professional. Do you have any thoughts on that, on him and his career? I have a million. Always have.

Here’s my point in this entire post (Djokovic’s loss interrupted my train of thought). I am a long-time MJ fan. I watched him win in college, leave and play for the Bulls, watched in awe his entire career. I could go for days on MJ, folks. But here we are, April 13, 2016 and this is reality: his shadow still hangs so relevantly and ominously over the sport it’s as mind-bogglin as is his career on the court. The Warriors are trying to eclipse one of his many marks and Kobe, who tried with all of his flawed basketball soul to play like Mike, retires after tonight. I love it.

Everyone, still, wants to be like Mike.

The Big 3

As we look to Monte Carlo and the start of 2016 clay, what are the big 3 up to as they prepare for the start of the season of the dirt?

Stan

He said so himself: 2016 so far has been something from which one might want to hide.

StanPreClay

But the clay just may bring out the best in this guy whose only Masters is Monte Carlo (where he beat Roger in the final) and, of course, got a FO title to go with his AO. Time to show-up and play, Stanimal. Wouldn’t that just be a peach.

StanClay

Roger

Apparently he’s been practicing, in fact with Stan recently in MC. We don’t expect much from the Maestro, but it will sure be good to have him back in the draw.

RogerClay

Novak 

Everyone’s heard he’s “practicing” with his son on the clay. This guy is having the time of his life. Good for him. Here he is via twitter acknowledging International Day of Sports.

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Sure “my” Big 3 doesn’t really reflect the world rankings, but let’s face it, who else is there  that you would really like to watch in a high stakes match? Sure Thiem is going to be exciting, especially on the clay, and, right, there are other talents who can move well and hit hard, etc. But these are the big 3 at this point. Unfortunately, no one is even sure when Stan will actually show up, nor are we that confident Roger can still pull off the unbelievable at 34 1/2, especially after this little knee injury.

Yet, folks, this is all you got. I’ll take it. Hopefully, some other threats emerge as the play turns to clay and we start to get this spring fling going on its merry way toward the warmer months and bigger and bigger tournaments.

2016 clay also means we can cement the demise of your favorite clay specialist. He has 8 MCs. What a clay legacy that guy has. Would be a real shame if the whole Spanish affair is a gigantic fraud, but we’ll probably never know, so it’s enough to just remind ourselves that he was a clay guy (and that’s about it) who somehow “prospered” elsewhere. Go figure.

Looking at the Monte Carlo draw, Fraudal will get Thiem in the R16 if he survives one of his nemeses in Luke Rosol R2. If he survives Thiem, he faces the likes of Stan, Dimitrov and Simon in that QF. Most of us like Stan in this quarter. I would love to see Thiem come out, to be honest. Either way, we have Nadal with a tough draw. He should not survive the R16.

Interesting they did not put Fognini nor Verdasco in with Nadal, but, again, the butt picker has a tough draw.

Up top, Djokovic should get his favorite watch, Monfils, in that R16. Here’s what Novak did say: “Gaël is Gaël,” he said. “That’s what he does. He loves jumping around, sliding, he’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what his next move is, so that’s why he’s so interesting. I said before that he’s probably the only guy in the world, tennis player, that I would pay a ticket to watch the match. He’s really fun to watch but not so much fun to play against.” – See more at: http://www.tennisnow.com/Blogs/NET-POSTS/August-2014/Djokovic-on-Monfils-Fun-To-Watch,-But-Not-As-An-O.aspx#sthash.w6k1Xi1n.dpuf.

He’s 10-0 against the Frenchman. That QF should pit Novak against Goffin (if he still has his form), Ferrer or Zverev if he can continue to build. But who really cares who Novak plays.

Federer is in this top half, too. What can we expect from him, really? There are five Spaniards in that quarter so let me just stereotype and say he has to overcome all of that clay genius (another flaw in my reasoning is the false cause and even some kind of historical flaw), but the point is Fed does have to beat some decent talent to get to the R16 and face the winner of Tsonga/Gasquet. Gasquet is not the clay talent that his fellow Frenchmen, Tsonga, is so a Federer v Tsonga is most likely with all things being equal. We’ll see. . .

Having said all of that, a Federer Djokovic SF seems an awful long-shot given Roger’s recent injury/lack of tournament tennis. . . and age.

The survivor of the Stan quarter gets what’s left of Murray, Berdych and associates. The only guy I’m rooting for here is Guido Pella. Watched him play Feliciano Lopez at the 2016 AO 2R; lost in five, but four sets were grueling TBs and Lopez took the fifth in another tight 6-4. Great watch. He reached the Rio Open final a couple of months ago losing to Cuevas in three tough sets. That was clay. Guido’s my dark horse in that bottom quarter😉 though the decider between the unremarkable Berdych v Murray will probably advance.

In the end, the only real threat to Novak here seems to be in the Nadal quarter and ironically it’s not the Spaniard who poses the threat.

Btw, where are Kyrgios and Tomic? “Injured”? Hopefully, Hewitt has ’em over his knee.

What say you?