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RUSSELLing Up Some Final business, Texas Style

April 14, 2012 | 09:06 AM

The kind of players we've associated with Texas lately have been more gun slingers than cow hands who specialize in patient herding skills, but Andy Roddick and Ryan Harrison were born and trained outside the state and adopted Austin as their home. Michael Russell also adopted Texas as a residence, and though his game lacks a big serve and doesn't resemble our more famous 1st generation Texas tennis immigrants, it does harken back to one of the most famous real Texans of tennis: Cliff Richey. Cliff won The U.S. Clay in '66 and '70 and was the #1 ranked American in 1970, leading the USA to a Davis Cup title by winning both his singles matches, and taking the first ever ATP tournament for points (beating Laver, Rosewall, Ashe and Smith on the way). In the late 60's Cliff had been a force on the amateur tour known as 'The Bull', and had always excelled on real clay where he wracked up his best ATP winning percentage (.688), reaching the semis of Roland Garros in 1970 and narrowly losing. As the original bad boy of tennis, he eventually conquered the depression that demonized him, writing a book 'Acing Depression' in 2010.

Michael's style also harkens back to his alma mater, The University of Miami, where U-Miami legend Eddie Dibbs excelled at wearing down bigger guns with baseline trench war and dirty tactics that often take the day on clay (had this half of the Bagel Twins played pro tennis today, his results might have resembled Michael's more than Cliff's). Among Michael's best known foes while winning one of his two college titles, The 1997 Rolex Eastern Regionals, was big server and '97 NCAA singles and doubles champion Bob Bryan.

In HOUSTON this week, to reach his first ever ATP semis, Michael has worn down a variety of opponents.

- #101 Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Trevor, who prefers clay and held a match point on Michael in the 2nd set (2-6, 7-5, 6-3)

- the free-falling #1 seed Fish (6-3, 6-1)

- up-and-coming Ryan Harrison (6-1, 5-7, 6-3)

Beating #16 clay specialist Argentine Juan Monaco today may require a different order of upset. Continuing to win 40% of his return points may be possible (Monaco's also averaged winning 61% of his own serve points this year), but he will also have to hold his own serve against someone who's averaged winning 43% of his return points in a 12-5 year. Michael averages winning 55% of his own serve points.

Should he pull off this upset and reach his first ATP final, his reward will be a 36 spot improvement in his ranking, taking him to #100 and giving him an automatic entry into the ultimate clay court palace, Roland Garros. For Monaco, what drove him to accept a wildcard and play Houston this year is a rankings race to stay among the top 16 to earn a valuable seeding position in the clay season ahead. He has his sights on the man in the other half of the semis facing Isner today, #15 Feliciano Lopez, also a wild card entry with the same motivation to hold his spot of catch the resting Gael Monfils or Gilles Simon at #14 and 13 respectively, leading him by less than the 250 points the Houston winner will earn. The difference in points between Lopez and Monaco? 45 points. If only one of them wins today, he will become #15 and have a shot at moving up with a win tomorrow.

So while for the 11th year in a row The US Mens Clay Court Championship entertains it's fans with a semi-final qualifier ranked higher than 100, it also features the 3 top seeds for the first time since 2003, when Sampras, Agassi and Roddick reached the semis. Not quite the same pedigree or ampage, but guys who've posted some real clay results and one, ISNER - now 6-0 on clay this year - looking to restore the US image at home and abroad on dirt, even if he does it with 140 mph serves...


US Mens Clay Court Championship, 201

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