Bollettieri: 'My hope is for fantastic farewell from Agassi'

Nick Bollettieri, the world's most famous tennis coach, revisits Wimbledon and talks in awe of its history and why a former world No 1's final appearance there is so poignant
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The Independent Online

I had butterflies in my stomach even before I walked through the gates at the All England Club on Saturday. I haven't been to the Championships in quite a while so the mere sight of the camping queuers, the ivy-clad buildings, the pristine walkways and the ever-efficient staff hammered home to me again quite how unique it all is. Good to be back? Wonderful.

My wife, Cindi, who's never been before, summed it up. She walked in, took one look at the place and said: "Holy Mackerel, Nick." I couldn't agree more. It's like entering a different world, and that's before you even start considering the astonishing catalogue of wonderful moments the tournament has produced, and the pantheon of greats who've made them.

Which brings me to Andre Agassi, who this fortnight will be playing here for the final time. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that when Andre won the title here in 1992 it was the best day of my professional life, and one of the greatest moments in my life, period. To be the coach who helped him to the title that he still counts as the most treasured in his career was awesome. Not least because of what had gone before.

Andre made his Wimbledon debut in 1987, lost to Henri Leconte, and said "I hate this place", "Grass is for cows", and "I'll never come back". He didn't until 1991, when he made the quarters. And then in 1992, after the French Open, he headed back to Las Vegas, intending to take time off. Except one night, at 3am, he picked up the phone and called me. "What are you doing?," he said. "Waiting for you, buddy," I said.

He said he'd meet me in Palm Beach, and was there in a flash. We had a round of golf, practised on an open hard court for one hour and Andre said: "OK, let's go."

We hopped on a plane to London and went straight to a pre-Wimbledon Q&A session with the media. One of the reporters asked Andre about his practice schedule. "We've been in Palm Beach practising several hours a day on grass," he said. After giving his reply, he looked over at me and winked.

The rest is history. He beat Becker in the quarters (five sets). McEnroe in the semis (straight sets). And then Goran in the final. Andre had won Wimbledon. The tournament he hated as a teenager. The tournament that nobody thought he could win. It was amazing then, and I still find it amazing, and a wonderful memory, today.

Andre has gone from tennis brat to tennis royalty. He's transcended his sport. I can only hope that he's healthy enough here to make another one of those brilliant runs, similar to last year at the US Open. Tennis fans around the world would love to see it. And from the bottom of my heart, so would I.

Maybe he could even show one of the young bucks what it's all about, one last time. He's drawn to meet Rafael Nadal in the third round. What an occasion that would be!

As for my tip for the tournament, it has to be Roger Federer. How can it fail to be Federer, when he has a combination of talents that some of the other greatest players of all time possessed. He has improvisational skills to match McEnroe at his best, the power of Sampras, the returns of Andre and the tenacity of Connors - and that's saying something.

Federer has it all, and it's all topped with the focus of Bjorn Borg.

Borg used to train at my academy when he was playing seniors events. I asked him once: "Hey, Bjorn, what made you so great?"

He told me that once he got out on the tennis court, he could block everything but the next shot entirely from his mind. "I focused on hitting the ball over the net, and only that," he said. "It was the only thing in my world at that moment, hitting the ball over the net one more time than my opponent."

Federer has some array of talent, and that's why I can't see past him this fortnight. I also expect Lleyton Hewitt to do well, while Mario Ancic will come good one time or other. Tim Henman has a tough draw, starting with no easy ride against Robin Soderling, and then facing, most likely, Federer.

Andy Murray is obviously the talk of the town. Less talk, I say, and more action. The more you say, the more you have to live up to it. Anything could happen with him this year.

In the women's event, I think Venus Williams and Justine Henin-Hardenne will both go far. Nicole Vaidisova will be dangerous, as will Martina Hingis. Bring it on.