Holy Cow! We are in for a treat at SW19

Novak? Rafa? Roger? It's too tight to call, says our Wimbledon columnist Nick Bollettieri – and that's why his adrenalin is pumping

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The Independent Online

The dawning of every new day is a reason to celebrate, but at this time of the year there's one morning in particular that I always look forward to. Man, there's nothing quite like the first day at Wimbledon. Just thinking about passing through those gates, smelling the grass and feeling that sense of anticipation sends a shiver down my back.

There will be an extra spring in my step when I walk into the All England Club on Monday. We're living in one of the greatest eras in tennis history and the beauty of this year's Wimbledon is that I find it impossible to pick a men's champion.

Novak? Rafa? Roger? Holy cow, I'm never short of an opinion, but I can't come up with a convincing argument to put one of those guys ahead of the others. And before you Brits start to complain that I'm ruling out your best player since my old buddy, Fred Perry, well I'm not. If Andy Murray is brave enough to take some risks he can still come into the equation.

If Djokovic had won in Paris I might have stuck my neck out and said he's the guy to beat here, but Nadal went a long way to redressing the balance with his seventh French Open title. It was Nadal's third win in a row against Djokovic and, boy, did he need it, after a run of seven successive defeats in finals to the Aussie Open champ.

Federer hasn't won a Grand Slam title for two and a half years, but I would never rule him out here. Nobody changes the pace better, he moves beautifully, has one of the best forehands in history and comes up with big serves when they're needed.

So what of your Braveheart? Murray has wonderful returns, but I don't think that's enough to win a Slam. He has to come out of his comfort zone and take some chances. Andy's a damned good volleyer and if he plays smart and does things people don't expect, then I think he can beat anyone.

I find it hard to see anyone other than Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams winning the women's title. They both have that great quality of winning even when they have bad days. Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska are having good years, but their temperament gets in the way. The one other player you wouldn't rule out is champion Petra Kvitova. On her day she's as dangerous as hell. If she just concentrates on hitting the crap out of that ball she could go and win again.

As for me, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts again with you over the next fortnight. I've just recovered after spending a couple of days in hospital with pneumonia. I didn't feel great the day after I played 27 holes of golf and then went body-surfing for five hours. Time for me to slow down? No way!

And here's how my fame academy stars are getting on...

Jelena Jankovic

(Serbia, aged 27, world No 20)

Jelena spent several years at my Florida academy but we haven't seen her for a good while now. I feel sad at the way she's slipped down the rankings. She was world No 1 only three years ago.

I think Jelena's an example of someone who has listened to too many people. You can only change the flavour of the soup so much. You can add a little bit of pepper, a bit of salt, stir it a bit more, cook it for another five minutes, but there's only so much you can do.

Jelena needs to decide how she wants to play. With her game she should give anybody a tough time. She moves well, she has a great two-handed backhand, good returns, a good serve, but mentally right now she's lacking. When you lose, it's not your coach's fault. You have to take responsibility.

I think that it all comes down to a lack of continuity of coaching. It should be tough to beat Jelena. The trouble right now is that she is beating herself.

Serena Williams

(United States, aged 30, world No 6)

When I was ill recently I can't tell you how humbled I was by the hundreds of messages I received. Serena called me three times and sent me a bouquet of flowers that was so big that I almost sold it. It must have cost a fortune. It was beautiful.

Can Serena win Wimbledon? Do Italians eat pasta? If she's healthy, of course she can. She's relentless. She hits the ball early, she has a great serve, she punishes any defensive strokes.

I don't see Serena as often as I used to, but I was on the practice court with her a couple of months ago. I said to her: "Serena, you're still the best, but you can't win standing behind the baseline. You've got to go out there and dictate play and hold your head up."

I wasn't sure what to make of her defeat by Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open. She had been playing so well in the build-up. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office or maybe something was hurting. Maybe she was thinking: "Don't push this, don't jeopardise your chances at Wimbledon and don't jeopardise the rest of the summer."

Venus Williams

(United States, aged 32, world No 55)

Venus gave me a big hug and a kiss the last time I saw her, in Miami in March, but I have more contact with Serena these days. Nevertheless, I have only admiration for the way Venus has come back from illness this year. What a fighter she is.

She'll always be a danger at Wimbledon. She has such a huge wing span, especially when she comes to the net, where she's so comfortable. She still has the ability, but I think the test will come when she has to go the distance. At the French Open it just looked like she reached a stage where she didn't have the legs any more.

Max Mirnyi

(Belarus, aged 34, world No 1 in doubles)

Can you believe it? Max, who has been at my academy for 22 years, will be 35 next month but he's just won the French Open doubles title with Daniel Nestor and gone back to No 1 in the world doubles rankings. What a story it would be if the 46th doubles title of his career could come at Wimbledon.

Max makes Trojans look like layabouts. I wish you could see him when he's at the academy. He never stops believing, never stops working and trains harder than anybody else. He plays with the juniors, he plays with the pros coming up, he plays with the kids. He'd no doubt get his two-year-old son out on the practice court if there was nobody else around.

He leads a very disciplined life. As you get older, you realise that you have to do more than anybody else if you're to stay at the very top. He practises harder than he has ever done. He's in the gym by about nine in the morning, he does his drills, his serving practice, he plays doubles, he plays singles. He's an example to us all.

Sabine Lisicki

(Germany, aged 21, world No 15)

Sabine's career goes up and down like a Disneyland roller-coaster. Three years ago she made the world's top 25. Two years ago she finished the season at No 179 after missing five months with an ankle injury. Last year she reached the semis at Wimbledon and got back in the top 20.

Last week, however, she lost first time out to Urszula Radwanska at Edgbaston, where she was defending the title. It was her fifth defeat in a row and she decided to head straight back to my academy, where she's been working this week. She's been hitting a lot of balls, but she's been struggling just to keep them in the court.

I think the pressure of defending so many ranking points has got to Sabine. She says she's lost her feel for the ball after changing her racket. I've been trying to rebuild her confidence on her serve, which is such a big part of her game.

Sabine also has to be more patient. She's got big weapons, but she needs to understand that you don't win rallies with just two or three hits. No matter how good you are, you can't win like that in today's game. Even Maria Sharapova sometimes needs five or six hits to win a point.

Maria Sharapova

(Russia, aged 25, world No 1)

Has anyone in the history of sport ever had a stronger mind than Maria? When she's out there on the court she never questions herself. Looking at her, you would never guess whether she was winning or losing, whether she's feeling great, lousy or just so-so. She should take up poker because nobody would ever be able to read her face.

I was thrilled when she won the French Open, her first Grand Slam title for more than four years. She's defied the odds, coming back from shoulder injury and reclaiming her place at the top of the world rankings. What a professional, on and off the court. She's very private, very disciplined. She minds her business, man, and there's nobody more competitive and with more self-belief.

Yuri, her Dad, brought her to my academy when she was nine. We don't see Maria so much these days, though she was there a couple of months ago, quietly getting on with business as usual. Whenever she sees me the first thing she asks is how my family are.

Her coach, Thomas Hogstedt, is a great guy. You know why he's so good? He only says a few things. Maria doesn't want to hear a bunch of bullshit. She really doesn't. You just say one or two things to Maria and that's it.

Yuri is at the academy a lot. He comes and goes. He's a great friend of mine. He was wise enough to know when to step to one side, like Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, but he's still a vital part of Maria's equation.

Tommy Haas

(Germany, aged 34, world No 49)

Before Tommy played Roger Federer in the final in Halle last weekend I sent him a message. I just said: "Maintain your composure and your respect for your opponent. Believe in yourself that you can do it."

Holy mackerel, did he do it. What a result: 7-6, 6-4, his first win over Fed for 10 years after 11 successive defeats. Tommy, who has been at my academy for more than 20 years now, called me after he won and said: "Nick, you never stopped believing in me."

I can't tell you how much I admire Tommy. To paraphrase that song, if it wasn't for bad luck, Tommy would have no luck at all. He's had more injuries than I've had ice creams. He's broken both his ankles and he's had to quit in the middle of Wimbledon three times. Hell, he even had to pull out of Wimbledon on another occasion after his parents were hurt in a motorcycle accident.

Tommy's temperament used to let him down occasionally, but he's in complete control of his mind now and enjoying his game. He doesn't get upset any more. He knows he's going to have to go through a bit of pain when he's out there, but at 34 he's used to that.

This time last year he was No 895 in the world rankings. Now he's up to No 49 and has virtually no points to defend before the US Open. He's worked harder than ever to get back to where he is today. Anybody who has difficulties in their life should look at Tommy's example. He's just someone who never gives up.

Kei Nishikori

(Japan, aged 22, world No 20)

Kei has been at my academy for eight years. I haven't seen anybody with such skill in their hands and feet since Marcelo Rios. You just can't teach that stuff.

He can beat anybody on any given day, but he's not the biggest of guys. His movement helps to offset his lack of power. He's improved his serve, he plays some lovely drop shots and his volleys are good, but he needs to hit some good angled shots and he has to come in. When you're his size you can't become a top 10 player just from the baseline. He's had his injury problems, which is probably down to his lack of strength.

Kei's a lovely guy off the court, a real gentleman. I just say one or two little things to him, then I leave the court and let him get on with it. I'll just talk to his coach after that. The less you say to Kei the better. He's a natural. He just needs to play.

Heather Watson

(Britain, aged 20, world No 110)

Heather's been at my academy for eight years now. She's a great kid. You Brits should be very proud of her. Hurting her ankle at the start of the year set her back a bit, because a lot of her game is based on her movement. She's not the biggest hitter, but she's a fine athlete.

Heather is going to have to come forward more. She has to add to her game. I don't think she can make progress if she stays on the baseline. She has good volleys and she has to believe in herself. She has to go for it a bit more. She can't wait for her opponents to make mistakes.

What I like is that Heather is beginning to play the big points differently. She's not questioning herself. She's being bolder and more aggressive. There are a lot of good players around, but to make the big steps you have to know how to play the big points. If you have self-doubt and you don't go for it on the big points, I don't believe you can be a winner today.

The great players play to win. The next level pray to win. There's a big difference.

Ryan Harrison

(United States, aged 20, world No 53)

Ryan and his family moved to the academy four years ago. For some time now people have talked about him as the best American prospect. He has a game that could hurt anybody. He has a huge forehand, a big serve and he returns and volleys well. Physically he can do everything.

The next steps for Ryan are to play the big points better and to control his emotions. He can get angry and lets himself get distracted. He's still young and I'm confident that he can learn.

Sara Errani

(Italy, aged 25, world No 10)

I like to think I take notice of everyone who comes through the academy, but Sara has me beaten. I'm told she spent some time with us when she was 12 years old, but I don't remember her. I was very impressed with the way she reached the French Open final. She competes well, has great footwork and is a very clever player. It looks like we put her on the right road.