Andy Murray is looking fit, confident, relaxed, motivated – and isn't apparently suffering from the pressures of being the sole Brit hope at his nation's biggest tennis party.
His appointment with royalty was a breeze the other day, and he endeared himself to Her Majesty – who by all accounts has other sports above tennis in her favourites list – by taking down Finland's Jarkko Nieminen clinically and quickly. To my eyes, Murray looks in better form in these early stages than he did at the same point last year, when he went on to the semi-finals.
So who is Gilles Simon and what is there about his game that could trouble the Braveheart of Britain? In my view, he's a guy who hasn't lived up to his billing. Great things have been expected of him and he's produced good things at best. He was as high as No 6 in the world – that was early last year – but is now outside the top 30.
He's been hampered by injury this season – a problem with his right knee effectively kept him out of contention for months and he missed the entire clay court season. I'm not certain whether that's completely behind him. He can be very emotional, and that's a weakness when things are going against him. On the flip side, he'll be the underdog, has nothing to lose, and can come out firing.
Simon's a big hitter with powerful strokes on both sides and a decent all-court game. His biggest weapon is his backhand, which he hammers on the rise, early and hard. Simon will be fresh – his second-round opponent, Illya Marchenko, withdrew from the tournament before their match. That could also be a disadvantage, however, because he hasn't played himself into the first week, coming through just one match to reach the middle Saturday.
As for Simon's form on grass – he played one warm-up at Eastbourne, losing 6-1, 6-3 to Michaël Llodra in the quarters. In Slams his record is unspectacular, with the 2009 Australian Open quarter-finals his best showing to date. He's reached the fourth round here once (last year), and has not gone further than the third round at either Roland Garros or the US Open.
In head-to-heads Murray is 3-1 up from two meetings on hard court and two on clay, with Simon's sole win coming in their first meeting in Rome in 2007. I've written plenty on Murray's strengths: movement, good and improving serve, soft hands, creative brain, and the best returns in the world. He's also being more offensive and not waiting as long before trying to pick out winners. Murray can neutralise the Frenchman. He can take him down in straight sets and will beat him in a maximum of four.
Today's big match: Gilles Simon v Andy Murray
How they match up
French Nationality British
25 Age 23
Neuchâtel Residence Surrey
2002 Turned pro 2005
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
5ft 11in Height 6ft 3in
No 32 World ranking No 4
6 Career titles 14
$3.8m Career prize money $11.2m
W8 L5 Wimbledon record W16 L4
3R (three) Wimbledon best SF (2009)
Head-to-head: Murray Leads 3-1
7-1 Odds 1-7
Bollettieri's prediction: Murray in four, max.
Coaching Report: John Isner v Thiemo De Bakker
The future is bright for Isner, once he recovers from his marathon efforts
I wrote with some confidence yesterday that John Isner would be able to recover from his world-record epic against Nicolas Mahut to beat Thiemo De Bakker. I thought the adrenaline of the occasion would juice him up. And boy was I wrong!
So hands up straight away to acknowledge it: you've got to tell it like you see it, and when you get it wrong, that's the way the cookie crumbles. I'm not infallible. Not quite.
In the end, it wasn't just the sheer fatigue that did for my 6ft 9in compatriot, although that played a very big part in his downfall. He didn't have the legs and got beat in under 75 minutes. And as he told us afterwards, he also had a painful blistering as well as stiffness. He's also been forced to withdraw from the doubles.
But believe me, he'll come back strong. He's a good athlete and a balanced person. He's going to take a break, watch some soccer, go fishing. And when he returns, he'll do so knowing that no opponent will ever doubt his staying power in future.
Jeepers! We've got one heck of an interesting fourth round ahead on Monday in the ladies singles, if a couple of matches today go the way I assume they will.
Those matches involve Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova respectively, and if they get past Slovak and Czech opponents today (and I expect them both to win), then they'll face each other in the fourth round.
Not only that, wins yesterday for Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin mean that the Belgian duo will also face each other on Monday with a place in the quarters at stake.
What's going on?! Huge and genuinely competitive fixtures in the women's singles as early as the fourth round. What a treat this tournament is turning out to be – both open and intriguing.
Both Clijsters and Henin impressed me, the former against Maria Kirilenko, the latter against Nadia Petrova. It's good for the women's game that the Belgians are back and that Sharapova is on the mend, physically and competitively, because as much as we all admire and respect the sheer brilliance of the Williams sisters, it makes it much more interesting when they're tested by fellow Slam winners
My featured match of the day yesterday was Lleyton Hewitt against Gaël Monfils. I predicted the Aussie would win and he did, but the manner of his victory was more even more assured than anticipated.
He's on a hot streak and it isn't just that he looks really well physically, but he's taking control of matches and dominating them.
On Super Monday – when the whole field in the men's and women's singles play – he'll face Novak Djokovic after the Serb won yesterday, and on the evidence so far, Hewitt's heading for the quarters.
World Cup of Tennis
I've been trying to predict soccer matches in South Africa based on the strengths of nations in tennis, and by assessing national sporting traits through tennis players I've known and worked with. Then, I project that on to the soccer and see what happens. The USA-Ghana is a terrific match-up today but a mismatch in tennis terms, and in any case, my colleagues at the All England Club assure me there's only one soccer match in town this weekend. So without further ado...
Germany v England
Boris Becker at his peak versus Fred Perry in his prime, on grass, at Wimbledon.
What a prospect! We sure could shift some tickets for this showdown. That's my imaginary match-up today. I worked with Boris and he wasn't just meticulous and driven but also utterly in love with the grass of Wimbledon and a ferocious competitor in SW19, winning in 1985, 1986 and 1989, and contesting four other finals. "Boom Boom" was a character, a showman, a crowd pleaser and is an honorary Brit.
Fred "Ladies Man" Perry was also a character, probably less well loved by the Wimbledon establishment as a tough Northerner with a "So what?" attitude. He had his own Wimbledon hat-trick between 1934 and 1936.
So it's steely flair versus steely flair. Fireworks. Spectacular rallies. Tie-breaks. An exhilarated crowd.
Who would win between them? My heart would say "Boom Boom" and my head would say Fred was one tough cookie. England. No, Germany. No, England. On penalties!
Win a week at my academy
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All you have to do is email to tell me who will win today's big match. I want a specific score line, and as a tie-breaker, a one-sentence summary of the manner in which your pick will win. All winners go into a hat, with one overall winner picked from there. Email: email@example.com
Yesterday's winner was Gary Goodger.
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