Nick Bollettieri: Hewitt can't compete with opponent's powerful belief

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The Independent Online

I often cite mentality as the crucial difference in big matches but yesterday's Australian Open final was decided for the simplest of reasons: Marat Safin was technically and physically the better player.

I often cite mentality as the crucial difference in big matches but yesterday's Australian Open final was decided for the simplest of reasons: Marat Safin was technically and physically the better player.

He had too much fire. Lleyton Hewitt didn't have the weapons to damage him. Power won out, but Safin did not rely solely on that.

His serve was superior. His forehand and backhand were better. His volleys were more accurate. He moved around the court with more efficiency. Yes, he started the slower of the pair and lost the first set, a fact Safin put down to nerves, but the statistics tell their own story.

Safin's first-serve accuracy was 60 per cent against Hewitt's 49 per cent. He clocked the fastest serve at 215kmh, against Hewitt's fastest of 202kmh. He served 18 aces to Hewitt's seven.

Another telling statistic was the number of points won at the net. In percentage terms, there wasn't a huge difference: Safin was 60 per cent and Hewitt won 59 per cent. In volume terms, there was a significant difference. Safin came in 42 times, winning points with 25 of his approaches. Hewitt came in just 17 times, winning 10.

Lleyton was playing so far back behind the baseline for so much of the match that he gave himself just too much to do against a guy who was more than capable of keeping the ball in play.

Hewitt might have the heart of a lion - and we know he's one of the games great fighters - but you're not going to win from there with Safin playing like he did.

Safin's win also demonstrated the effect of having the right coach, in his case Peter Lundgren who used to work with Roger Federer. Lundgren has done a good job with Safin, and I believe that's as much down to what hehasn't done, like screwing around with Marat's strokes, as to what he has done.

I'd guess his most important role has been to advise Safin on how to use his weapons rather than how to change them, telling him, for example, that he didn't need to go for outright winners so often because his natural talent will provide an edge anyway if he plays a more measured game.

Essentially, it comes down to instilling a confidence in a player about their own abilities, getting them to truly believe that they are simply better than the other guy. It's much easier to fix visual things: serves, volleys, strokes. Getting a player to have faith that they're darn good is a lot tougher, and can depend on them being willing to do a lot of soul searching and opening up.

Safin yesterday articulated what Lundgren has done for him in this area, saying that in the past he'd believed the negative publicity about his own mental frailties - a mindset that becomes self-fulfilling.

As Safin said yesterday, he "couldn't believe, didn't believe" in his ability to win a Slam, even though he had done just that in the US Open final against Pete Sampras in 2000.

Safin added, about Lundgren: "He makes me believe that I can be a good player and I don't have so much doubt about myself." It sounds simple. It's not. But when it comes good, it can let natural talent, like Safin's, flourish, which can only be positive for the year ahead.

In Saturday's women's final, Serena Williams hung in there as Lindsay Davenport fell apart. That was a mental collapse by Lindsay, but Serena showed ability and belief, which combined in any champion can only be good for tennis.

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