Nick Bollettieri: My Wimbledon week - Laura Robson is Slam material

Legendary coach looks back over a stunning first few days at the All England Club and reveals who has made him gasp with admiration, laugh out loud and brought a tear to the eye

You want to know something about Laura Robson? This is a young lady who has the potential to win a Slam.

Yes, she is that good. But hold on, people, hold on. I know how excited you guys get in this country when a special player comes along, and listen to me, you have to go easy on Laura. She has what it takes but we are still talking about a girl who is developing. Give her a couple of years, give her space, let her breathe and let her become the player she has the ability to become without any extra baggage being attached to her.

There is plenty that can still go wrong – she is a 19-year-old and we have seen plenty of youngsters fail to live up to their promise – but man alive, she has it there for the taking. I see no reason why she should not down the line be up among the best on the WTA tour and once she is in that company a Slam is on the table.

She will have to learn how to handle the pressure that comes with such expectation, of course she will, and that may be the hardest lesson of all. So that’s why I say don’t crowd her. I had this debate on air while I was commentating with Jonathan Overend on the BBC – by the way, it has been a pleasure to be on the air with the BBC, they are great guys – and told him straight to go easy  on her!

Yesterday was a whole different ball game for Laura Robson. This time she was the big favourite and it showed at the start – she was nervous and her first couple of games were peppered with unforced errors. There were a few double-faults too but that doesn’t bother me so much with Laura. She has a big serve – man, that is going to become more and more of a weapon – and when you are chasing power the odd double-fault is inevitable.

Everybody expected this match would be easy but Marianna Duque-Marino, a clay courter, could be as loose as a goose, she had nothing to lose and she sprang some early surprises, getting into the net to snatch an early break.

Robson soon settled herself and began to blast the Colombian right off that Centre Court. Duque-Marino tried to use the slice but Robson was running her all over the place and the power of Robson’s returns utterly unsettled her opponent. I love her two-handed backhand – boom! It’s got power, baby.

There are bigger tests to come here and in the months and years to come. What she needs to do is keep working on her movement, keep practising every day the things she is uncomfortable with, work on the junk balls, the slice, broaden her repertoire. She has what it takes, I saw that even against a lesser opponent yesterday. I just hope she is given the time and space over the next two, maybe three years as she develops into the player I know you guys are all desperate to see.  

My biggest surprise

Wednesday, from first slip on the grass to the last slip of Roger Federer (left) out of the tournament, was a day I never stopped being surprised by. Holy smoked mackerel – what a day. Bang: Tsonga went down and out. Bang: Victoria Azarenka went down and out. Bang: Maria slipped, got beaten and didn’t like the conditions. Wozniacki, Cilic... it just kept going. And then right at the end Federer stays on his feet but is beaten. Wow!

My biggest disappointment

Actually there are two – the prospect of Rafael Nadal not returning to Wimbledon and the suggestion that Federer might not win another Slam. I said it when the talk began about Rafa – he needs to play Wimbledon. You cannot miss Wimbledon and expect to be one of the greats. I hope he is back. And Roger. Well, the guy is a magician and magicians perform magic, don’t they? The guy isn’t finished yet.

My biggest upset

You can’t look past Michelle Larcher de Brito’s breathtaking victory over Maria Sharapova. Boy oh boy, you could not have seen that one coming. I have known Michelle since she was a girl of around 12 when she turned up at my academy in Florida and, although we knew she was good, I never thought she had it in her to beat someone of Maria’s level.

Michelle, who came to us from her home in Portugal, was the talk of the town when she was 16. From there onwards there was a worry she had not kicked on from her early promise. But then – what have I been saying all week? – the big guns cannot expect to stroll through the early rounds of Wimbledon and that has never been more true than this week. Even so this was a whole other level of surprise – a qualifier beating one of the biggest names in the game. Man, Michelle went after Maria. She never stopped running and harrying. It was the cherry on the cake of a day of great matches. 

Best debut

It was two months ago that another girl turned up at the academy, Monica Puig. Now I know Puerto Rico – I was down there working in a hotel for 17 seasons in the old days – and it was no great tennis nation. So Monica arrives from Puerto Rico and her coach asks me to take a look. And what do I see? A good game, good range of skills, but nothing to suggest she could be something special. But we had a talk – and I am a big believer in talking to your players and making them believe they can do wonders.

So I turn up on No 18 Court to see Monica, who has come through qualifying as a first surprise, play a match for the first time and what does she do? She only goes and beats the No 5 seed, Sara Errani, in two confident, exciting sets. Now I don’t like seeing an Italian beaten, but that’s one happy exception.

My favourite moment

My best moment was a very personal one. I have been coming to this tournament for more years than I care to remember and it has been a privilege every goddam year. I love coming here and talking to people, doesn’t matter whether it is the players, the coaches or the fantastic fans. Man, I love the fans. But my moment, I am not sorry to say, was right at the start when my wife, Cindi, took a picture of me and my two adopted sons, Giovanni and Giacomo, standing in front of the famous main gates here. The three amigos!

On the up: Players who have impressed me

I am going to give you six women who are worth following over the next few years. They are at different stages of their careers but if they do the work, are looked after by the right people and stay fit then they can climb the rankings and pitch their tents in the big time. So here they are:

Laura Robson (GB)

Age: 19 Ranking: 38

Yesterday was another solid step forward and if she keeps on improving then we have a potential Slam winner here. Yes, she’s that good.

Jamie Hampton (US)

Age: 23 Ranking: 25

Born in Germany but now living in Alabama, Jamie may have been beaten by Sloane Stephens in the first round here but she reached round four at Roland Garros.

Sloane Stephens (US)

Age: 20 Ranking: 17

Boy this girl (above) can play. Only just turned 20 and reached the last four in Australia and the fourth round in Paris this year.

Monica Puig (PR)

Age: 19 Ranking: 65

Anyone who can produce a first match at Wimbledon like she did in beating fifth seed Sara Errani has to be included in this list.

Caroline Garcia (FR)

Age: 19 Ranking: 100

I like the look of this French girl. She has not reached double figures in terms of matches on the tour but she showed against Serena that she can play.

Madison Keys (US)

Age: 18 Ranking: 52

Boy can Keys hit the ball. Wham! Came off the better against Heather Watson and if she works on movement to add to her power then we have a player.


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