This is Rafa Nadal's first Wimbledon match since he won that epic final against Roger Federer in 2008 – the greatest tennis match of all time – to claim his first title here. Injury meant the Spanish powerhouse was absent last year so, in one sense, this is his bow as he returns to defend to his title. That alone makes this interesting, especially in a year when the men's event is wide open.
But Kei Nishikori, who is Nadal's first-round opponent, is making a return of his own and he is a talent with the potential to win big matches. He is based at my academy and had just started to attract some serious attention, winning the 2008 ATP Newcomer of the Year award as a teenager, before a serious elbow injury took him out of the game for a year.
In Japan, Kei, 20, is a superstar. On the court he is as quick as a cat, and superbly balanced. He is a shot maker with great footwork, able to jump off both feet to hammer his backhands. His strokes are so good because of his foundations. He has unorthodox grips and hits his forehand with spin. His serve is fine, he has got a solid basic volley, and he likes to hit the ball early, on the rise, from the baseline. Being out for a year at his age is a big deal, but his confidence is back.
Nadal we know all about. He is the best clay-courter of all time, a private guy away from the court who still lives a quiet life with his family in Majorca.
Some people argue that he has trained so hard through his career that he has given himself the injury difficulties that have dogged him, like the knee problem that kept him from last year's Wimbledon. But if Nadal hadn't trained as hard, he would not have that physique or be the same player. It goes hand-in-hand and he is back strong now, pumped, keen and healthy.
He is a stamina monster and that is where Kei faces a tough day at work. Kei cannot win this match by keeping the ball in play because Nadal will outlast him in any battle of that kind, even with the lower, skiddy bounces of week one. Nishikori's prayer lies in taking the ball early and hard, and in moving in from the baseline whenever he gets the opportunity. The longer he stays back and lets Nadal dictate, the quicker he will go down.
Nadal will do what he does best: he'll brutalise the ball and try to get on top early on, then hammer home that advantage. Even if Kei comes in, Nadal is capable of pouncing and counter-punching.
Kei has nothing to lose in as much as he's expected to lose. I would advise him to go out and play without nerves. Go and beat the heck out the ball, son. Play hard, play fast, stay focused. And don't even think about the guy on the other side of the net.
Today's big match Kei Nishikori v Rafael Nadal
HOW THEY MATCH UP
Japanese ......... Nationality ......... Spanish
20 ......... Age ......... 24
Bradenton, Fla ......... Residence ......... Majorca
Right-handed ......... Plays ......... Left-handed
5ft 10in ......... Height ......... 6ft 1in
No189 ......... World ranking ......... No1
1 ......... Career titles ......... 40
$475,000 ......... Career prize money ......... $31.2m
W0 L1 ......... Wimbledon record ......... W22 L4
1R (2008) ......... Wimbledon best ......... Winner (2008)
Head-to-head ......... Nadal leads 1-0
18-1 ......... Odds ......... 1-20
Bollettieri's prediction Nadal in four, at most
Coaching report: Roger Federer v Alejandro Falla: Magnitude of moment grips Falla and his chance to shock the world is gone
Roger Federer versus Alejandro Falla, fourth set, Falla serving for the match at 5-4. There's the whole match right there. The Colombian had played himself to the brink of the biggest single shock in the history of Wimbledon, and then he let that thought into his mind. And the weight of what he was about to achieve crushed him. I was out on Centre Court and I watched the whole match from start to finish and I believe in his head that Falla starting over-thinking, along the lines, "I just need to keep the ball in play." And of course at that stage, he's thinking too much. And before he knows it the game has gone, then the set. And Federer's not going to lose a tie-break in the fourth, and bye bye baby.
This was all about coping with the pressure, and while Falla played great (Federer really wasn't so bad), at the moment of truth, the nerves and experience of a timeless champion held, while Falla's didn't.
FEDERER FALLA-BLE – BUT NEVER IN DOUBT
Falla and his team spent a month at my academy in Florida earlier this year. The Colombian party came over to use our facilities and get a bit of input, and if we helped in any way, then great. I was impressed with the sheer power of Falla yesterday and he targeted Federer's backhand and smashed it to pieces in those opening two sets to the extent that Federer started slicing out of what seemed – for Federer – almost like panic. (That is, he almost looked like he was going to break sweat). But for all the trouble Federer found himself in, within points of defeat, I don't believe Federer felt at any stage of that match that he was going to lose. Because champions of his calibre don't have that mindset. They leave the battle field as victors, or on a stretcher. Was this evidence of Federer's fallibility? Look at the result. He won. Job done. That's not evidence of anything but a winner.
ROBSON WILL BE A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE FUTURE
After watching Federer escape to victory, I stayed on Centre to watch Laura Robson play Jelena Jankovic. It went pretty much as I expected with Jankovic's experience telling, eventually but Robson, 16, impressed me hugely. Her serve is excellent, first and second. She has very solid ground strokes; her swings may be a little big but they're excellent. I think she needs to work on her lateral movement, and develop a quicker first step, which may come more naturally as her reading of play matures. She plays a very aggressive game, which is a plus; she reminds me of Lindsay Davenport a little. But Laura could do with adding some subtlety to mix up her play, maybe a drop shot or two and a bit more coming in. Changes of pace are something else she needs to work on. But overall, I was massively impressed. This kid is heading to the top 20 at least.
World Cup of Tennis
As some of you may have heard, there's another sports event attracting some attention down in Africa during Wimbledon, and I thought it might be interesting to take a World Cup match each day and view it through "tennis eyes".
France v South Africa
Hell! What a crazy situation the French team are in, with the chaos of a coach having lost all control, and players picking and choosing when they train and play, like so many grown-up babies. Ridiculous.
France is a nation where sporting eccentricity is the norm, and I've known some fairly wacky French tennis players in my time. There is a big difference between them and the soccer team, though: Yannick Noah was off the wall at times, but on court he knew when to get serious, and that's what led him to the French Open in 1983. His son, Joakim, applies himself just as diligently these days to his own sport (basketball), as a player with the Chicago Bulls.
If the French soccer squad had someone of Yannick's personality and stature, I can tell you now they wouldn't have a problem, because there's a difference between play time and business, and he knew it. In the same mould, you had Henri Leconte, Guy Forget and even Mary Pierce, with flaky off-court reputations but focus when it was needed.
Today's match in Bloemfontein will be determined by petulance against pride, and I think the hosts will be in possession of the latter, which will settle it in their favour.
Win a Week at my Academy
Want a week's tennis holiday at my academy in Florida? Included in the prize is five days' top-class tuition. The prize can be for an adult wanting to shape up your game, or for a child who wants to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova, among other players who went from being kids under my tuition to No1 in the world.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday's winner was: Emmanuel Gautrot.
If the prize is for a child, parent(s) or guardian(s) must accompany at your own expense. The winner arranges the travel.Reuse content