Nick Bollettieri: Wild-card Lleyton Hewitt must gamble to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The Wimbledon Files: In contrast to Tsonga, Hewitt's only weapons are competitiveness and running down every darn ball
Tuesday 26 June 2012
This is a match of contrasts. On one side of the net there's the crash-bang power game of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a man who knows only how to attack, attack, attack. Watch out, Tsonga's coming right at you. And over the other side is a guy who, at his peak, had one of the best defensive set-ups of recent time.
In Lleyton Hewitt, we have an Aussie fighter who has been well appreciated by the Wimbledon crowd for many years – it's amazing to think it's a decade now since he won the Championships. His ranking may have crashed down to 202, 196 places behind Tsonga, but that's in part because he's had a tough, tough time of it with injuries.
But let me tell you straight: Lleyton Hewitt is the epitome of the man who gives it all and he deserves his wild card because of that. Every match he plays the guy gives everything he has got; everything is left out there on that court, absolutely every last drop. Guys such as him and Michael Chang may not be the best players we have seen but I tell you they are the ones I would like to see beside me if I were in a foxhole.
But if Hewitt is to have a chance of upsetting the favourite, he is going to have to do something a little different from his norm. His usual position is several feet behind the baseline, basically playing defensive tennis, getting the balls back. To upset the French powerhouse – man, he can hit the ball – Hewitt is going to have to climb out of that foxhole and take a big gamble. Get out of the comfort zone, Lleyton.
He has to try and get Tsonga to overhit because, holy cow, is he going to come at you. Hewitt will get plenty of first serves in but instead of dropping back and looking to keep the ball in play, waiting for an error by his opponent, he should stand closer, and mix in some surprise attacks to the net. He should put Tsonga on the defensive because that is the weakness in the Frenchman's game.
The odds favour Tsonga, sure they do, but Hewitt is a guy who will never, never, never throw in the towel. If you relax, Mr Tsonga, then be careful because this man will be all over you; he is one of the most competitive players you will see on a tennis court. However, time is catching up with Hewitt and unless he can come up with something special today, and into the week, it may be the last time we see him here. He's 31, he's had his share of injuries. The latest was for an operation on a toe in February and so he's short of time on court; at that age injury takes its toll on a top-tier sportsman.
I like Tsonga. I mean, wow, has he got two huge weapons and there's just so much power in his make up as well. There's a massive serve and a massive forehand; in contrast Hewitt's only weapons are competitiveness and running down every darn ball.
Tsonga does without a regular coach, although Yannick Noah and Guy Forget lend a hand when he wants some guidance. I reckon Tsonga would be fun to coach, he's my kind of personality, rumbustious, loves life. You would not want to over-coach him, he's the type of guy that if you try to do too much with you could hurt him. Some players are like that: when I was with Boris Becker he would say to me before a game, "Tell me one thing, Mr B." That's all he wanted, one nugget.
What Tsonga has to do is sit down and watch some TV, watch Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and see how they change play. Tsonga doesn't know how to change play; he's not got the mental edge to do that at the moment, switch between attack and defence. To break the top three, you need a defence to go with the offence.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga HOW THEY MATCH UP Lleyton Hewitt
French Nationality Australian
27 Age 31
Switzerland Residence Bahamas
Right Plays Right
6ft 2in Height 5ft 11in
6 World ranking 202
8 Career titles 28
$9.2m Career prize-money $19.2m
14-4 Wimbledon record 39-12
Semi-final Wimbledon best Won 2002
2 Head-to-head 0
1-9 Odds 11-2
Bollettieri's prediction: Tsonga in four sets
Sharp Sharapova allowed to make it look all so easy
You can't have any complaints about that start from the top seed. In fact, it could hardly have gone any better. She was sharp, confident and focused. Sharapova stood on the baseline and did her thing: two sets, 35 minutes each, and back to the locker room.
The baseline is the key for Maria. When she stands there and hits the ball flat as a pancake, as she did yesterday, she is on her game and therefore real tough to beat. Behind the baseline she's a good player; on the baseline she's a great player.
Why? Because it allows her to hit the ball early and then dominate the play. If she is hitting it early and flat, her opponent has less time to deal with what's coming at them. Anastasia Rodionova got it wrong yesterday, although she wasn't given much chance to get it right. The way to beat Sharapova is not to hit the ball flat back at her – no, sir, the way to do it is to get her moving. Hit balloon shots, slices, drop shots, anything to get her around that court.
Easier said than done, of course, because when Maria's in this mood it's hard to dictate anything. She has always had confidence. It's part of what makes her so good, and part of what will make her so hard to beat at Wimbledon. She moved well across the court, too, producing a fine two-handed backhand down the line when needed. A good day all round for her.
Thoughts for the day
(1) Sabine's winning smile
It meant a lot for me yesterday to see a smile spread across Sabine Lisicki's face. I was with her at the academy last week, helping her to sort out her game ahead of Wimbledon and, boy, was she nervous. Having reached the semi-finals last year, she has so many ranking points to defend here and she was struggling for any sort of confidence coming into the tournament. But she's up and running now, thanks to a straight-sets over Petra Martic, her Croatian opponent. Well done, Sabine.
(2) Dancing on air
I made my debut in the BBC Radio 5 live commentary box yesterday, watching Maria Sharapova's match against Anastasia Rodionova. What a great view you get of Centre Court and it was a lot of fun, too. They had Len Goodman, of Strictly Come Dancing on, and I made him an offer he can't refuse – get me on your show and I'll give you some tennis lessons. Do they have a disco competition?
Any questions for me about Wimbledon, or anything about tennis at any level – get in touch. Drop me an email at email@example.com and I'll reply to the best in the next day's column. Best, Nick.
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