The key moments in Roger Federer's win over Ivo Minar yesterday showed us more about mentality than technique, and the match as a whole threw up a related question about one potential downside of being so damn good.
First, the match - which Federer won without ever hitting the peak of his genius talent. The first set was settled due to Minar's poor play in the 10th game, at which time he was serving at 4-5 down. He twice landed attempted drop shots so far short that they were not really shots at all.
That handed Roger his first break point of the match, and although he did not convert it, Minar soon handed him the game, set and momentum with a backhand that went wide.
What does this tell us about Roger? First, that he waited around for a chance, which in one way is good. It shows calmness and patience. But it also indicates a very, very small amount of complacency (which is too much), by believing chances will come your way rather than believing you have to go and find them. You should never, ever take for granted that a chance will come.
One of the hardest parts of being a great champion is that you must stay utterly focused all the time, guarding against complacency, even if it is understandable. The aim of all market leaders - whether they are world's best in a sport, or the car industry, or in soda pops - is to stay ahead. One little slip can quickly become costly. It wasn't like that for Federer yesterday. Not even close. But it happens.
Back to the match. The second set swung on Federer saving two break points in the seventh game. Handing Minar the break point chances was a wake-up call. The negative of this was that Federer allowed it to happen in the first place. The positive was that he reacted - and how.
In the third set, he was in confident control. His serving showed that. In the first two sets he had 71 per cent of first serves in (good) and won more than 85 per cent of those points (even better). And then he stepped it up! The 6-1 scoreline in the third set was founded on 85 per cent of first serves in, and still winning more than 80 per cent.
He had hit his stride. The guy has no weaknesses. And if I was telling a student to watch for one thing, I would tell them to study how he uses his forehand - his biggest weapon of very many, both technical and mental - whenever they can.
Even though he has an excellent backhand, he will often use the inside-out forehand, deep and powerful to the opponent's backhand side, to utilise that amazing forehand. And he has the option of doing that because he reads the game so well. His opponent often doesn't know which option he will take until it is too late.
Williams sisters should survive
Serena Williams had a hell of a fright in the first round against Angela Haynes, taking three sets to come through. Her movement is not good. I'm not sure about the state of her ankle. But against Mara Santangelo of Italy today, I'd be amazed if she didn't win. She knows she needs to up her game and should do it.
Venus Williams looks in better shape of the sisters, more attuned already, and healthier. Her opponent today, Nicole Pratt, has been around the block, though, she's no pushover. But I believe Venus will still get too many balls and win.
Andy Murray has nothing to lose against Radek Stepanek, and if he plays freely, anything can happen. I expect Stepanek to win though. He's a steely player and has got inside the top 20 for no reason.
I also expect Tim Henman to get past Dmitry Tursunov, although he needs to be more aggressive to avoid slipping up in matches he should dominate. Rafael Nadal should seal his second win, beating Gilles Muller. I take him to progress in three sets, four at most, now that he's got that first match under his belt.
Today's big match: Sesil Karatancheva v Maria Sharapova
Sesil came to my academy when she was 12 to play in the Eddie Herr junior tournament. She lost in the first round, then marched up to me and said: "Will you assess me? I'm really good." I said I was busy. She said: "But I'm going to be a champion." She was persistent as a gnat. I gave her a trial. Within five minutes I knew she had it. I gave her a scholarship. She's an extraordinary athlete: strong, brave. She has awesome power in her legs. She has more pure athletic talent than Maria. Michael Johnson saw Sesil and told me she has potential to be a world-class sprinter.
She hits the crap out of the ball, so hard it's unreturnable. But she's impetuous, goes wildly for shots. She needs patience. And she sometimes gets tight, and her serve suffers, she pushes the balls, and double faults. Last year she also shot her mouth off, saying she'd whup Maria's butt. Not wise. She lost.
As for Maria, we know all about her game. And mentally, she's so, so tough, and Wimbledon is now her territory. She's won it before. I believe that will give the edge today. But don't discount fireworks.
You ask the questions
QHow far will raw talent get someone? And why do you think that quality tennis players in Britain are such an exception? Is it a lack of facilities, coaching, talent not being spotted, or a lack of competition at an early age?
ARaw talent is the best start but it's not enough to make you a champion in an individual sport. In team games, raw talent alone can be OK because team-mates compensate for you. But you need to learn individual sports. With no teaching at all, you won't realise your potential.
As for quality in Britain. Hey! The US isn't doing that great, either, compared to the past. So partly it's cyclical. Partly it's money. There's never enough. David Felgate [the LTA's performance director] knows tennis. He's building. It'll take time.
And if you want champions, tennis is first, always. Academic education is vital, but must fit around the tennis, not vice versa.
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