A new Wimbledon – and oh boy do I enjoy coming back here – but it is still the same question from you guys. Is this the year? Well, it could be because Andy Murray is a better player than when he stood across the net from Roger Federer 12 months ago, but that is getting ahead of ourselves.
Never mind that one half of the draw is loaded and Novak Djokovic looks lonely up there in the top half, this is a Wimbledon that is going to be interesting from day one to the last. Rafael Nadal is a man who thinks – and, god damn it, knows – he can play on anything, Federer is a magician, Djokovic does not have a fault and Murray belongs in their company. It's all there. It's one helluva line-up.
But hold on. Before we start thinking about a Nadal against Federer quarter-final, Murray against one of those guys in the last four and then the winner of that facing Djokovic in the final, start with round one, round two and the rest of week one. Because before we get to the last eight one of the big guns could have his racket back in its holster and be heading home.
I have no doubt Djokovic is not looking ahead and thinking "Holy cow! I've got the easy draw." No way. He will be looking only at Florian Mayer, the big German he plays tomorrow, a guy who reached the quarter-finals last year. That is the great thing about modern-day tennis: there are no easy rounds.
Mayer is ranked 33 but players even in the 60s or 70s or higher have the game to take on the top guys – on their day they can pull off a shock. Take the world No 82. In his mind, Lleyton Hewitt is far from finished. And if you do look further down the line, towards the fourth round for Djokovic there is Tommy Haas – I've known Tommy since he was a boy and he has the game to trouble the world No 1. This is going to be no stroll to the final for Djokovic.
There are others just outside the top echelon, like Milos Raonic and Bernard Tomic, who have big weapons and then there is a young man who I think can trouble anyone this year. I was saying just last week at Queen's that if there is one player today I would like to coach right now it is Marin Cilic. He is on the verge of becoming something special. But hey Nick, come on, I hear you say, what about Murray? OK, your boy has got better since last year. The most obvious way is with his second serve. Against a guy like Djokovic you are in trouble if you have a "gimme" second serve. Murray has made real progress there.
That's an example of how he has got better technically but maybe more striking is what has happened up top. He doesn't panic any more – he can be down a couple of break points and he stays cool, keeps the composure that is the mark of a champion. His whole demeanour on the court is totally different. This is a big thing. The victory at the US Open, the Olympics and having Ivan Lendl there on his side – put all those together and we have a better, more confident player.
On grass, because of his height and speed, he is always very dangerous. On grass, footwork is one of the most important things – how you move across and around the court. There is a lot less sliding on grass and I believe Murray can adjust his footwork as well as anybody on the tour today.
Nadal has come back so well and I would never write him off because this is someone who, in his mind, can play tennis on anything. Put him on sand, gravel, asphalt or even on water and the guy is dangerous. It doesn't matter where he plays, he takes some beating.
Right now I think Djokovic is a bit angry after that beating by Nadal in Paris. Boy oh boy, this is someone who does not like losing. There is more than the will to win with Novak. Much more. If you go back through the history of men's tennis and consider every man who has picked up a racket, you could find something negative about every single one of them. But I don't see Djokovic with a weakness. He has movement, serve, return, volley, touch shots, two-handed backhand, forehand, placement.
And finally to Federer. The two-handers who are winning titles today but he's a Swiss magician. He has a good coach, Paul Annacone, one of my former students at the IMG Academy, and is surrounded by good people so has all the right support and guidance. But with the grass cropped tight and the balls bouncing high, in the long run, if he stays back he cuts down his chances. He is comfortable coming forward. He has a good biting slice and he can move around. If he is to win this tournament, he can't do it from the baseline.
Thought for the day
I have already been over here for a couple of weeks. I took in the end of Queen's, a tournament I always enjoy, and did some commentating for the BBC. I will be up in the commentary box again this week – I can't get enough of talking about tennis! I have also been doing some coaching clinics in Wales and at Queen's and if there are any tips you need for your game, do get in touch and I will do my best to answer them over the next couple of weeks. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Only person who can beat Sharapova today is Maria herself
Kristina Mladenovic is an interesting example of what confidence can do for a player, especially a young one. She finished 2011 ranked 183 then last year she cut that down to 76. Now she is just outside the seedings for the Slams.
I saw her play a few weeks ago and she has become a dangerous opponent. She is getting more comfortable with her game and picked up confidence because of that progress up through the rankings. That means an awful lot. You guys are seeing something similar from Laura Robson.
But beating Maria Sharapova is probably beyond Mladenovic for now. The players at the very top of the women's game are still a way ahead. I believe the only person who can beat Maria today is Maria.
She knows only one way to play. When she is serving well she can beat anybody and possibly even win this title for the first time since back in 2004. She doesn't give you a chance to breathe – she plays very, very quickly. She hits the ball flat, stands on top of the baseline and looks to dominate you. If you give her any indication that you are a little tentative then you can say bye-bye Wimbledon.
Of course Mladenovic has nothing to lose and looks to have a good future but it is tough to go against Maria. She is too comfortable on the centre stage. I worry that her comfort, her absolute certainty that this is where she belongs, winning matches in Slams, will be too much for the French girl.
If it had been maybe the third or fourth round then I could see it being closer – once Mladenovic had got used to the grass, got a bit of confidence from a couple of wins. Remember that even though the grass is cropped much tighter this year it is still the first round and the flat balls will have more of an impact than balls hit with spin and variety and, that just suits Maria too darn well.
Today's Big Game: Sharapova v Mladenovic
M Sharapova v K Mladenovic
Russian Nationality French
26 Age 20
Bradeton, Florida Residence Boulogne, France
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
6ft 2in Height 6ft
3 World ranking 37
29 Career titles 1
$26.6m Prize money $865,000
37-9 Wimbledon record (W-L)1-1
Winner Wimbledon best R1 (2004)(2012)
0 Head-to-head 0
Sharapova in straight setsReuse content