It is two decades since Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, in 1988, contested the first of their three consecutive Wimbledon finals. Tennis has evolved at an extraordinary rate since. Serve-volley is history. Pure exponents, in the tradition that also gave us the great John McEnroe era, are rare to point of obscurity. There were few before the retirement of Tim Henman. With him gone, they are, at an elite level, extinct.
Why has this happened so quickly? Demand for instant success. Increasingly we live in a "must have" and "I want now" society. We want kids who are brilliant at eight and fully formed as players by their mid-teens.
I know this stuff because I – perhaps more than anyone after more than 50 years of coaching, from small kids to Grand Slam champions – see it on a daily basis. Pushy parents ask: "Why isn't little Jimmy under-12s champion, yet?". Little Bobby boasts that he's just won the under-14s, so little Tommy's mom and dad want the same, yesterday.
Magnify this and we, as a society, and as sports fans, want champions at 16, 17, 18. We demand quick success. It's no longer good enough for many people to say: "You won't see results until you're 17 or 18."
The fact is that developing a serve-volleyer takes three or four years longer. Henman matured relatively late and he's not atypical. Impatience is one reason among several for the death of serve-volley. I am not making a value judgment on that, it's neither good nor bad. It's just how it is.
Another reason is that the return of serve has improved dramatically. That's partly because professional tennis players these days are a bigger, stronger, fitter, more athletic group of people. And it's partly because of racket size, and technology. If the return is better, then the essence of serve-volley – getting quickly to the net to cut off that return – is partially neutralised.
The grass has changed, too, and while the surface retains its uniqueness, it is more similar to a hard court. The balls are bouncing higher these days, in favour of the counter-punchers. There is a greater homogeneity to surfaces than ever before.
There is also the fact that top singles players play less competitive doubles. Whether that's down to the demands of the circuit, per se, or because they have to ration their time to maintain singles standards is immaterial. But it's a fact. And if you don't play doubles, then how the hell are you going to learn to volley?
So the game has changed. But genius endures, and I hope and predict that Roger Federer – who can serve-volley when he needs to – will rise to the greatest challenge of his career to date and win his sixth straight Wimbledon title. More than ever in his gilded past, his reputation is at stake. Not as a wonderful player or a distinguished champion: that's beyond doubt. But at stake is his status as the greatest ever. I have said in the past that he is. I stand by that. But if he fails to win Wimbledon, it will trigger an inevitable avalanche of opinion that he is in decline, and a reappraisal of whether he really was that good after all.
To have been beaten so soundly by Rafael Nadal in the final of French Open must have hurt. In the fortnight ahead we shall see quite how much. Deep down, I still believe that Federer has all the tools, and as importantly, the will to succeed again.
That said, Nadal, after a great year so far, and a win on grass at Queen's, is clearly best placed to dethrone him.
Novak Djokovic is a huge talent, of course. I wrote at the end of last year's tournament that of the "young guns" who have not yet won Wimbledon – Nadal and Andy Murray among them – I would pick Djokovic to be the first. But if there has been one slight concern recently, it is one of attitude, and him publicly saying recently that Federer has been "shaken" and "struggling".
The only thing I'd say in response to that is: "Novak, my boy, if you're going to talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk." Federer will certainly not lack for motivation now if their anticipated semi materialises.
In the women's singles, all the talk is of the rise of the Serbs in the form of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic but I can't see beyond Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. On the grass that she loves so much, I would have to say that Maria's favourite status is justified, but as we found out last year, you can never, ever, ever discount Venus and Serena, no matter what their form. Wimbledon transforms you.
Lisicki on form to beat Bartoli
Marion Bartoli shocked a lot of people last year by reaching the women's final, and is a hot favourite to win her first-round match against Germany's Sabine Lisicki, an 18-year-old who has been a student at my academy for three years. But my first 'upset pick' is for Sabine to win today. Bartoli has the ability to win – she's not as high as No 11 for nothing although first-round exits at both Slams so far this year show a problem. But Sabine is young, wild and enthusiastic, and has beaten the likes of Dinara Safina and Lindsay Davenport. She's a big hitter with a huge serve, when it goes in. She's strong and lives for tennis. If there is a question mark, it is over her mentality: tight at times, with consequent over-hitting. Elsewhere, I fear for America's Robbie Ginepri, who I think will lose to Fernando Gonzalez's huge range of shots. For more picks and a full record of what happens to my predictions, visit:
Win a week at Tennis Academy
Want to win a week's stay at my Florida academy, on me? Once again, I'll be running a competition in this column to give you the chance to train in the footsteps of Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and other top players. All you have to do to is email to tell me who you think will win today's big match (left). I'm looking for a scoreline, but also, as importantly, I'm looking for a short analysis of how you think your pick will come through. I'll select a daily winner, with an overall winner at the end of the tournament. You can try as many days as you like. It is open to all. Your week's stay will be tailored to your needs: junior or adult. I'll pick up the tab for tuition, accommodation and meals. You buy the air ticket. Last year's winner was reader Rachel O'Reilly, whose fascinating diary of her week is in the sports section of this website. Email me before the match at firstname.lastname@example.org
Today's Big Match Roger Federer v Dominik Hrbaty
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Two previous meetings, Hrbaty leads 2-0.
ODDS: Federer 1-200, Hrbaty 100-1
Bollettieri's prediction: Federer in three sets, maximum four.
Dominik Hrbaty plays Roger Federer once every four years – and beats him. That is the statistical quirk you'll find if you look at their head-to-head records. Admittedly, they've only met twice, on the hard courts of Cincinnati in 2000, and indoor on the Paris carpet in 2004. But Hrbaty won both to make him the only man in the world with a perfect record over the best player. Only Rafael Nadal (11-6 head-to-head) and Andy Murray (2-1) have better records against Roger. What does that mean today? Absolutely schmuck. Whether you're in the NBA play-offs, or you're Big Brown at Belmont, or playing at Wimbledon, previous records count for zilch. Yes, Hrbaty is disciplined, and he does not often miss. But he has no big weapon while Federer has the whole armoury. Look out for his slice and his wide serves. The challenge is not technical but mental on the first day of a tournament where his greatness is under scrutiny. That is why this is a deal. I would be astounded – possibly into silence – if he doesn't win comfortably.Reuse content