Coaching Report: Home challenge at Wimbledon: The Verdict
On reflection, Andy Murray being summarily dismissed from the All England Club by Rafael Nadal on Wednesday is not a bad metaphor for the state of British tennis. And I don't mean humiliated, broken, hopeless and without a chance of making it to the top grade.
There are plenty of positives. Both Andy and your nation's tennis are works in progress. But the right steps must continue to be taken to reap benefits in the years ahead. And neither Murray nor your country's game will be ready to truly bloom for a while yet.
First to Andy, whom I applauded in this column for his belief he could win. It's the only attitude to have. Otherwise you might as well go and flip burgers. I also thought, and wrote, that the Spanish bull would win. But, by golly, I didn't expect him to deliver quite such a battering.
Murray made his mistakes out there and wasn't in the same class as he'd been against Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. But on a day like Wednesday with Nadal in that kind of form, you can only conclude one thing: too good, too frickin' good.
So there shouldn't be a single true fan of British tennis who isn't proud of what Murray achieved in the tournament as a whole. It was not an easy day for him against Nadal. Frankly, I think he looked a bit tired and a bit nervous. He needed the best tennis of his life and didn't have it. But it was still a first Slam quarter-final. And he can look forward with renewed hope that he can still be a challenger.
What do I mean by "challenger"? That he can, over the course of his career, become a top player capable of beating the very best. Right now I'd have to say I think the No 1 and No 2 slots in the world are tied up, and the field are chasing around for No 3 and No 4 and lower. But Murray can and should be in that chase. And he's a work in progress not just physically (still filling out, still getting bigger) but of course in terms of his game, too.
On Wednesday evening, Andy's serving let him down a bit. Your serve really needs to be eliciting at least 50 per cent defensive returns which you can then attack but it was not, and that was only partly through Rafa's astounding ability.
Andy also needed to put more tricks in the mixer, and vary his play a bit more. Maybe Nadal would have chewed him up and spat him out even if he could have added the odd serve-volley point. And he can't be trying to counter-punch against a guy like Nadal when a more aggressive approach early in a point has better odds of paying dividends.
Reviewing the tape, he came in on the backhand side with slices too many times. He should just have ripped a few of those babies instead. Once in a while a missile coming back at Rafa might have unsettled him. Also Murray's drop shot wasn't really there, and when it was, it was at inappropriate times.
But there are more positives than negatives over the whole tournament for Andy Murray. And some signs of progress for a British tennis scene that still needs more. Laura Robson is a good news story for you. Laura won the prestigious Eddie Herr junior event – which is staged at my academy – at the back end of last year. But let's be realistic about her and any 14-year-old. Back off and let her develop. Don't weigh her down with expectations which are too great. And at the same time, the LTA should be pouring more resources into the junior game than into any other sector.
Rampant Rafa is just too hot
Any hard-headed assessment of the bottom-half men's semi-final has to conclude that Rainer Schüttler has two chances of winning against Rafael Nadal. Those two chances are slim and none, and slim was seen leaving town last night in an extortionately overpriced black London cab.
Take nothing away from Schüttler, but the battling German is 32 years old and has played a lot of tiring tennis to get into the last four. Rafa, on the other hand, is young, rampant and brutally brilliant, capable of smashing virtually anyone in the world to a pulp right now.
Schüttler likes playing from the baseline but even if he had the best day of his tennis life, I cannot see him having the stamina to stay with Rafa, let alone the weapons to down the hottest of favourites in this one-off.
For more picks, and a full record of what happens to my predictions, visit: www.nickstennispicks.com
Today's Big Match Roger Federer v Marat Safin
HOW THEY MATCH UP
Swiss NATIONALITY Russian
26 AGE 28
Basle PLACE OF BIRTH Moscow
Oberwil RESIDENCE Monaco
1998 TURNED PRO 1997
Right-handed PLAYS Right-handed
6ft 1in HEIGHT 6ft 4in
88kg WEIGHT 88kg
No 1 WORLD RANKING No 75
No 1 SEEDING Unseeded
55 CAREER TITLES 15
£21m PRIZE MONEY £6.7m
W43 L4 WIMBLEDON RECORD W16 L8
Winner (2003-07) WIMBLEDON BEST SF (2008)
HEAD-TO-HEAD: 10 previous meetings. Federer leads 8-2.
ODDS: Federer 1-10, Safin 10-1.
Bollettieri predicts: Federer.
Marat Safin's biggest weapon right now is his confidence. He has absolutely nothing to lose against the world No 1 and frankly the Russian bear has been playing like he's had nothing to lose all tournament. There's been a freedom of expression in his play that's seemed intangibly touched by destiny. But look out! It's buffers time. Marat's only hope is to have a massive serving day, return brilliantly, move well and keep his cool. He can do all that, and should enter the arena believing he will win. But I don't think it's going to be enough against another man driven by his own destiny on what is effectively his own back lawn. Roger is serving exceptionally well, mixing it up and placing it. He's not hesitant about going in to the net. More than anyone else on Tour he's capable of changing the pace of a match to suit himself. Marat will have to be in attack-dog mode – ready to pounce on any little chance – while simultaneously staying calm. I take him to make a match of it, but Federer to reach the final.
Win a week at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy
You have only two chances left to enter my easy competition to win a week's stay at my Florida academy. Travel to America and train in the footsteps of Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and other top players. Just email to tell me who is going to win today's big match. I am looking for a scoreline, and a short forecast of how your pick will win. Each day, I'll select a daily winner, with the overall winner drawn from all those at the end.
Thanks for your many entries so far, and I truly appreciate all your comments on the column! Wednesday's winner for Murray-Nadal was Gary Mardell. Yesterday's for Serena-Zheng was Curtis Stewart. Both will go into the hat for the prize.
The competition is open to all ages: your trip will be tailored to your requirements, junior or adult. I'll cover tuition, accommodation and meals. You buy the air ticket. Read about the trip of last year's winner, Rachel O'Reilly, on this newspaper's website. To enter today, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick's tips to improve your game
No 10: Volley on the move
Most people practise volleys by standing near the net and having someone hit balls to them from the baseline. That's about as useful for a match situation as a car in a swimming pool. When was the last time you were in a match and you hit a volley from a stationary position? Wouldn't that be nice.
Instead, practise in a drill where your movement, balance, footwork and overheads will all be improved. Player A plays a short ball to B, who hits it back down the middle and moves in. A returns, B volleys. A then lobs, to set up an overhead for B. A uses this ball as the approach to move in, while B moves back. The roles are switched. Start slow. Repeat as long as the ball stays in play.