Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Dossier: Hingis hints at return of winning credentials

The world's most famous tennis coach sees former world No 1 show the guile and focus that made her a champion
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The Independent Online

We only managed to get one set played in the match I watched yesterday, but even in that short time I could see the trademarks of Martina Hingis in good working order, the same trademarks that first led me to tip her as a future Grand Slam champion when she was 12 years of age.

Back then she had impeccable groundstrokes and steely focus. And on the evidence of what I saw on Court 2 yesterday, where she won the first set against Ukraine's Olga Savchuk, 6-2, she still has them.

I first set eyes on Martina in 1993 at the junior French Open. Even before she won it, to become the youngest junior Slam winner of all time, aged 12 years and eight months, I was asked what I thought of her potential. "She'll be a champion, no doubt," I replied.

She had the nose of an elephant, metaphorically speaking. She seemed capable of sensing the play, and had great anticipation, even at that tender age. She had a good two-handed backhand, a one-handed forehand, and those unbelievable groundstrokes. Were they especially powerful? No. Were they searing winners? No. But they were accurate, consistent, relentless. They left her opponents impotent, and sooner or later they would start overhitting in an attempt to get out of the trap Martina was laying.

It happened like that yesterday. Savchuk, 18, is not a bad player at all. But Hingis's groundstrokes soon had Savchuk overhitting in an attempt to win back control. That gave Hingis control, and allowed her to move Savchuk around.

Hingis also mixed up her game, coming to the net seven or eight times. Her first serve has improved too - with a bit more pop on it. Her second serve is also a little better. She never puts her head down, and covers the court brilliantly, not so much because of foot speed but because of an excellent reading of the game. Yesterday she also used a couple of swinging volleys, demonstrating channelled aggression too, which is a positive sign.

When Martina is ahead, she can increase the pressure. Her returns are excellent, with placement and depth, negating the control of a service game that should by rights lie with the server. Allied with her focus - and very, very few unforced errors - she made a fearsome opponent at her peak. It's amazing that after three years out, she's back at all - such a long time away usually spells doom because the world moves on and leaves you behind - but she's back, and genuinely competitive.

Savchuk got frustrated and started to overhit yesterday. When she saw she could not compete on groundstrokes, she tried slicing and drop shots. But so did Martina, who could match her on that too. If I were Savchuk's coach, before play resumes I'd advise her to hit the ball hard above Martina's shoulder, make it awkward to play back. And mix up her game like never before. Failing that, go for broke and just hit the hell out of the ball. Don't bet on it working, though. Martina has a great draw, and is shaping up well.

Agassi can show Murray the way

Andy Murray will be a major talking point for all the British fans at Wimbledon this year and one of the most interesting things we've learned about the young Scot in recent days is that he's been practising with his hero, Andre Agassi.

Whatever happens in terms of Murray's next coach - and we know he's still considering various options - spending time with Andre can only be a valuable experience. Because Andre, like Andy, was a young guy full of attitude, and what Andre needed as a kid, was for someone to listen to him and understand what he was all about.

Andre once said to me: "Nick, have you ever listened to anyone in your whole life." I had to admit I hadn't. "You should try," he said. "You might learn something."

I listened to Andre. I learned. Andre knows all about being a hot-head, a young talent looking to be heard. Andy Murray is such a player now. If rain abates, he should play Nicolas Massu today. Massu is an Olympic champion but Murray can win this one.

Why watch this match? Because it involves Nicole Vaidisova, just turned 17, and one of the very best young players in the world, in her opening match of a tournament where she can be a serious contender if she plays to the best of her abilities. To add a bit of spice, she faces an older compatriot from the Czech Republic, Klara Koukalova, who has played Nicole and beaten her before and is capable of an upset on her day. Nicole prefers faster courts, with hard surfaces probably her No 1 choice, but she has the game for any surface. She showed that in Paris last month when she reached the semi-final of the French Open before losing in three sets to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Her big serve and flat groundstrokes are her big weapons, and she has the ability to control play and stay focused. She plays a very aggressive game, like her fellow Bollettieri student, Maria Sharapova. She'll need to come to the net more, add a few more touch shots and angle shots, but she's improving in all areas all the time. Koukalova is no mug, though. Her career high ranking was up at No 27 earlier this year. She's experienced, and she'll want the scalp.

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