Coaching Report: Andy Murray (GB) v Fabrice Santoro (Fr), Centre Court
Andy Murray earned himself a brilliant win last night against Fabrice Santoro – a magician favourite of mine – and it was brilliant for three reasons. He showed mental ability, physical ability and above all focus against a dude with a trunk of tricks who never stops rifling deep into it to find another way to disrupt your train of thought.
I said before the match that I thought Murray would win but I also warned that Santoro could provide a test, and he did that. Yes, it was a straight sets win for Murray but it was not a stroll and there were times when it could have wobbled in a different direction.
Anyone who thinks that this victory should be played down because Santoro is 35 years old – and pensionable in tennis terms and eligible for the old guy's tour – knows sweet nothing about our game. Yes, he's 35. But age is a state of mind. I'm 77 next month, going on 20. And Santoro's body is still effectively competitive. And believe me, the Tour respects this guy and you won't find many players in the world who claim to be comfortable about facing him.
Let's get to the specifics of why this was a classy win for your Braveheart. His double-handed backhand has been a signature dash of quality and it continues to impress, particularly down the line, as in the third game of set one. It's a cultured shot, and Murray mixed it up. Exhibit A was that topspin lob winner on Santoro's serve just afterwards.
Murray won the first set but Santoro broke him in the first game of the second and went 2-0 by holding. It was interesting to see Murray's progressive, aggressive positioning from then. At the point when he held for 2-1, second set, he was playing the majority of his shots while standing well inside the baseline. And this tells us what? First that Santoro was drawing him in, pulling him forward to try to mess with him. But the placement and often power of the shots that Murray produced showed that he could cope.
There were a lot of rallies for a grass court match. It was decent entertainment, especially for a partisan crowd who added a nation's expectant pressure. Santoro can jerk you all over the court, and he did. So well done, Andy, for being fit enough, fast enough, and clever enough to deal with that. Good job, kid.
Now you need to do it all over against one of my academy guys, Xavier Malisse. I can't promise you an easy ride. I've spent some time with Andy because he's used our facilities at the academy, where he's played with Xavier on occasions. I'd like to spend time with more of your British talent, at a point early enough when we at the academy could make a real difference. I've talked this over with the LTA's Roger Draper before. All I can say is I'd be happier if I were more involved.
Another Briton in action yesterday who has spent time a lot of time with us is Naomi Cavaday. I spent a lot of time working with her on her groundstrokes especially. The girl also has a decent serve and can move well. But when she was last with us in Florida – and I'm not talking many months ago – I'd estimate Naomi was a good 10lb-12lb lighter than she looked yesterday.
If Naomi can get in shape, and stay in shape, I really believe she can be a top 50 player, maybe even top 40 or 30. It's incumbent on an athlete to give themselves the best chance to realise their potential.
Coaching Report: Maria Sharapova (Rus) v Stephanie Foretz (Fr), Court One
Anyone talking about Maria Sharapova's performance yesterday has got to start with the look, baby. Normally she wants to play like a man and look like a lady. Yesterday she had the shorts of a man and played like a lady who means business. Only a few people could get away with that look and Maria's one of them. I'm told that she spent almost her entire press conference answering questions about clothes, not tennis, but, given that her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Stephanie Foretz was so straightforward, I guess that's understandable.
I know Maria well, of course. Her father, Yuri, brought her to my academy with a just few dollars in his pocket more than a decade ago when she was just a little girl with massive potential. We raised her in tennis terms and the rest is history.
I'm glad to see that yesterday she was staying true to her game. She served well, hit those flat, booming groundstrokes, smacking the ball early and hard. You know that in 99 per cent of her matches she's going to give you a hell of a match and be ultracompetitive. She certainly took care of business out there.
Grass suits her. Despite her being tall, she's wonderfully athletic. She copes well with the downsides to her size – the lungeing and bending that is part and parcel of the net aspects of the grass-court game. She also utilises the weapon of that huge serve on the surface. If you look at Maria's stats and she's consistently serving 65 per cent or upwards of first serves in, then you know she's going to control the match. Yesterday she was at 73 per cent in that department, winning 76 per cent of her first-serve points – against 59 per cent for Foretz.
Maria doesn't want to get into long rallies and her serve allows her to avoid that, keeping the points quick, and power-driven to a conclusion. She'll get tested more later when she comes up against a big returner and those rallies get longer.
Maria's two-handed backhand is a big asset for her, and part of the reason for it being so strong is the role of her left hand. Maria was naturally left-handed as a small child – and I'm talking about before she came to the academy. I don't know the precise details of why or how she was actively encouraged to play right-handed instead, it happened before we got Maria. Being a leftie has its advantages, but then there isn't a leftie in the women's top 10.
Whatever. She was playing right-handed while being left-handed when I first worked with her closely. She is and will remain a right-handed player, even though she occasionally switch-hits during points. But by using that natural control of the left hand on top in the double-handed backhand – especially down the line – she improves the dipping and angling potential of the ball. It's precision tennis, aided by her natural instincts.
Another player in action on a centre stage yesterday who has spent time at the academy was Britain's Naomi Cavaday. I personally spent a lot of time working with her on her groundstrokes. The girl also has a decent serve and can move well. But when she was last with us in Florida – and I'm not talking many months ago – I'd estimate Naomi was a good 10lb to 12lb lighter than she looked against Venus Williams.
If Naomi can get in shape, and stay in shape, I really believe she can be a top 50 player, maybe even top 40 or 30. It's incumbent on an athlete to give themselves the best chance to realise their potential. Ask Maria Sharapova.
Baghdatis can serve up thrills
Everyone loves a crowd-pleaser and Marcos Baghdatis is certainly that. He should get past Thomas Johansson today to book a place in the third round. Johansson famously had an unlikely Slam victory at the 2002 Australian Open and also reached the semi-final at Wimbledon three years ago. But Baghdatis has 10 years on him, and has reached a quarter and semi himself in SW19. The only doubt is whether Marcos is fit. Any signs he is struggling and the bets are off. Ana Ivanovic will be hot favourite to beat Nathalie Dechy, but the French lady is a veteran with a chestful of ribbons from her tennis battles, and boy will she keep the ball in play. That means Ana will be forced to make the shots and then the errors come in. Ana needs to play a controlled match, wearing Dechy down. If she does that, the match should be hers, comfortably. For more picks, and a full record of what happens to my predictions, visit:
Nick's tips to improve your game
Tip No 2: Warm up before the warm-up
This is a tip for those of you who like to take your competitive tennis seriously. Get warmed up before the warm-up to give yourself the best platform for the start of the match. My good friend Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, always talks to me about the boxer's mentality of shadow-punching in the dressing room to get a sweat up before the walk to the ring. His girls warm up before going out. Skipping is one way. Foot drills are another. Heck, that pair have even been known to play tennis to warm up before a pre-match warm-up. The leisurely knock that you see before pretty much any pro match is fine as far as it goes, but it's not going to get the blood pumping and the adrenalin up in the same way that a quick, intense workout will. Get ahead before you hit the court.
Today's Big Match: Novak Djokovic v Marat Safin
HOW THEY MATCH UP
Serbian NATIONALITY Russian
21 AGE 28
Belgrade PLACE OF BIRTH Moscow
Monaco RESIDENCE Monaco
2003 TURNED PRO 1997
Right-handed PLAYS Right-handed
6ft 2in HEIGHT 6ft 4in
80kg WEIGHT 88kg
No 3 WORLD RANKING No 75
No 3 SEEDING Unseeded
10 CAREER TITLES 15
£4m PRIZE-MONEY £6.6m
W11 L3 WIMBLEDON RECORD W12 L8
Semi-final (2007) WIMBLEDON BEST Quarter-final (2001)
HEAD-TO-HEAD: One previous meeting – Safin leads 1-0
ODDS: Djokovic 1-8, Safin 8-1
Bollettieri predicts: Djokovic's youth edges it
OK, Novak, time to show us what your 2008 challenge is made of, against a competitor who should give you a decent match, if not eliminate you early on from the tournament. Djokovic came through his first-round against a much lowlier player, but it took him four sets. The backhand techniques and strategies will be worth watching today. They're similar but Safin's backswing and shoulder turn are much shorter than Djokovic's and he hits the ball a bit flatter. Djokovic can drive better, with spin. Safin probably has the bigger forehand, but it's not as consistent. That's a key weakness on this stage. Both men play close to the baseline, serve well and come to the net. For me, the difference will be Djokovic knowing how to win these days while Safin – still a contender – is at that critical age (28) where people are asking if you've started going backwards. For neutrals, we must hope Safin is on his game because that would open up the prospect of a humdinger.
Win a week at Tennis Academy
Want to win a week's stay at my Florida academy, on me? Again, I'm running a competition to give you the chance to travel to America and train in the footsteps of Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and other top players.
To enter, just email to tell me who you think will win today's big match, with a scoreline and a forecast of the manner in which your pick will win. Each day, I'll select a winner, with the overall winner drawn from all those at the end of the tournament.
Among yesterday's entries, I'm still working through all your Murray-Santoro predictions. I'll update you who goes into the hat. 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. Last year's winner was Rachel O'Reilly, whose diary of her time in Florida can be read in the sports section of this newspaper's website. To enter, email me before the match starts at: firstname.lastname@example.org