Let's be frank: Rafael Nadal should have lost his match against Robert Kendrick on Centre Court yesterday. Why? Partly because he didn't perform at his best in the early sets, and partly because Kendrick, ranked hundreds of places below him in the world, played the tennis match of his life.
That for me was a significant factor in it going to five sets, because Kendrick was serve-volleying superbly. The speed of his best first serves reached 130mph or higher, in every set. His fastest second serves in each set were almost as quick as Nadal's first serves.
So how did Nadal win? By sheer force of will to win. He did what I call his "Let the Games begin" routine. He waited until that third, pivotal set before digging deep and drawing on his phenomenal battling qualities. His body language from that set onwards started to say: "I'm gonna beat you. If you're gonna beat me, you should have done it fast."
By the time Nadal had secured the third for a 2-1 deficit, there was no way in his own mind he was going to lose that match. He'd rather have been taken out of there on a stretcher! That kind of determination makes him soldier, fighter pilot and navy man rolled into one. You'd want him in the trenches with you. The guy is even more of a fighter than Lleyton Hewitt and that is high praise indeed.
The technical details of how the Spaniard turned it around are also instructive. First, Kendrick's lesser physical robustness over the course of a long and draining match took its toll. His legs got tired. At 2-2 in the fifth he was wobbling like a man with a stick on the way to a tumble.
That's what happens when you try pure serve-and-volley for so long. Your legs tire because of the need to go in all the time, and lunge, and reach low. That takes its toll on the body. The fresh, crisp volleys of the early part of the match became fewer, which eased the pressure on Nadal, who took solace in that fact.
It was also noticeable in that final set that at the change of ends, Kendrick was walking and out on his feet, and Nadal was actually, running, skipping and jumping at the changes. He was maintaining momentum, keeping himself pumped, thriving on adrenalin.
On Nadal's technical improvement, he mixed up his serve much more later in the match, sliding it more, and jamming it into Kendrick's body. He made other adjustments, like taking more of his chances, being more aggressive. This came naturally as a result of the siege mentality that had set in, the desire - the necessity - not to be beaten.
Next up now for Nadal is Andre Agassi in the dream third-round match that we were all hoping for at the start of the tournament. More on that tomorrow.
E-mail me and win a scholarship
I'm offering a one-month scholarship at my academy in America to the sender of what I judge to be the best e-mail sent to me during the tournament. Just tell me: how can I help you, and why? Thank you to everyone who has e-mailed me already. I'm sorry I'm not able to reply to each one individually, but believe me, I'm reading all your wonderful stories and will give each one consideration. So far, I've had e-mails from potential scholars aged six to 67! And from places as diverse as Surrey, Hawaii, Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Explain to me why you (or your son or daughter) would benefit from a month's tuition in Florida. The scholarship is only available to Under-18s. Children can e-mail me themselves, or parents on their behalf. Each e-mail can also ask a question on any tennis-related subject that you'd like me to answer. Maybe you want a tip to improve your game. Maybe you want to know about some of the highs and lows of my 50-plus years in the game as a coach. Keep them coming.
Fantasy tennis: Bring on the Mac
I had a lot of fun with yesterday's "fantasy match" and Borg-Federer prompted a follow-up, John McEnroe v Roger Federer. First, a message to Johnny Mac: I know you once said you'd never send anyone to my academy but I was delighted that you sent your son Sean for a year. And I love listening to your commentary. I'm a huge fan. Now to the fantasy match-up. McEnroe played with that amazing stance, as ramrod straight as a guard at Her Majesty's Buckingham Palace. I saw him once at Madison Square, facing the fans, not the direction of serve, and they egged him on to hit at them. "Quiet please," he said. "There are men at work." A big asset was his wide slice to the advantage court, and his forehand as delicate of ladies of yore. He had the hands of an angel, such a touch. His backhand, in baseball terms, could have made him the greatest bunter of all time. He broke all the rules, and controlled that aggression wonderfully (yes, he did, he channelled it). It could be close, but Federer would not be hypnotised, and I'd back him to edge it.
Read my views on the game, year round, at www.nickbollettieri.comReuse content