Coaching Report: Nicolas Kiefer (Ger) v Rafael Nadal (Spain) Centre Court
Rafael Nadal gets the voodoo in the other guy's brain before the show begins. Exhibit A this year: he'd messed with Roger Federer's head before they even reached the court for the French Open final. When play started there was only ever going to be one winner.
I'm not saying that reputation in itself can win you a bean. You need athleticism and talent as base credentials. But the right attitude – the swagger that says you have got the cojones to do any job – allied with a physique to do it, plus force and finesse to ram home that message, is a powerful combination.
Nadal has the package. Yeah, he gets angry. Sure, he mumbles. (Don't the best of us?). But when he lays his ability out there for everyone to see, it's beyond dispute. For my money, he's probably the best player in the world right now. My admiration for him grows by the day.
That doesn't necessarily translate to winning a tournament, especially this one. But nobody, on any surface, walks onto a big-stage court to face Nadal without thinking that in all likelihood they're going to take a beating. On Saturday it was the turn of Nicolas Kiefer to step up to be cut down.
The German is no mug on grass, and he used a lot of guile and heart in a match that finished with a 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 scoreline in Nadal's favour that was not as easy a ride as it suggests. But the Spaniard is strong, relentless and, at times, quite awesomely clever and technically spot-on. I could list any number of ferocious winners to illustrate this but if there was one point that left the crowd gasping and Kiefer stranded, it was the penultimate one of the game.
Nadal won it with a backhand slice that had enough spin to haul the cattle in. It dropped and then ran away from Kiefer, as did the German's last hope. Nadal still looked as fresh as the dew, even after charging around all evening like one of those remote-control toy trucks that can climb mountains. Indestructible. No obstacle too tough.
This being tennis, none of that guarantees him a stroll. You only need to look at what we've already seen in week one. Holy mackerel! Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic were only three of the shocks, albeit the biggest ones, in a first six days where anything looked possible. And you know what? I loved it. It's the very essence of sport that we can't ever say with certainty what will happen. If we could, we might as well all go home.
Sharapova went home and we still can't say definitively why, only how. That was because of poor serving and limited movement. But what struck me more, on looking at the match again, was a slight diminishing of the fire that usually drives her when cornered. She's a fighter. Briefly as she rallied against Alla Kudryavtseva before falling that spark was there. But it went out. Time will tell if it was indicative of a bigger problem.
Staying in the women's singles, Venus and Serena Williams remain on course to meet in the final, as we suggested a week ago when tipping them as Sharapova's only real threats. A group of other girls have jumped to prominence, including China's Zheng Jie. But then China's emergence across a number of sports should not be surprising when they spend billions on academies.
The final thing that's really impressed me is the improving touch game of Andy Murray. Soft hands, boy! And a big up to Judy Murray once again for producing two sons who are fighting on, into week two.
Lopez can keep Spain in focus
Spain has been grabbing headlines in football by reaching that final last night and I think it might be a good day for them on the courts of SW19, with Feliciano Lopez possibly the biggest "upset winner" in my view in a match against Marcos Baghdatis that the latter is favourite to win. The difference between two huge talents could be Lopez's serve. If it's at full capacity, I think he can edge it. Andy Murray, rapidly becoming one of the best returners in the game, is capable of beating Richard Gasquet, who is a shot-maker who also covers the court well. The Brit gets my vote because of doubts over Gasquet's current inconsistencies. I think Rafael Nadal will win against Mikhail Youzhny. The Russian is a fierce competitor who can cause a threat but Nadal can match him or best him in all departments.
For more picks and a full record of what happens to my predictions, visit:
Win a week at Bollettieri Tennis Acamedy
You still have six chances to enter my 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 (below left). I'm 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 of the tournament.
Thanks for your many entries so far, and I truly appreciate all your comments on the column! Saturday's winner for Haas-Murray was Gerold Akos, who said Murray 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, making him just one game out in set four.
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 all 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 6: Abbreviate you serve motion (and your toss).
The key to good serving is how the ball and your racket work together as a team, and it seems obvious to me that a sizeable percentage of players benefit from an abbreviation of the serve motion. We teach that the arm and racket need to be fully extended at contact point, and therefore your ball toss needs to be higher than that point, but crucially not that much higher. Certainly, I don't advocate the Steffi Graf-approach (below), brilliant though she was, of tossing the ball skywards to the extent that she had enough time to lay a picnic, eat it and take a nap before the ball fell again. Too-high tosses allow wind, sun, timing errors and inconsistency room to do you damage, and there is no inherent advantage to hitting a ball that's fallen further before you strike.
Today's Big Match: Roger Federer v Lleyton Hewitt
Lleyton Hewitt deserves praise for getting his game back on track after big changes in his life – coach swaps, marriage, a baby – that led to some writing him off. Never do that. He's as competitive as the Tiger, and while even Hewitt couldn't win Wimbledon with a broken leg as Tiger won a major, he'd get damn near on his day. He'll also love the dirtball baseline that the courts are becoming in week two. His movement is good but his injured hip is an obvious problem. Federer will jerk him around, with "east-west" tennis probably the Swiss' route to victory. Hewitt will also be vulnerable to short, jabbing slices, which will either bring him in, or will take him out wide on to his backhand side, which is a difficult place for Hewitt. Federer can do it all, of course, he has no weaknesses at all when he's on his game. Watch out today for his cross-court angled forehands which I think will cause Hewitt trouble. The Aussie scrapper will not give this up lightly, though.