Coaching Report: Ana Ivanovic (Serb) v Rossana De Los Rios (Para) Centre Court
The rise of Serbia as a powerhouse tennis nation is a freak. There is no logic to it, no rational explanation, no coherent programme that was put in place to produce fine young players like Ana Ivanovic – whose smooth progress to the second round I followed yesterday – and Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic.
Nor do I buy into this thesis that Serbia is somehow uniquely poor, where the spur to play tennis as a means of escape was stronger than in any number of other places. With genuine respect and admiration for the players mentioned, their rise was not brought about by playing in an empty swimming pool, or having so little money that they had to eat their shoes and the only way to get another pair was becoming a pro.
It didn't happen like that. And when you examine how each of them developed the theme is the same: they had to get away. And credit to their parents and advisors that they did so, to places where they could develop their undoubted potential. Jelena came to us, at the academy in Florida. Novak went to Germany, Ana to Switzerland and Spain. Those are the places the potential was honed from hopefuls to realistic contenders.
So it's a freak, a geographical accident of talent, a cyclical swing that has led to a group of players emerging simultaneously. The effect of that will help Serbian tennis going forward. These guys are superstars back home now, and they will inspire a generation to pick up rackets, and we'll see the dividends of that later. But why it happened in the first place is a mystery.
One of the brighter prospects in Serbia's upcoming generation is another kid who left home to develop, again with us at the academy, and that's a 16-year-old boy called Filip Krajinovic, who I advise you to keep an eye on. He's going to be a hell of a player: impeccable groundstrokes, hits the ball hard and early, with little spin. He's got a two-handed backhand, moves well. He reminds me in a lot of ways of Andre Agassi, except Andre was not so comfortable at the net.
Back to Ana, she looked comfortable and easy in her 6-1, 6-2 whooping of Rossana De Los Rios of Paraguay. The story of the match was her blistering strokes on both sides and her sheer power advantage. It doesn't get much more complicated than that.
What was more interesting was her comments after the game. She said that now she's the No1 seed, "people expect you to win. When you tell them you still have to play match to match, they think it's a cliché. But you still have to work hard, especially on grass."
The kid is bang on the money. There is a penalty to be paid for being the No 1 player in the world and that penalty is that every other sucker on the circuit wants to take you down and make a name for themselves as they do so. Which means you have to up your game just when the numbers are telling you you're the best already. Because unless you keep getting better, mentally and physically, you'll lose.
Ana's really tough tests are not going to come for a few rounds yet, with the American Serena Williams the first of the major favourites not in her path until a possible semi-final meeting. If she can stay the distance until then, that match will be the real measure of whether she can become the first women since Serena in 2002 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Before Serena, the last person to do it was Steffi Graf, another huge talent, freakishly so.
Venus rises first for Cavaday
Britain's Naomi Cavaday has spent a lot of time training at my academy in the past but it is her misfortune to meet the defending champion, Venus Williams, in her first match, and I expect Venus to win in two. Naomi is a scrappy leftie, aggressive, with a good serve and solid strokes, but not that comfortable at the net. Venus has yet to win a tournament in a year that has been, so far, frankly, God-awful. But she's the supreme athlete, this is her domain, and she will move Naomi all over the place. A match with shock potential is Richard Gasquet against Mardy Fish. The French kid should be expected to win in three but he's shot of confidence and has been injured. If he does not win in straight sets, I think Mardy can take advantage. Not many people are talking up Andy Roddick, which is how he likes it, and he can ease past Eduardo Schwank. For more picks, a full record of what happens to my predictions, visit: www.nickstennispicks.com
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 (below left), 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, Gary Goodger predicted that Roger Federer would win 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Gary goes 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. 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
Nick's tips to improve your game
*Tip No 1: The ball is all.
When you step on the court, get everything else out of your head. Forget the teenager ramming your new car into a wall and your mortgage crashing in the crunch. Think ball, ball, ball. Nothing else. Many years ago, Bjorn Borg visited my academy and I said: "Hey Bjorn, what's your secret?". He said: "Nick, it's just the ball and me. I can't afford to give a crap about anything else while I'm playing. I've just got to get the ball over the net one time more than the other guy." The ball is all.It's about mindset and focus, and if you're serious about getting better then get obsessed on court with the ball. Borg did that to be world No 1 and multi-Slam winner. And he told me that later, post-playing days, even the strains of a divorce had to be set aside when he picked up a racket. The ball is all.
Today's Big Match Fabrice Santoro v Andy Murray
HEAD-TO-HEAD: One previous meeting – Murray leads 1-0
ODDS: Santoro 8-1, Murray 1-8
Bollettieri predicts: Murray, but not easily
This has the potential to be the match of the round, not just the day. It won't be the cakewalk for Murray that most people are assuming. He will need his running shoes because the way that Santoro chops and slices requires rapid movement and quick changes of direction. It is not a good time – early in the week – to be playing the Frenchman: the state of the grass means the ball will be bouncing as low as it'll get. Murray cannot get pissed off or frustrated, because that way is the highway out of here. If he starts going for winners all the time, he'll suffer. Santoro is one of my all-time favourite players. I saw him recently play on grass at the Lagardère Racing Club in Paris and he will demand respect. He puts funky junk on the ball like nobody else. The skiddy surface will mean Murray will need to come in to the net more. Staying back will hurt him. Andy's certainly got the ability – and youth – to clear this first hurdle but it would not surprise me if things don't go entirely his way.