I sat down to watch Nicole Vaidisova's fourth-round match against Li Na, of China, in the hope that the Czech teenager, for whom who I have immense hopes in the game, would battle through to the quarter-finals for the first time, and in only her second appearance at Wimbledon.
Instead I witnessed a small piece of Chinese sporting history as the 24-year-old from Wuhan, in Hubei province, became the first person from her country - in the men's or women's game - to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final. She did it in three sets, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. We'll come back to her in a moment but first, in a nutshell, here's why Nicole lost.
Her own analysis was: "I struggled with my rhythm from the start. I felt I didn't move very well, felt a little tired, a little tight."
But as someone who has known Nicole a long time because she's been based at my academy for eight years, one thing was glaring: she wasn't playing her trademark game, which is from the baseline and hitting forehand rockets that are the biggest on the tour.
Inexplicably she drifted back. She was playing from six to eight feet behind the baseline at times! The Chinese player started to sneak in, and from then on Nicole kept being caught out of position. The more that Nicole played contrary to her A game, the worse it got. She went back. Li Na came forward. Double trouble and Nicole's out.
If you want to look at one game that told our story in a few points, it was the fifth game of the third set, with Nicole serving and 30-0 up. She then lost four points in a row to be broken by hitting long, wide, long and into the net on those four points. Why? She was out of position and your shots are always less effective when that happens. The other thing we need to work on with Nicole is controlling her temper to good effect. She got a little mad at times and that unsettles you if you're not careful. People might argue she's only 17 but now is just the time she needs to address it. Getting mad is not the problem. Not channelling it as controlled aggression is what's wrong.
The positive from the tournament is that Nicole went a round better than last year, her debut, and progress is progress. And what progress the Chinese girl has made! Last month she became the first Chinese player to get as high as No 30 in the singles rankings. She was the first Chinese to win a tour singles title, in Guangzhou in 2004. She is representative of the new generation of Chinese women's players who hit hard, move well, and have great lower-body strength. She's a decent doubles player, and that helped yesterday because she is used to taking the ball early on the return of serve, and she's not afraid to volley.
My view is she won't go further here, but the Chinese, investing hugely ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, are seeing advances. Now they need some men's players.
Get to grips with your game
This week I'll answer some of the questions you've been sending to me along with your email applications to win a one-month scholarship at my Florida academy. The prize is for one student (Under-18s only), and includes tuition and board. Just tell me: how can I help you, and why? Matt Pilling emailed to say: "My natural grip is a western, but most English coaches want me to change to a semi-western grip. What would you do in my situation?" Every player is different, and without watching someone in action I couldn't judge your efficiency with the western. Generally, you have to be an exceptional player to use the western well. Rafael Nadal uses it in grinder mode but he can flatten his grip to full western for spin, which most people can't do. The semi-western offers strength and control to the forehand; the palm supports the racket and gives extra stability at contact. The drawback of the western is it closes the racket face too soon before contact. For more on grips, visit my website.
Henin cruising towards semis
Justine Henin-Hardenne dominated in her 6-3, 6-1 victory against Daniela Hantuchova yesterday. The most significant factor for me in Hantuchova not being able to make any kind of challenge was lack of physical power; that's down to lack of strength, and that's down to her being too thin. Henin-Hardenne now plays Séverine Bremond, the French qualifier who ousted the No 18 seed Ai Sugiyama yesterday. I can't see past Henin-Hardenne in that. Her compatriot, Kim Clijsters, made quick work of Poland's Agnieska Radwanska yesterday, 6-2, 6-2, and faces a tougher challenge against Li Na. The Chinese girl is tough, but Clijsters will attack her with the heavy balls and spin that the flat-stroking Nicole Vaidisova didn't. Again I tip the Belgian to win. I'd like to add one postscript to Andy Murray's defeat to Marcos Baghdatis. Murray looked despondent after the match but I wrote beforehand that it was a tough assignment. Perspective is important. The Roddick win was no fluke. But never assume this game is easy. Murray's done OK.
Today's Big Match: Maria Sharapova v Elena Dementieva
The deciding factor in this all-Russian match-up is whether Maria Sharapova can take advantage of Elena Dementieva's second serve - that infamous serve that everyone makes fun of but the girl can apparently do nothing to change. In the ad court, Sharapova should stand in the alley, basically inviting her opponent to try to hurt her down the middle. Sharapova has to apply pressure by punishing that serve from the off. Once the ball is in play, the two Russians are as good as each other. Dementieva's movement is better. They've got similar court position, they both hit the ball flat. Sharapova's serve is better, it goes without saying, but I don't think Dementieva is scared of it. She'll return offensively, because that's where her own chance lies. I'm not too concerned that Sharapova didn't play wonderfully yesterday in beating Italy's Flavia Pennetta in three sets. Today we start over, and it's all about Sharapova moving her position to give her the chance to punish that serve and, having gained control of the points by doing so, use the advantage. Sharapova is up in their head-to-heads, and won their previous meeting on grass, albeit in three sets, back in 2003, aged 16.
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