Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Dossier: Zheng will struggle to match last year's feat
Exclusive briefing from the man who has coached players from Agassi to Sharapova and the Williams sisters
Wednesday 24 June 2009
Today's big match: Jie Zheng vs Daniela Hantuchova
I can already hear some of you looking at this match-up and spitting out your cornflakes as you exclaim, "Holy mackerel!" and ask why this little second- rounder is my match of the day. Well, it's not in here just because I happen to know Daniela Hantuchova very well, and it's not because I'm intrigued by the emerging players from the Far East and notably China. I think this one is a genuine match, evenly balanced, hard to call. But there's more to it than that.
I want to use it as a litmus tester to illustrate the state of the women's game, and by that I mean the strength in depth of genuine contenders who can hope to get deep into the second week. Jie Zheng did that last year in reaching the semis here.
First, let's look at their respective qualities. Zheng has a low centre of gravity and excellent balance when she hits. She stands close to the baseline, she doesn't back up much, she moves east and west superbly. There's not a whole lot of variety there but she pounds those groundies home. She's got a good first serve, although her second serve is tentative and probably the weakest part of her game.
She doesn't come to the net often, but she's got decent movement and will thrown in the occasional drop shot. Her strength lies in consistency.
Daniela by contrast has beautiful strokes, graceful and deep, and she has a magnificent two-handed backhand. She slices and dices. She's a superb volleyer, which comes out particularly when she's playing top-notch doubles. (You'll know she's a former Wimbledon doubles champion).
Daniela visited me a couple of months ago and we had a chat. She needs constant assurance, and encouragement. She's a winner but she does need to be reminded of it.
What's the relevance of all this to the wider women's game? Well you've got Daniela who is capable of going deep into a Slam if her confidence is high.
And Zheng is capable of doing the same. But if you ask me whether either of them will or even can win Wimbledon this year, that would have to be a no, unless we see a series of shock exits, especially those of Venus and Serena Williams. Between them, the Williams sisters have seven Wimbledon singles titles, and the reason is they are the greatest female athletes in history. And they're still around.
And the margin of superiority separating them from the rank and file to which Daniela and Zheng belong remains big. I can't really pick from Daniela or Zheng, although I have a clear emotional favourite.
Tale of the tape; Second-round match
Jie Zheng Name Daniela Hantuchova
Chinese Nationality Slovakian
25 Age 26
Chengdu Place of birth Poprad
Chengdu Residence Monte Carlo
2003 Turned pro 1999
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
5ft 4in Height 5ft 11in
57kg Weight 62kg
No 16 World ranking No 32
No 16 Wimbledon seeding Unseeded
3 Career titles 3
£1.4m Career prize money £3m
W8 L3 Wimbledon record W17 L8
SF (2008) Wimbledon best QF (2002)
5-6 Odds 5-6
Head-to-head: Hantuchova leads 1-0
Bollettieri's prediction: My heart says Daniela, my head doesn't
How far can Tommy Haas go?
Before the tournament I identified Tommy Haas as one of my dark horse picks to make an impact here and I've seen nothing to change my mind. Yesterday I watched him beat Alexander Peya, of Austria, in four sets, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 to move through to the second round. Next up he faces Michael Llodra, of France, and though he won't be looking far ahead, Tommy can make the second week.
Confidence is the key here. I've known Tommy for many years and he still lives at my academy. I know that winning the Halle event on grass this month has given him an unbelievable boost. He's 31 and not very long ago at all I think Tommy was thinking "Is the end of my career round the corner?" Now he's got a new lease of life. He's even coming to the net!
Venus is her name, and yes baby, she's got it!
What a difference the sun makes to a day, eh? It's been glorious just to be around the All England Club these last few days and yesterday in particular was a scorcher. Venus Williams was in hot form too, taking care of business against Stefanie Voegele, of Switzerland, in swift order, 6-3, 6-2. I've already said I think a Williams sister will walk away with the title and Venus, will all that awesome athletic power and that mile-wide wing span has got to be the top contender. Her serve was on: 82 per cent of first-serve points won, eight aces to one. And the serve is obviously the bedrock on which she crafts the rest of her game. Can she make it three titles in a row and six altogether on these lawns? I see no reason why not.
How important are parents who give their kids freedom?
I ask this in a tennis sense, wanting to highlight how, in my view, players need freedom to learn, freedom to explore, freedom to grow. What they don't need is parents who insist, perhaps with no good reason, that they know best. This crossed my mind after I'd bumped into Andy Murray's mom, Judy, yesterday, because not only is she a great coach in her own right and a smart lady and classy woman, but she's been open-minded in the development of Andy's tennis career.
She let him go off to Spain as a teenager. She supported him but she didn't stifle him, and I believe that relationship dynamic remains the same. I asked her how Andy seems in himself and she told me she's never seen him so full of confidence. And that's as life-giving as SW19's rays.
Improve your game: The serve
For all you players out there, I invite you to email me your tennis problems and I'll try to help out.
I had an email from Pete Eaton in York. "I've got a simple problem, Nick," he wrote. "My serve is terrible. Tips please." OK, Pete. Try this. 1) Use a continental to weak eastern grip (look it up). 2) Make sure you apply racket-head speed instead of physically forcing the ball with your shoulder or body. 3) You're only as good as your second serve. Don't pushy-push it, be aggressive.
The Ato Z of Bollettieri: Snapshots from 53 years as a top tennis coach
E is for Ego and you need a healthy-sized ego to be a champion. By definition, an individual sport is all about me, me, me. Tennis is no different. Of course there are many kinds of ego, from sincere to off-putting. Some extreme egos I've encountered include: Xavier Malisse, aka Time-bomb Ego: potential madman on court, nicest man in the planet off it. Vince Spadea, aka Psychedelic Ego: he's out there, man, and a lot of fun. Marcelo Rios, aka Angry Ego: I've rarely met a moodier guy. Mary Pierce, aka Apologetic Ego: a humble soul.
F is for Florida, the location of my academy, which has been at its current site in Bradenton since 1982. My earliest students there included Jimmy Arias, Carling Bassett and Aaron Krickstein. Aaron reached No 6 in the world, reached Slam semis, and puffed his cheeks like he was playing the trumpet when playing. He breathed very quietly on court, so don't say I only produce noise- makers! Carling, cute as a button, reached No 8. Jimmy reached No 5 and remembered every point of every game he ever played. The three of them all lived in my house.
Win a week in Florida at my tennis academy
Want a week's tennis holiday at my academy in Florida? Included in the prize is five days' top-class tuition, accommodation in our poolside clubhouse, and all meals. The winner arranges the travel. All you have to do is email to tell me who will win today's big match. I want a specific score line and, as a tie-breaker, a one-sentence summary of the manner in which your pick will win. At the end of the tournament, all the daily winners will go into a hat, and one overall winner will be chosen. Yesterday's winner will be named tomorrow and will go into the hat. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to meeting the winner.
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