The first words I wrote about this year’s Wimbledon – boy, how the days have shot by – were about Serena Williams. This is what I said: “No matter how talented you are, you ain’t gonna succeed unless you’re happy.”
OK, so that was about Serena, but it could just as equally apply to the very woman who sent the best player the women’s game has ever seen tumbling out of Wimbledon at the start of the week.
I don’t think Sabine Lisicki has stopped smiling since day one of these championships. She is a player who is enjoying her tennis and when Sabine is enjoying her tennis she is a mighty hard player to stop.
We have seen it at the academy since the first day she walked through the gates. Man, she even calls her dog Happy. She is great kid, always has been and we are so proud of where she will be this afternoon, walking out on to Centre Court to play in the Wimbledon final against Marion Bartoli. It is her day of days.
And she deserves it after the championships she has had. I mean, holy smoke, knocking out Serena, taking her on serve for serve and blasting her right out of SW19. But let’s look at her semi-final because it demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of Lisicki’s game.
Firstly, that match against Agnieszka Radwanska saved the day on Thursday as the first semi-final had been disastrous as a spectacle and as a showcase for the women’s game. There was some great tennis, and real drama in the way Sabine’s match swung back and forth. She got her first serve working well to win the first set but Radwanska forced her into longer rallies in the second and when Lisicki’s serve broke down the set was lost. In the final set the key was Sabine’s ability to slow down, relax and handle the pressure. She did that amazingly well.
So that is what she has to do today if she is to lift that trophy. She has the power and the game to win but she needs to match it with her mind.
Now Bartoli. The Frenchwoman moves well, has a lot of confidence, a variety of shots and a good first serve. She has an unorthodox style both in serving and her all-round game. She stands close to the baseline and hits the crap out of the ball with both hands. She is also very, very competitive.
The area where she has an advantage over Lisicki is that she can better change the pace of a match. They call Lisicki “Boom-Boom” and that is the only way she knows how to play, whereas Bartoli can mix it up a bit better. She can hit the ball hard too – it could become a battle of the sloggers.
Lisicki will need to keep control, serve well and not get down if things go badly. She needs a good start to her serve. She only really has three to five shots so if Bartoli can extend rallies to eight-10-12 shots the tide will turn.
However, Sabine is moving so well. She has a new trainer and has worked very hard. It has made a real difference to her game, she can run down drop shots and get around the court so much better. The other area of her game that has really come on is her second serve, both in its threat and its accuracy. That is a stronger area than Bartoli – the stats have a 60 per cent to 48 per cent success rate for the second serve in Lisicki’s favour.
But the key area will be upstairs. Neither of these girls are used to playing finals, let alone Slam finals. Bartoli has been here before but that was six years ago. Whoever best handles the atmosphere and the occasion will be the winner of Wimbledon.
Today’s big game: Lisicki v Bartoli
S Lisicki/ Bartoli
German Nationality French
23 Age 28
Bradenton, Florida, US Residence Geneva, Switzerland
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
5ft 10in Height 5ft 7in
24 World ranking 15
3 Career titles 7
$2.88m Prize-money $8.51m
19-4 Wimbledon record (W-L)28-10
Final (2013) Wimbledon best Final (2007, 2013)
3 Head-to-head wins 1
Nick’s prediction Lisicki in three
Thought for the day: Ability is just one ingredient in recipe for success
So here we are at finals weekend, on the verge of finding out who is going to be the 2013 Wimbledon champion, which man and which woman. I have been trying to make champions for pretty much 60 years now – I tell you guys, I have been round a few blocks and got a few T-shirts! – and have had 10 guys and girls who have become the No 1 ranked tennis player in the world, from Monica Seles through to Maria Sharapova.
There are a number of factors that are consistent across these 10 players, who were all very different people and personalities. Of course, they are all good, hell, very good tennis players but then there are plenty of good players who don’t do squat with what the good Lord gave them.
They need something else, something above and beyond. They need a combination of that ability, sure they need ability, but you have to add the following into the pot – courage, motivation, attitude and honesty.
Then once you have all of the ingredients you can stir it up and cook it all into an on-court winner.
Coaching report: Djokovic’s serve edged classic for the ages
Look at that clock, baby, just look at that clock: four hours and 43 minutes. And it was four hours and 43 minutes of some of the highest quality tennis you could ever wish to see. What a match – those two guys, two athletes, are a credit to their sport. I tell you that was a contest you would phone up your boss and say I’m stuck in traffic, I’m stuck on the train, in the woods, anywhere, any excuse to keep you watching. It was tremendous from the first thunderbolt serve to the last deep two-handed backhand from Novak Djokovic that won the match and left Juan Martin del Potro as an undeserving loser.
But there has to be one doesn’t there and the difference between the two was a surprising one – not the one that you would have picked before the match. Djokovic had the better serve on the day. He served 22 aces to Del Potro’s four, two double faults to Del Potro’s four and got 69 per cent of his first serves in compared to Del Potro’s 60 per cent. It was the serve that won it for Djokovic.
The big Argentine deserves an enormous amount of credit for the performance he put in and I don’t think his knee made much of a difference to his tennis yesterday. It surprised me how often both players hit the floor, each struggled with their footing on a number of occasions. But they picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and on they went. There was so little between them on the day – the match came down to a handful of decisive points. Del Potro had one break point in the second set and took it and the set.
As they tired the errors and break points increased but the standard of play was incredible right to the end. That was one hell of a match. Unforgettable.