Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon guide
One of the world's great tennis coaches, Nick has guided many players to the top – including the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova. Read his Wimbledon Dossier every day, only in The Independent
Saturday 20 June 2009
Wimbledon is without doubt the classiest, most prestigious tournament on earth, and for the very fact that it's here again, and we're here again to relish it, hallelujah! Bring it on.
It's been the backdrop to some of the best moments not just in my sporting life but my life, period. And what a backdrop.
Wimbledon's uniqueness on the Grand Slam circuit stems from the All England Club maintaining tradition – come wind, rain or shine – in a way that the other Slams haven't, or couldn't.
History pervades the place, so too mystique: the walls covered in ivy, the dainty Rolex clock, the absence of glaring, blaring courtside ads. Marvel at the abundance of smart, polite, ever-helpful stewards, at the order of the place, at Radio Wimbledon, at a nation's two-week obsession, at the dress code.
And all this underpinned by the standards of the blazered gentlemen who run their club with the motto: "Our way or the highway!"
Okay, so maybe they wouldn't put it quite like that. But they get on with business the way they see fit. They maintain dignity in tennis. They have not sold their souls, and that's a terrific thing.
Wimbledon is also democratic for the fans. College basketball is huge in the US, and Duke versus North Carolina is a big, big deal. (For those not familiar with that scene, I'm referring to the rivalry between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). You can queue outside to buy seats for Duke-NC games but I'm struggling to think of other examples of top-echelon sport where on match day you can just walk up and get in.
At Wimbledon, you can do that most days. And if you spend a few hours overnight on the pavement you don't just get in, you get the chance to buy prime seats for the most famous court in the world.
Do you think you can pay for walk-up access for the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open? You're kidding me. You want a "now" seat at Roland Garros? Non, non, non. Adieu, dude.
Wimbledon's accessibility to royalty and ordinary Joes alike is part of what makes it a different kind of Slam; a beautiful, competitive Slam that every player wants to win.
I concede that the new roof will deprive us of one Wimbledon's quirks: the frequent occasions for debate about whether it's too dark, too damp, too rainy to continue. That edginess helped, albeit in a small way, to make last year's astonishing men's final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer the occasion it was. But I believe the new lid will also be part of future momentous days.
Boy! I've had a few of those in London. Watching Andre Agassi beat Goran Ivanisevic to win the championship in 1992 is a memory I will cherish forever. To be there as coach to a man I regarded like a son, in his corner, literally, words can't adequately describe it. And who would have thought back then, at the champions' dinner, that the singles winners, Andre and Steffi Graf, would have a future together?
Food reminds me of a more recent personal highlight, being invited two years ago to lunch with the president of the All England Club. I've been to the club so many times but never to the inner sanctum. For an outsider like me, from little Pelham in New York, that was a big, big deal. And I'll tell you something else: the first time I got my credentials to work as a member of The Independent's team at Wimbledon was special too. I take my commentary for your wonderful newspaper very seriously, folks. It's a privilege and honour to write for you.
My other special Wimbledon moments revolve around "my girls", players who I have either coached on their way to becoming great champions (such as Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova) or who I have had the privilege to work with at my academy (Venus and Serena Williams among them).
But you're almost as likely to see me hovering next to a hedge on an outside court watching one of "my boys", Tommy Haas or Max Mirnyi, as being on Centre Court.
Then again, how can the biggest stages fail to thrill? In 1995, I was working with Boris Becker when he reached the final by beating Andre in the semis. My abiding memory of Boris and Wimbledon was his attitude to the place. "Mr B, let's get one thing straight," he said. "Wimbledon is my second home, I decide how long I'll be around."
It does get under your skin. And the grass gets up some players' noses! You know the type: they get angry at it, they moan about it, they say they can't handle it, they say they haven't had time to to get used to it. I, for one, celebrate the diversity that grass brings to the season.
To any whinging player lucky enough to be at SW19, I say: "Grass at Wimbledon is a fact. If that's a problem for you, find a solution." Yes, on a hard court you'll maintain your balance better. But then wet clay isn't the most stable surface and you don't hear so many moans about that.
Grass offers multiple challenges. It's not just that if differs in pace and grip from other surfaces. The same grass court can differ in how it plays within a tournament and even within a match, depending on where and when the grass has become dirt. But that change of surface is part of the challenge.
A player who wants to win Wimbledon needs flexibility in their game, to be able to adjust, to be ready for any low, skiddy bounce. There is no continuity of environment, technically it can be chaotic. Unlike the surroundings.
Now if I could just get some strawberries and leave change from 10 bucks...
5 Men to watch
Full of confidence, he's regained the respect of the tour after winning the French Open to equal Sampras's 14 Grand Slams. You have to make the best player who ever lived the favourite. Gentleman genius.
The reigning champ's chances will all come down to his health and fitness. His loss to Robin Soderling in Paris showed he's vulnerable, so too Federer beating him on clay in Madrid. Dangerous as hell if fit.
He's fit, he's ready, he's serving big and I don't just mean winning titles regularly to fulfil British expectations. The street fighter is a clear and present danger to the two main men.
In my view, Federer's toughest match in Paris was not Juan Martin del Potro but against Tommy, who led by two sets. Haas won in Halle, has been playing well and can be a spoiler if not victor.
He's not going to win the title but this 25-year-old German, No 33 in the world, is capable of winning a few matches and knocking over some significant names along the way.
5 Women to watch
I just can't see the women's final not having a Williams sister in it, and probably winning. Venus is more than capable at 29 of doing it for a sixth title and for three in a row.
It doesn't seem like six years ago that she last won it but it's a fact. It's also irrelevant to her chances. The best athletes move it up a gear when needed.
Hard as nails and ultra-competitive, nobody will want to face her on a surface she loves. My reservation is whether she's in peak condition to last 14 days.
No Slam wins, one final (US Open 2008) and three fourth-round losses at Wimbledon. If Jelena wants to be great, she needs to step up to the plate.
I look down at the draw and feel Dinara Safina can't win, nor Ana Ivanovic, nor many others. Grass isn't Kuznetsova's thing, but the quarters beckon, then Russian roulette.
Rafael Nadal 7-1
Roger Federer 10-11
Andy Murray 5-2
Novak Djokovic 12-1
Juan Martin Del Potro 20-1
Dinara Safina 9-1
Serena Williams 9-4
Venus Williams 10-3
Elena Dementieva 25-1
Svetlana Kuznetsova 12-1
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