John Isner will always have a place in Wimbledon history as the winner of the longest match – his first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut that lasted more than 11 hours in 2010. His name is even on a plaque by the court where they played. However, my compatriot would like to be remembered for more than that.
His record at Wimbledon is not very good for a top-20 player who has been in the top 10. Given how beat he must have been back in 2010 it was no shock when he lost in the next round. More surprising is that he has never made the second week here and only reached the third round once before.
He has the chance to go one step further on Friday when he plays Marin Cilic, who won the US Open last year and made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. But he suffered a shoulder injury at the start of this year and his form has since been as frustrating as your London traffic jams.
They are both big guys with thumping serves. A powerful serve used to be a killer weapon at Wimbledon. It is still important – Milos Raonic beat Tommy Haas on Wednesday because of his serve – but it is not as critical as it once was.
Players still crack serves as fast as ever. Raonic served one at 145mph against Tommy, just below Taylor Dent’s 148mph record. But the serve used to go with the volley, and players are not following their serve in as much now. This is partly because receivers are standing closer to the baseline. The courts, especially in the second week, and the balls are also a little slower.
Of the two I think Isner will get more benefit from his serve. He has good groundstrokes and moves well for a big guy. Justin Gimelstob has been working with Isner and having him come in a lot more. He told Isner: “You are not going to do much better from the baseline.”
Cilic has good groundstrokes too but has to remember he’s healthy now and get back on a winning track. If he has one of those days he had in the US Open, when Kei Nishikori couldn’t do anything, he will be hard to stop. But otherwise I’d give the edge, in a close match, to Isner. I think mentality will have lot to do with it – the winner will be the one who stays focused and does not let little things bother them.
I’m proud to take a place in Black Tennis Hall of Fame
I was thrilled to be told I am to be inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale next month. To be recognised for helping minorities and giving people a chance in life gives me even more satisfaction than being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame last year.
Some people will think the honour is because I played a role in helping the Williams sisters. I’m proud of that, but I think the reasons are deeper. I grew up in a New York neighbourhood where blacks and Italians played and lived together, and throughout my time in tennis I have tried to help kids like the ones I grew up around by developing inner-city programmes.
Among those I’m currently involved with is a big one in Minneapolis, a new one in the Bronx and one close to home in Sarasota-Bradenton. But it all began with a conversation I had in Paris, at the 1987 French Open, with a great man – Arthur Ashe.
Arthur and I were good friends, we’d known each other since he was on the college circuit in 1961. We got talking that day about the future of tennis in America and Arthur said: “Nick, what are we going to do about the boys and girls who never hit a ball, the ones in the cities?”
It struck a chord with me and we determined to do something about it.
I went home and started the Ashe-Bollettieri Cities Tennis Programme, known as the ABC. We launched in Newark, New Jersey. It was a tough place to start, the perfect place – the high-school dropout rate was 22 per cent and in the first year we collected a big jar full of spent bullets from the courts. When we arrived, with a police escort, Arthur said: “Are we coming back, Nick? This isn’t a one-off.” I said we would. He said: “Good, we can’t show them false hope.”
We combined free tennis coaching with health education, and encouraged kids to work hard at school by rewarding good grades with vouchers from adidas, who sponsored my academy.
The programme eventually extended to eight cities, ran for 13 years and kept 20,000 kids off drugs and in school, most of them minorities. Of all the things I have done I am as proud of that as any.
Federer is playing more aggressively under Edberg
Roger Federer is playing beautifully. When you see Federer it is like watching a ghost on court, he does it so gracefully he doesn’t kick up any grass. His opponent second round opponent, Sam Querry, isn’t what he used to be, but he has a big serve, he can hit some balls. Roger just brushed him aside 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Roger is serving well and returning well. The wide sliced serve to deuce court is fabulous. It takes the opponent off the court and gives Federer about 90 per cent of the court to run around and hit a forehand into. [Coach] Stefan Edberg has got him standing closer to the baseline to return serve and he has got him playing more aggressively. Federer used to chip a lot of returns. No matter how good the chip is, that is usually defensive. The bigger racket has definitely helped him, and instead of taking a closed stance he has more of a semi-open one.
He is so very smooth. He doesn’t make a big commotion, just goes about his tennis in a business-like way.Reuse content