Wimbledon 2015 - Nick Bollettieri: Maria Sharapova is again a contender – and she has the game to slam dunk CoCo Vandeweghe


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It is surprising that Maria Sharapova has won Wimbledon only once. Few would have bet a dollar on that happening when she took the title back in 2004, at 17. The Williams sisters have had a lot to do with her not repeating that success – and injuries.

But she’s back to form and fitness, and a contender again. This is the first year she has reached the last eight since 2011, when she lost the final to Petra Kvitova, and so far luck has been with her. One seed, Andrea Petkovic, was taken out of her path, now another, Lucie Safarova, has been. Instead, after beating Zarina Diyas, she now faces another unseeded player, CoCo Vandeweghe.

CoCo is an interesting player. She came down to the academy a while ago and it is good to see her making progress. She has a sports background – her dad was a basketball player, though I gather they don’t communicate any more, which is sad though not as rare in tennis as it ought to be.

She’s a big girl with those basketball genes and she’s in much better shape these days. She is a strong athlete and will be game confident, especially after beating Safarova, but a Wimbledon quarter-final is a big deal. This is the first time she’s ever been in anything like this and she’s got to stay calm. If she goes out there thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s the quarter-final and that’s Maria Sharapova on the other side of the net’, she has no chance.

CoCo is certainly the outsider, even if she’s right mentally, because Maria is a very good player who has been playing pretty well. Sven Groeneveld has been good for her as coach. He’s not changed anything major, just important little things. He does not overtalk, which is good. Maria doesn’t want to be read the Gospels, she just wants the headlines. She’s also been serving well, with no sign of her shoulder injury,

CoCo’s biggest problem is likely to be her movement. It’s not the best and Maria hits the ball early. I’d expect Maria to control the game and CoCo will have to pounce on any tentative play by Maria, including second serves.

You can’t copy a player’s shot, be your own man – or woman

Not a day goes by, especially when I’m at tournaments, giving clinics and even when I’m at IMG Academy’s Bollettieri Tennis Programme, when I don’t hear students, adults or spectators say, “I want to serve like Serena Williams, hit a forehand like Roger Federer, hit a swinging volley like Maria Sharapova or return serve like Novak Djokovic.”

My reaction (sometimes out loud, usually to myself): “Wow, are you kidding me?? Players are all different!!”

The facts are that players’ groundstrokes are different. They all have different grips, swing patterns and recovery steps. On their serves they all have different swing patterns, grips and serve motions, including with their feet. Federer keeps his feet separated and his back foot stays back, Gaël Monfils keeps both of his feet together.

Players have different starting positions relative to the baseline. Djokovic, Sharapova, Serena Williams and Kei Nishikori all play very close to the baseline. Murray, Hewitt, Wawrinka and Gasquet all stay three to four feet behind the baseline.

The mentality of each player is different. They each have their own personality, strengths, weaknesses and fears. They all react differently after each point. Sharapova, for example, has a ritual after each point where she focuses on and plans for the next point. Murray will do all sorts of things, including holding a conversation with himself. Federer never changes his outward appearance (he’d be a great poker player).

You can’t copy a single stroke in isolation. You would have to replicate everything about a player’s movement, which is next to impossible. But, you can learn from watching players. Elements of a great player’s tennis you should observe and then try to copy, include watching where they return first serves. Most will choose to return crosscourt going over the lowest part of the net and working with the greatest distance and largest area of the court to hit into.

In terms of attacking play, look at how they take advantage when returning a defensive second serve, when they hit a drop shot and where they hit their aggressive shots (including how close they hit to the lines).

Defensive play is just as important. Watch how quickly they recover after hitting a shot, and how they buy time when they are out of position, and how they slow things down when they are falling behind.

Don’t just concentrate on the strokeplay, watch their footwork and their athletic foundation in everything they do. Most importantly, look at their early backswing, especially Serena Williams and Djokovic. As soon as they see the ball coming to them, even before the ball crosses the net, they start their backswing!

We have 225 full-time school-year tennis students at the academy in Bradenton. They are all different. Our staff, directed by Rohan Goetzke, our tennis director, do not make them copy the style of one or two other players. We develop individual swing patterns and styles. Each player is an individual. That applies as much to social players as professionals.

Coaching report: Dangerous Gasquet is like a cockroach – he gets all over the place and is impossible to get rid of

No one has mentioned Richard Gasquet coming into Wimbledon, he has been the invisible man. Even when he did get some attention it was only because he was playing Nick Kyrgios, whom everyone has noticed.

Yet Gasquet can be very dangerous. He has a solid base to his game, moves relatively well and has a very good one-handed backhand. I call him a cockroach, because he gets all over the court and you can’t get rid of him. Gasquet has very good footwork, it is probably his biggest strength.

Last year he played Kyrgios at Wimbledon, went two sets up – and lost. This year he went two sets up, then Kyrgios fought back, but Gasquet held on to win. Since Kyrgios is a better player than a year ago, that augurs well for Gasquet. He is playing Stan Wawrinka next in the quarter-finals, a meeting of two one-handed players which is fairly unusual these days.

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