This might not sound like the biggest of compliments, but I hope Barbora Strycova will take it that way. When she beat Johanna Konta in the Wimbledon quarter-finals on Tuesday she reminded me of Brad Gilbert.
Brad, who was one of my students at the IMG Academy more years ago than I care to remember, had some unconventional strokes but knew how to win points and built a very good career for himself. “Winning Ugly” was the perfect title for his book.
While I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that Strycova won "ugly" so to speak, the variety in her game troubled Konta throughout. Holy mackerel, Konta didn’t seem to know what was coming next.
Strycova hit the ball one way and then the other, stood back, came to the net, threw in joke shots, junk shots, chip shots and drop shots, and covered every inch of the court. She was tough to read and Konta just could not handle the variety of her game.
Although Strycova’s second serve can be exploited, I love the way she fights for every point. She never gives up and always tries to find a way to win. Her footwork is great, she moves well and she hits some great drop shots, even with two hands. She certainly makes the most of what she’s got.
Konta has played some excellent tennis in the last three months but on this occasion she couldn’t find any sort of rhythm – because Strycova didn’t give her a chance to find it. I thought Konta struggled to handle the situation mentally. I also feel that her forehand is sometimes a weakness.
In Thursday’s semi-finals Strycova will face the ultimate test in Serena Williams, who has been getting better with every match. I thought her attitude against Alison Riske was very positive. Her ground strokes were working much better, but it’s her serve that is her most dangerous weapon. Serena hit 19 aces against Riske. When she gets into a rhythm on her serve she’s very difficult to beat.
Playing the mixed doubles with Andy Murray certainly doesn’t appear to be hurting Serena. I actually think it helps her because she hasn’t had too many matches this year. She also seems to be enjoying it, which is great to see.
Incidentally, I’ve been delighted to see Murray back on court and talking so positively about the future. He has his mother’s determination and I very much hope that we’ll be seeing him back on the singles court before too long. What a boost for the game that would be.
Simona Halep didn’t have things all her own way against Shuai Zhang, but she’s a fighter. Her strength is staying close to the baseline, getting down low to hit her shots and being very positive with her ground strokes. She’ll be the favourite to beat Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals.
Wednesday’s match of the day: I’m sure everyone back at the IMG Academy has been following Kei Nishikori’s great run. I’m thrilled to see our boy in the quarter-finals, even if he does face the ultimate test against Roger Federer.
Keeping the ball in play won’t be enough for Kei. I think he needs to come out of the box and go for it. I’d also like to see him move into the net as much as possible. When he has the opportunity to attack he must do so. I think a lot of it will depend on his second serve. Kei’s been hitting it a lot better of late, but I think it could be a big factor in the match.
Federer will do what he always does: run around his backhand, hit as many forehands as he can and serve beautifully. Man, he places his serve better than any other player on the tour.
Ask Nick: If you have a question for me – whether it’s about how to improve your game, training techniques or anything else – just email me at QuestionsforNickB@gmail.com.
Paul has written in to say that he likes to play quite a long way behind the baseline. “People are always telling me that because of that I should hit the ball higher over the net,” he says. “What’s the thinking behind that?”
Here’s the basic rule that I follow. For every foot that you go back, hit the ball a foot higher over the net. The reason for this is that if you don’t hit the balls higher over the net they will be landing around the service line, enabling your opponent to take command of the point, with the option to go for a big groundstroke or maybe even a drop shot.
My A-Z of the IMG – looking back over my life at the IMG Academy in Florida which I founded in 1978. O is for Raul Ordonez, who I first met at a coaching clinic I was giving in his native country of Colombia. I loved Raul’s enthusiasm and passion and knew I had to bring him to the academy. He was an excellent coach and became a regular hitting partner for a succession of players, including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles.
P is for Mary Pierce, who first came to the academy when she was 13, though it was not until some years later that she asked me to coach her. She climbed from No 12 to No 5 in the world rankings in our first full year together, in 1994, and won the Australian Open at the start of the following season.
For more information on the IMG Academy’s tennis programmes email email@example.com or call +1-800-872-6425
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