I’ve been involved in tennis for more than 60 years, but when this time of year comes around I’m as excited as a little kid before Christmas. Wimbledon. The Big W. The Championships. Boy, whatever you want to call it, this is the tournament we all love.
Coaching Andre Agassi when he won the title in 1992 was one of the greatest moments of my career, but I always get a huge thrill at Wimbledon watching any of the scores of players who have passed through the IMG Academy in Florida which I founded 38 years ago to become successful pros.
Richard Williams used to bring his two girls to Bradenton. It was a privilege to watch Venus and Serena develop both as great champions and as fine people. Serena sent me a text a couple of weeks ago asking how I was, but for the next few days the rest of the world will be wondering how she is doing.
She will be 38 in September and these days she combines her tennis with being a mother. You have to wonder whether age might be catching up with her. She has been dealing with a knee problem and has completed only six matches since January.
I think the first couple of rounds will tell us a lot about what Serena can do, though I don’t think the lack of matches will be a problem in itself. Holy mackerel, if she’s healthy and moving well you can be damned sure she’ll be hitting those balls like she has a personal grudge against them.
We all know that she would love to win the one Grand Slam singles title she needs to match Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 and I think this Wimbledon might be her best chance of doing that.
Those of you who’ve been following me in The Independent over all these years will know that I’m not normally short of an opinion, but you’ll have to forgive me for not putting my neck on the line to tell you who I think will win the ladies’ singles this year. It’s so open that I suspect even the Good Lord doesn’t know who’s going to win.
I think there are up to 10 players who could win the title, though there’s no doubt who the form player is. Ash Barty won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open three weeks ago and followed that up by winning on grass at Edgbaston. She has one hell of a game. She can hurt you from anywhere on the court.
If Barty is playing aggressively and with confidence she will take some stopping. The one bit of advice I would offer to her is to forget about everything she’s achieved in the last month. This is the Big W and you need to be totally focused on the task in hand.
Naomi Osaka hasn’t had the best of times since she won two Grand Slams in a row at the US Open and Australian Open. I suspect that all the hype got to her and she just didn’t know how to handle it, but that’s history now.
I think she could have a great Wimbledon, even though she’s never gone beyond the third round in her two previous appearances. Her game is well suited to grass. She hits the ball early, moves extremely well, has a good serve and stands close to the baseline. Her movement, her balance and her ball-striking could make her a real threat.
There are plenty of others who could do well. Simona Halep is a great athlete who can do just about everything, though I think she’s lost a bit of the confidence that she had. If Angelique Kerber’s serve is going well she can beat anyone, as she showed when she won the title last year. Petra Kvitova also knows how to win here, but her arm injury is a real concern.
Karolina Pliskova was in great touch at Eastbourne last week and Kiki Bertens is a real danger. I’ve been impressed with Johanna Konta this year, though I’m not sure she has what it takes to go all the way over the next fortnight.
As for the men, it’s clear that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the strong favourites, but all three of them will know that they will need to be on their game from the start. It’s not like 20 or 30 years ago, when you almost had two or three free rounds before you really needed to get going.
There are some hugely impressive young players around at the moment. We’ve known about Alexander Zverev and Denis Shapovalov for a year or two, but now players like Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime are also breaking through.
I see Federer, even at the age of 37, as the man to beat. He is still playing beautifully. People often talk about his great forehand, but on grass his biting slice can be just as effective. I think we’ll see him come into the net a lot – which I think he will need to do if he’s to go all the way.
The big question surrounding Nadal will be how quickly he can find his feet again on grass. He hasn’t played a tournament since the French Open and he has a tough draw. In the second round he could face Nick Kyrgios, whose serve and forehand make him a threat against anyone. If that match does happen I think we’ll see Kyrgios on his best behaviour.
I see Djokovic as the “sleeper” in the men’s draw. That might seem a strange thing to say given that he’s the defending champion, but he hasn’t done too much on the court since the Australian Open. And when a sleeper wakes up you have to be careful.
It promises to be a memorable fortnight and as usual I’ll look forward to communicating with you. As I’ve done in the past, I’d love to pass on some of the knowledge I’ve gained. If you have a question for me – whether it’s about how to improve your game, training techniques or anything else concerning this great sport of ours – just email me at QuestionsforNickB@gmail.com and I’ll answer the best of them in this column.
For more information on the IMG Academy’s tennis programmes email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1-800-872-6425
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