Counter-punching fight will be won by battle-scarred Hewitt
From The Independent
By: Nick Bollettieri
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lleyton Hewitt is my ultimate foxhole guy, the man you’d want alongside you in battle because he is the gutsiest, most determined stayer in tennis, certainly now and possibly ever. On a tennis court he won’t relent until he’s won or there’s nothing left to give. He’s the 100 per cent man. He was the champion here eight years ago and is heading for 30. He’s also had hip and ankle surgery in the recent past and has had to make adjustments to his game since returning.
He’s experienced a perfectly understandable decline in stamina and energy reserves and to compensate I think his game has become deliberately a little more offensive than the counter-punching baseliner approach that has been his trademark for so many years. He no longer sits so far behind the baseline. He’s more flexible, he’s worked on his serve, his forehand is good, his backhand is reliable. He still volleys well and he has that devilish top-spin lob.
We know Roger Federer has been king of grass for some years now, but Hewitt beat him in the final at Halle earlier this month. Besides that, apart from Federer among current players nobody has more wins on grass than Hewitt. He likes this surface in general and this arena in particular and he’s got to be considered a live hope while he’s fit and healthy.
Gaël Monfils is a maverick and it’s hard to say what kind of performance you’re going to get from him on any given day. On the one hand he’s a phenomenal athlete, 6ft 4in of well-honed muscle. He’s quick as a river in flood, his serve is good, his shot selection is improving and his court coverage is aided by that huge wingspan. Like Hewitt, he’s known as a counter-puncher who plays from way back, but he also mixes it up and his gear changes from defence to attack are a key part of his game.
And yet his weakness is between the ears because sometimes the entertainer within in dominates the player. He’s a showman, he does cartwheels. Hell, he’d serve while standing on his head if he could find a way to hold the racket with his toes.
If at some stage in the next few years this amiable Frenchman can find a way to make his psychological approach to tournament tennis as much of an asset as his physical attributes then he can be going deep in Slams, to semis, finals and possibly even winning. But that’s only an “if” for now.
Today I think the edge goes to Hewitt, especially if he’s the one breaking the counter-puncher mould to take a few more chances here and there. Hewitt has to be careful that he’s not pinned back by Monfils trying to hit behind him though, and of course a long match will tend to favour the younger man. Go Aussie!
Today’s big match: Gaël Monfils v Lleyton Hewitt
How they match up:
French Nationality Australian
23 Age 29
Nyon Residence Bahamas
2004 Turned pro 1998
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
6ft 4in Height 5ft 11in
No 20 World ranking No 26
2 Career titles 28
$3.9m Career prize money $18.7m
W6 L3 Wimbledon record W37 L10
3R (three) Wimbledon best Won (2002)
5-2 Odds 1-3
Head-to-head: Monfils leads 2-1
Bollettieri’s prediction: Hewitt to edge it.
Coaching report: John Isner v Nicolas Mahut
Hats off to John Isner and Nicolas Mahut for their stamina, for their sportsmanship and for the relentless physical and mental application they gave during their record-breaking match. Holy mackerel! For the fifth set alone to have lasted more than eight hours, and for it to have featured just the one break of serve – ultimately decisive – in 138 games is quite astonishing.
The victory, when it came, wasn’t about the breakdown of either player due to tiredness and it wasn’t really about tactics or technical consistency. As is often the case, it came down to small psychological factors making all the difference. In this case, Mahut came close to breaking Isner towards the end, but crucially failed. As I’ve seen happen in a number of long, five-set matches down the years, the break that eventually wins the game often comes shortly or immediately after the other player has come close to breaking without actually doing so.
Mentally, that’s a tough place to be and Mahut paid the price. But what an occasion! What an advert for our sport, in terms of sheer drama and the attention it attracted. I applaud the All England Club for its presentation to the players. A special moment in tennis history deserved being marked in that way.
It’s interesting and important to highlight that Isner spent three years in tertiary education, at the University of Georgia in his case. Pro sport and a good education are not mutually exclusive. I would always encourage academic education because far more young players fail to become pro than make it.
The last word on Isner, for now, must be to assess his chances from here, starting with his second-round match against Thiemo de Bakker. I think Isner will be fine. I think he’ll win. I think this epic will inspire, not detract.
Murray mixes it up easily
Andy Murray did as I expected by winning yesterday in straight sets, and he played as I hoped he would, with aggression and with pace to take control early and remain in control. His 18 aces (to none) show he was doing OK in that department and his first serve improved as the match wore on. His return stats were high (83 per cent on the forehand), and he won 84 per cent of points at the net, which is good. He’s going deep into week two.
You cannot beat the All England Club for style
I was a little later than planned arriving at the All England Club yesterday, just after the Queen’s walk across the grounds. What pageantry! What a show! What class! The crowds, as usual, lapped it all up. It’s a shame she didn’t get to meet me. Maybe next time.
World Cup of tennis
I’ve been trying to predict soccer matches in South Africa based upon the strengths of nations in tennis, and by assessing national sporting personalities and traits through tennis players I’ve known and worked with. Then, I project that on to the soccer and see what happens. We had a good run going there for a while and you’ll have to excuse me if we don’t discuss what happened to my Italian brothers in yesterday’s Italy match! Ouch.
Chile v Spain
We could consider the overall tennis strengths of these Latin nations but that would be a mismatch; the Spanish would romp it in the men’s game from Manuel Santana in the Sixties to Rafa Nadal today, and the Spanish señoritas would also beat their counterparts from Chile. Instead, let’s imagine a match between the best player Chile ever produced, Marcelo Rios, and Nadal. I worked for some time with Rios and actually know he was a keen soccer fan, and regularly enjoyed a kickabout. Rafa is also a big fan, and his uncle was a pro.
Marcelo and Rafa are both lefties, with leftie brains, wired differently. It would be interesting to know definitively how over-represented leftie sportsmen are among the elite; I’d guess hugely so. Think of the left-footed soccer-playing geniuses like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
But I digress. In my imaginary match-up, played on grass, Nadal edges it while Rios lets temperament unsettle him. Spain to beat Chile at the World Cup today then, just.
Win a week at my academy
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All you have to do is email to tell me who will win today’s big match. I want a specific score line, and as a tie-breaker, a one-sentence summary of the manner in which your pick will win. All winners go into a hat, with one overall winner picked from there. Email: email@example.com
Yesterday’s winner was Curtis Stewart.
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