Wales

Welsh coach Mathew James helps out Wimbledon stars

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Media captionMeet Wales' big hit at Wimbledon

Dreams of centre court adulation for rising Welsh tennis pro Mathew James were shattered early in his career.

Two hip operations by the time he was 21 meant it was game-over - he would never make a Wimbledon final.

But now as a performance coach, he has found himself in demand once again at SW19 - as a 'hitter'.

He has been helping the likes of world No 4 Novak Djokovic and women's quarter-finalist Garbine Muguruza in their pre-match preparations.

A coach at the prestigious Millfield School in Somerset, the 27-year-old from Flintshire has taken annual leave to volunteer at the tennis tournament as a hitter for the second year in a row.

He has to take what the world's best players can throw at him as they hone their killer shots.

"A few of the players, they prefer to have a hitter than someone else doing a match warm-up, if that makes sense," he explained from the home of lawn tennis.

"They can be a little bit more specific with what they do, and almost use me in terms of put me in one corner, or work on something a little more specifically."

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Image caption James has been on the receiving end of Djokovic's serve in the past week

As a hitter, you are not expected to return every serve - in fact - for some, that just will not happen.

"Watching (Rafael) Nadal with a hitter is quite funny, because the hitter probably hits one shot, and then Nadal hits a winner past them - but that's how he'll warm up.

"What you notice is that everyone is completely different. Sometimes it is superstition to have the same hit, the same hitter, even the same court now."

In the first week of Wimbledon, James was out on the courts with both Djokovic and Murguruza - who cost Angelique Kerber her top world ranking spot with a win on Monday.

"I remember getting a phone call... you've got an hour-and-a-half with Novak. I was pretty scared at the start. An hour-and-a-half alone is quite tough in this weather, and then you've got Novak and [coach Andre] Agassi watching you.

"Quite a surreal moment - but probably one of my most enjoyable ones, out of all of them."

Image caption In action: James in hitting action at SW19

And when a hitter hits it off with his player? There are perks. Take Muguruza for example.

"I don't know if it was superstition or that - but she is the one I've hit with from day one and kept going.

"It's got to the point now that I'm into the player's box with her, and getting to watch her play, and that's almost a big bonus of what I do. I can practise with someone and actually get a little bit involved with the team."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hit partner Garbine Muguruza celebrates a quarter-final place at Wimbledon 2017

As a junior player, the former Ysgol Maes Garmon pupil from Mold worked his way into the ranks of the world top 100 young players and turned professional.

He did make it to a couple of junior matches at SW19 when he was 16 and 17 - but injury meant never as a senior.

So now it is the coaching that spurs him on - and why he enjoys being a hitter almost as much as being a player.

"It's perfect, because I can ask more questions and see what they do, off court a little bit as well," he added.

"So being able to come here in some capacity is the next best thing, and it's been a really good week."

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