FROM THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt are both 32 years old, more or less grew up together on tour and once had a tremendous rivalry. Hewitt peaked early than the Swiss, winning his sole two majors at in 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimble, while it took Federer until 2003 Wimbledon to win his first crown.
An early chapter of their rivalry was written in the 2003 Davis Cup semifinals, when the Aussie snarled and counterpunched the Swiss into the turf for a 5-7 2-6 7-6 7-5 6-1 victory in Melbourne. It’s still match that is talked about in Davis Cup circles and is certainly one of the most dramatic played between two former No. 1’s in the competition.
After that victory, Hewitt led the rivalry 7-2, but oh-so-quickly, Federer turned the tables on him, besting the then counterpuncher in three 2004 Grand Slams. Federer’s level soared that year, as he tightened up his all round games, was no longer just a pretty player with bursts of brilliance, but a very effective and steady competitor who was a light-footed shotmaker. He was almost impossible to trip up. He would win 16 of their next 17 matches and clearly became a better player.
“I had the tough match where I lost the Davis Cup here in 2003 in the semis,” Federer said.
“I think it really proved to me that I could play great tennis not just for a set, two sets, but three sets or maybe even longer against the toughest guys out there. Lleyton at that point probably the toughest to beat in the best‑of‑five set match also physically and mentally. And for me to be able to not just do it tennis‑wise but physically and mentally gave me the big belief that I could hang with the best, and especially with him. Then I went on a run like I did. I never thought that was going to happen, because he has the game to cause me a lot of problems. I just think the confidence I had and the amount of then variation I could bring to the court was just difficult for Lleyton. But I always felt like it was just not only my racquet. The moment I dip my level he was going to be there and take it.”
They played against each other in five more Slams post 2004, all wins for the Swiss, who owns a much stronger forehand and serve and avoided being caught in death spiral crosscourt backhand rallies with the Aussie.
Hewitt was able to hang in matches, but actually winning sets proved difficult as he only managed three in nine matches in their 2005-2009 period Then in the 2010 Halle final, Hewitt struck again on his favorite surface, grass, and pulled off a three set upset. They have played only once since then, in a 2011 Davis Cup clash, again In Australia but this time, Federer took him down on turf and helped lead his team to victory
“My rivalry with him was pretty intense,” Federer said. “Never nasty or anything, but just good matches. We’re total opposite from one another the way we play. I play with the one‑handed backhand; he plays his double‑handed. His attitude on court is totally different to mine. I think that’s why it’s always an interesting matchup for both of us.”
Now the two practice together constantly and on occasion hang out off court. While they are no longer at their peaks, with Hewitt hovering outside of the top 50 and Federer outside of the top 5, they are both smart, resourceful players, which is why they will meet in the Brisbane finals. On Saturday, Federer bested Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-7 6-3, and Hewitt overcame Kei Nishikori as 5-7 6-4 6-3.
Lift your glasses high for the old guys:
“I keep putting myself through it. Must like punishment,” Hewitt said. “I reckon nearly everyone had some kind of run against Roger those years. He lost two or three matches for the year. Apart from losing to go Rafa a couple times, he didn’t lose too many matches. Roger is obviously through that period where he dominated. He was very tough for anyone to beat. In Halle I got a little bit lucky, but I did play a really good three‑set match there. I prefer to play him in finals rather than round of 16 or quarters or third round of slams, so…
Developments of the Weekends
It is highly unusual for have some so many Grand Slam champions facing off in finals at any given week of the year. In the three WTA events, five women with a combined 28 Grand Slam titles reached the finals, perhaps an all time first.
Both finals in Brisbane featured former major champs and in Auckland, 2008 Roland Garros titlist Ana Ivanovic claimed her first title in more than two years with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory over seven-time Slam champ Venus Williams. “It’s amazing,” Ivanovic said. “Coming into this week I didn’t really have any expectations. I didn’t even think about making the finals or winning it. I just tried my best, and I felt very comfortable here. Today was a great match. Venus is always very tough – she’s a great champion and showed that again today.
In Shenzhen, 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na overcame fellow Chinese Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-5. The fans there were overjoyed to see two of their own facing off.
The Doha ATP final is a very attractive one, too, with 13 time Slam champ and No. 1 Rafael Nadal set to face Frenchman Gael Monfils.