BRISBANE – Some 15 years ago, at the tender age 16, a flying Lleyton Hewitt won the title in his home town of Adelaide, stunning Andre Agassi in semis. He eventually won two Grand Slam titles and reached the No.1 ranking, but coming into the 2014 Brisbane International, he looked nothing like the player he was back then.
Yes, he is still scrappy and when his body is feeling right, he fights like hell, but he has had to reconstruct a large part of his game just to be competitive. In his 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory over Roger Federer to win his first title in Queensland and his first ATP crown in three and half years, Hewitt did not merely counterpunch and attempt to grind the Swiss down.
He certainly was very steady, but he also consistently attacked the Swiss with a varied first serve, bullet returns, deep backhands and sharp forehands. Without question, the Swiss was way off in the first set and looked half asleep framing one shot after another, but it was Hewitt’s relentless attack that suffocated him.
“For the first set I was seeing the ball like a football<’ Hewitt said. “It didn’t matter where he served it, I was on it. I felt great out there.”
But Federer did not quickly fade way in the second set and dug in. Serving at 3-4, he pushed himself forward, cracking three big forehands, approaching the net and nailing an overhead winner, no small feat considering that Hewitt had launched some gorgeous topspin lobs prior to that that invoked hesitation.
He finally broke the Australian to 5-4 with a sharp chip crosscourt and then played his best game of the match in holding at love to win the second set 6-4.
While the Aussie group The Fanatics were quite loud sitting courtside cheering for their native man, the Federer fans erupted after their guy won the second set and at least at that moment it appeared that the foreign player was the more popular one in Pat Rafter Stadium.
But not for long.
Federer had chances early in the third set, but couldn’t not break Hewitt in two marathon games. The 17-time Slam champ debuted a new 98-inch racket this week, but his backhand was weak for the most part and he went to his slice on too many occasions, often floating them instead of keeping them low and making sure they bit hard.
Hewitt was called for a couple foot faults during the set and argued with chair umpire Mohammed Lahyani about it, saying that his foot was not dragging across the line and that it was actually in the air ( ‘I’m telling you it’s wrong, mate!’ ) be he kept calm and it was clear that he knew that he was deep into Federer’s game.
Serving at 1-2, Federer flew a forehand long and was broken and from then on, all he realty did was sweat and strain and he never could string together enough points to hurt the Aussie again, despite the fact that he had won 16 of their last 17 matches coming into the contest.
Federer did hold a break point in the seventh game and charged the net and even though he anticipated another Hewitt topspin lob and pedaled backward, the Aussie hung one high and deep and Federer shanked it off the top of his frame, way long.
Hewitt had not won a title since 2010 Halle and has had trouble closing out matches over the past few years, but he did not on a sticky afternoon in Brisbane, ending the contest when he clubbed an inside out forehand winner, forced Federer into a return error with a sharp serve and then on match point, he hit a deep forehand that Federer dumped into the net with his backhand.
Former No. 1 Federer was not thrilled with on Sunday, but was pretty pleased with how his body held up playing singles and doubles and how his form is coming along.
“I played consistent,” he said. “I didn’t play great today which is a bit unfortunate, but also Lleyton was the best player I played this week. He made it toughest on me. So I have a clear idea what I need to work on, and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is that. I’m very hungry and eager to attack the Australian Open next week… I think I can play very well. Depends on how I play more than anything right now. I think I was able to sort of serve better overall, more consistent this week than I have in a long time. So that’s very good…I definitely needed a little bit more confidence to play well and hopefully win the tournament.”
If Brisbane ends up being the last title of the 32-year-old Hewitt’s career it would be a perfect Aussie bookend to his Adelaide triumph, but he has no intention of stopping there. Winning the Aussie Open would be a stretch, but a run to the second week would feel very good indeed.
“It means a lot with the caliber of players here,” Hewitt said. “Look at the start of the week. It’s not an easy tournament to win. I wasn’t one of the top four seeds, so I had to win all five matches to get through. Roger only had to play four to win it here. There are pleasing parts and massive positives to take out of it…A lot [of my Australian Open] depends on draws and how I play. I’m not looking at what round or whatever. I go out there an I’ll compete exactly the same as I’ve competed here this week. If I play like I did this week, then I have a chance of doing some damage against serious players.”
ATP Team of the Day
Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Daniel Nestor had a fine team debut and won the title by besting Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-7. Nestor will play with his old partner, Nenad Zimonjic, at the Australian Open
WTA Team Of the Day
Canada’s Sharon Fichman and American partner Maria Sanchez won their first title together, upsetting third seeds Lucie Hradecka and Michaella Krajicek to win Auckland.
Salute of the Day
Hewitt gave a heartfelt acceptance speech thanking Federer for helping the tournament break an attendance record with 105,730 fans coming through the gate.