Clash of the old Titans



Federer and Hewitt will play for the 27th time


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.


Brisbane Day 4: A new beginning for Marin Cilic

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Ivanisevic is helping Cilic reconstruct his serve, as well as his volley


BRISBANE:   Marin Cilic played just his third match in the past five months on Wednesday when took down 2013 Brisbane International finalist Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-5 at Pat Rafter Arena on Wednesday.  The Croat was a very happy man, saying that while it’s his same career, it’s new start after what he called the worst period of his life in 2013 when he was banned for allegedly doping.

The former top 10er Cilic was banned for nine months by an independent tribunal in September after testing positive for the stimulant nikethamide at the Munich Open in May, but his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful and his suspension was cut to four months. He chose not to play post Wimbledon in order to give is lawyers time to prepare and to rack up time served. One his appeal was okayed, he managed to get in two matches at the Paris Bercy Masters. But that was it for the rest of 2013 as his ranking was too low to get into the ATP World Finals.

The 25 year old enters the 2014 ranked No. 37 with an outside shot of being seeded at the Australian Open. Some folks feel bad for him as they believe his explanation that he did not purposely ingest the nikethamide is the truth. Others may still think he cheated. But whatever the case, he does have a new lease on life and that now includes the full time coaching help of former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, whom he has known since he’s been a kid.

“Feels still the same career, but feels like a new beginning for me,” he said. “Just with the new team and everything, I’m thinking about everything around myself in a different perspective. I had a lot time to think about everything and time to work. I improved my serve.  That was something special from Goran.  We worked a lot on the serve during the off‑season.  I feel it’s in really good place and it could help me to play much better, especially against top players.  So overall, of course I’m excited to be in the season and to play, to be back on the tour after all that misery last year.”

Despite being 6-feet-6, a pretty good mover for his size and a man who  can crack it from the back court, Cilic he has never become a major threat to the elite, while a guy of the identical  height with weapons that are not much bigger, Juan Martin Del Potro, has.

Cilic owns nine career titles, all at the ATP 250 level. He has never reached the final of Master Series, but back in 2010 when he advanced to his first Grand Slam SF at Australian Open (upending Andy Roddick before going down to Andy Murray) and cracked the  Top 10, it sure looked like he was ready to make a push.

But he did not. In 2011, he went 1-8 vs. Top 10 opponents. In 2012, he posted the same mark against the top 10. He was sliding backward

“I felt that I lost my way a bit after [2010],” he said. “ I was struggling couple seasons.  2011, 2012 I was bit better, but still not at the right place with the game.  I was all the time searching myself.  Overall looking at the seasons, the performances I wanted to have.  In couple tournaments I had great results, but overall I was not too satisfied with it, especially after that great success in Australia and also four, five months before Australian Open where I played pretty good tennis. So I think now when I went through it, I felt what I need to do.  I think I took that as a lesson.  Next time I hope that I’m going to be there I know how to deal in that kind of situation.”

In 2013, Cilic  was essentially mediocre. He lost a five setter to Andrea Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open, but he did avenge that loss in a Davis Cup win over Italy. He won the  Zagreb title , but the field was spotty. At the spring Masters Series he went down to Raonic (Indian Wells), Murray (Miami), Gasquet (Monte Carlo), Madrid (Andujar) and Anderson (Rome).  At Roland  Garros he fell to Victor Troicki. Oh and let’s not forget what occurred in Munich when he tested positive- he lost to countryman Ivan Dodig on clay.

On grass he briefly revived.  At Queens he took down  Dodig, Feliciano Lopez. Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt and before falling to Murray. At Wimbledon, he claimed that a knee injury forced him out the competition prior to his second round match, even though he knew he was going to be suspended. He still sticks by that story.

Due to the long break, he feels physically  refreshed now which is  good for any player. Against Dimitrov, he showed off a huge serve and consistent serve, a stroke that has been very sporadic since 2010. His groundstrokes were strong and had depth and he was competent around the net.

Ivanisevic had one of the best serves of all time and while he and Cilic’s motions are totally different, he managed to convince his student that his motion was too complicated. He also has given him a set of broad shoulder to lean on

“To simplify.  Throw the ball in the air and hit it<’ Cilic said of the left handers advice to him. “  For me before, I was a lot thinking about the serve. To be more relaxed, nothing unusual.  But we worked a lot on it, and it seems that it fit in the right place.

Goran showed me already a lot of things.  I feel my game is improving.  Goran say all the things that he went through many more times than I did already in my career he can show me and tell me in front, Okay, be careful of this.  He’s going to be one step ahead of me in some kind of situations.”

Injury watch

The Brisbane International may only have a 28 draw but already, in the WTA First Premier level event of 2014, it has seen four causalities. Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova became the third and fourth players to pull out, Lisicki with gastrointestinal illness and  Pavlyuchenkova with a left thigh injury. They  Ashleigh Barty and Caroline Wozniacki, who pulled out earlier in the week.

Match of the Day

Britain’s Ross Hutchins, who battled cancer last year, returned the tour and he and his partner, Colin Fleming, played very respectably in a 0-6, 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak) loss to Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy.

What to Watch for, Thursday

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both open play during the day session, with the Russian going up against the heavy-hitting Kaia Kanepi, and then the American taking on the dangerous Dominica Cibulkova. Should both Williams and Sharapova win, they will contest their 17th match. However, it is not a great rivalry by any stretch as Williams owns a 14-2 edge and Sharapova has not beaten her since 2004, although she did play Williams tough the last time they faced off in the 2013 Roland Garros final.




Stunner: Azarenka out of Brisbane with toe injury

azarenka us open 12 vert

Vika didn’t want to take any major risks headed into Melbourne

BRISBANE – Victoria Azarenka has pulled out of out of her semifinal against Serena Williams in with right big toe injury. The world No. 1 said that her toe became infected after having a pedicure 10 days ago as the pedicurist cut her nail too much and piece of it stuck in her toe, which infected her foot.