Hewitt determined to eclipse Federer
Lleyton Hewitt is hoping his near miss against Roger Federer in the US Open semi-finals will be the springboard to a successful Australian Open campaign in January.
Hewitt is unlikely to play another tournament this year, except perhaps the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, as he and wife Bec Cartwright devote their attention to the impending birth of their first child.
Australia's former world No.1 has not entered any more tournaments in 2005 and said he "won't go chasing points" in order to qualify for the eight-man Masters in November, a prestigious event he won back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.
Regardless of his barren schedule, Federer said Hewitt had every right to feel confident he would eventually break the Swiss's hold over him after breathing new life into their rivalry on Saturday.
Federer dropped a set against Hewitt for the first time in six matches before finally shaking off his tenacious opponent 6-3, 7-6 (7-0), 4-6, 6-3 after precisely three hours of high-quality tennis. "He was awfully close today, much closer than he was in the last few matches," said Federer. "I think it should give him some confidence.
"He played a good match. It was close. This match could have gone either way, so I'm happy I came through on top."
Indeed, Hewitt was unlucky not to have levelled the match at a set apiece after holding five set points in the second, all on Federer's serve.
Hewitt could not be accused of squandering the set points. Rather, Federer won each of them playing the type of tennis that has made the world No.1 almost unbeatable over the past two years.
The defending US Open champion then played an stunning tiebreaker, producing a series of breathtaking winners to leave Hewitt staring down the barrel of a ninth consecutive loss to his 24-year-old rival. Even Federer said Hewitt deserved to be level after the second set.
"I was in some rough situations there … in the end, I think he should have deserved that set," Federer said. "But tennis can be tough sometimes."
As can Hewitt, and the world No.4 was rewarded for his aggression when he had Federer rattled enough to miss an easy smash when facing a break point in the seventh game of the third set. Hewitt grabbed his lifeline to serve out the set and continued matching Federer shot for shot until a brief lapse in concentration in the sixth game of the fourth set proved fatal.
The 2001 US Open champion coughed up consecutive double-faults to drop his serve and fall behind 4-2, and there was no way back.
"It's obviously a bit disappointing right at the moment, but it was a lot better effort on my part of getting myself into the match and having a bit of a tussle with him," Hewitt said.
"Once I got into the match, I felt like I was able to go toe-to-toe with him pretty well. But he's a hell of a shot-maker, the best shot-maker I've ever seen. He can pull the trigger anywhere on the court."
Federer had further tennis history at his mercy, but standing in his way in the final on Sunday was Andre Agassi, who, after defying the odds to reach his sixth final in New York at age 35, was another player pursuing yet more firsts in his own remarkable career.
Something magical was bound to happen when Federer, bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win successive Wimbledon and US Open titles, took on Agassi, the oldest grand slam finalist in 31 years. That Agassi had made it this far was already a monumental achievement. The two-time champion, playing in his 20th consecutive Open, has needed four cortisone injections this year to counter a flaming sciatic nerve in his back. Agassi said the injections were "nine minutes of agony".
But they have at least allowed the eight-times major winner to enjoy an unforgettable and unprecedented run at Flushing Meadows. Until the seventh seed's 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 semi-final triumph over unseeded countryman Robby Ginepri on Saturday, Agassi had never before in a career spanning three decades played three consecutive five-setters.
"It's hard to know when it's your last time and you just want to give it everything you've got," Agassi said after becoming the oldest grand slam finalist since 39-year-old Australian Ken Rosewall lost to Jimmy Connors at Flushing Meadows in 1974.