Coming back to haunt him
January 26, 2004
Focused: Lleyton Hewitt concentrates during his match against Rafael Nadal on Saturday. Photo: Clive Brinskill/Getty Images
Roger Federer has had an easier lead-up to his match with Lleyton Hewitt tonight and looks in better form, but history can weigh heavily, Linda Pearce reports.
Roger Federer takes a 10-hour advantage into tonight's fourth-round Australian Open match against Lleyton Hewitt, but also a compelling reason to fear being mown down from behind. As much as Federer insists he has not been haunted by Hewitt's inspired September comeback in their Davis Cup semi-final, they are powerful images - difficult to forget or ignore.
Federer said recently he was not bothered by his fade-out as much as had been assumed, for he had completed a fine opening win over Mark Philippoussis and then played five sets of doubles the next day while Hewitt lounged about with his feet up. Nor, Federer insisted, had he cost Switzerland its first Davis Cup finals appearance, even though, realistically, the chances of Michel Kratochvil defeating Philippoussis in the fifth rubber had looked remote.
But what Federer cannot deny is that Hewitt has beaten him seven times out of nine - none on the grand slam stage, but the most recent, on Rod Laver Arena, from a deficit of two sets and 2-5. That was less than three months after Federer claimed his first Wimbledon title with an acclaimed display that contrasted with Hewitt's humiliating first round against Ivo Karlovic.
"I played well in Davis Cup, and also here now," Federer said after his third consecutive straight-sets rout, over Australian wildcard Todd Reid on Saturday. "I'm looking forward. It's a good match-up. We've got two totally different games. He's got a much better record against me, so that's his advantage. But, you know, hopefully I can use something else.
"We have always had very tight matches. You know, even though I've beaten him twice, one time I beat him [after] I saved match point. Could be also 9-1. On the other side, it could also be 5-4, 5-5, whatever. We've always had tight matches and physically tough, I always thought; Shanghai, Davis Cup, all the other matches. So I'm looking forward to it."
Hewitt's patriotic fires will be burning on Australia Day but Federer has the advantage of an easier lead-in and had disposed of Reid almost 10 hours before Hewitt walked away from Saturday night's testing 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 defeat of Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal. There is no question whose form has been more impressive, although the quality of Hewitt's opposition has probably been higher.
Nadal did not win a set but it was effectively a match between equals, and the rising star told the Spanish media afterwards that he believed he had been close to winning. Not a set, the whole match, he insisted, and blamed the Hewitt forehand for the fact that he did not.
Much earlier on Saturday, Federer's forehand had dismantled Reid, and the second seed's next Australian opponent knows what to expect as he attempts to reach his first Open quarter-final in eight attempts. "Doesn't get any easier, that's for sure," Hewitt said. "Hopefully I can get off to a bit better start than I did last time against him a few months ago."
Both were asked to explain the apparently lopsided 7-2 record. If Federer knew why, he said with a smile, it would be different. Hewitt graciously suggested his first few wins had come before Federer - who is just six months younger but started and matured slightly later - had reached his peak.
"Since we've probably both been at our best, we've probably only played a couple of times, I think," Hewitt said. "Nearly all the matches have been pretty close. The only match I think I lost to him was in Basel, in his home town, in the semi-finals of the Swiss indoors, and I lost 7-6 in the third. I think I had match point. I've really got to play some of my best tennis to keep up with him."