Agassi vs. Hewitt for No. 1: the sport's newest rivalry
By Matthew Cronin
FROM THE SIEBEL OPEN IN SAN JOSE, CALIF. – When you've had your butt kicked so severely that it's difficult to sit down even during changeovers, you need to explain to yourself why it's so sore. Perhaps that why the ATP Siebel Open Choir sung the praises of Andre Agassi so loudly after Stefanie Graf's favorite closer won his 56th title on Sunday.
Or perhaps it's because with Pete Sampras on a potentially never-ending hiatus and No. 1 ranked Lleyton Hewitt is taking a breather after a mediocre start to the year. The boys in the locker room are saying that the No. 1 isn't the real No. 1 at all.
"When he's playing like that, he's the best," said Italian Davide Sanguinetti, who Agassi clubbed 6-3, 6-1 in the San Jose. "He hits the balls on the line perfect, like a machine. Even if you lose to Lleyton, you can play. With Andre, you have to go for more difficult shots. He makes you go into overdrive."
For Pete's sake, the Agassi aura is glowing so strongly and brightly that even the soft-spoken, so-careful-not-to-offend Darren Cahill is secure enough in his position in the tennis world now that his current player (Andre) is more competent now than his ex-player, Lleyton.
"Lleyton deserves to be No. 1. He's been the most consistent over the past year," Cahill said. "But I don't think it would be bad for me to say that Andre is playing best tennis of anyone right now." (Cahill
Even Hewitt's Davis Cup teammate, Mark Philippoussis, who Agassi destroyed 6-4, 6-1 in the second round of San Jose, was ready to wave the red, white and blue flag just a few days after he and Hewitt combined to down the British.
OPPONENTS OFFER UNABASHED PRAISE
"Andre's the hottest player right now. He's the No. 1," Philippoussis said. "He returns so well and keeps pressure on your at every moment. Lleyton's ranked No. 1, but Andre's so hot and his results speak for themselves." (Flip
Davis Cup player James Blake, whose weaknesses Agassi exposed in the Siebel semis and who has lost two classic U.S. Open matches to Hewitt, is just amazed at his countryman.
"Andre's the best player in the world now," said Blake. "I never played him in his so-called prime, but he looks like he's in his prime now. This is no disrespect to Lleyton, but what Andre did in Australia was incredible. He just ran through the field. He was two levels above everybody." (
) Younes El Aynaoui upset Hewitt in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Australian Open champ Agassi is now just 135 points behind Hewitt. His 12-0 start to the year is his best since 1995, when he went 15-0. He could conceivably seize control of the top ranking in March – maybe at Indian Wells, but more likely at Key Biscayne.
Whether that happens is to a large degree up to Hewitt. He decided not to defend his Siebel Open title and take three weeks off in between Davis Cup and Indian Wells, where he is the defending champion.
There is a decent possibility that Hewitt will take a wild card in Scottsdale in two weeks time, but that's pretty dependent on whether Sampras plays there. If Sampras plays, Hewitt will likely skip it. If Sampras pulls out, his brother, tournament director Gus Sampras, will have enough money freed up to pay Hewitt's guarantee.
While it's somewhat obvious that there are a some players who are not purposely disrespecting Hewitt, there are some are doing so purposely. (wtf?! ) Hewitt's record over the past eight months matches up fine against Andre's. He won '02 Wimbledon and Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai, two of the most important tournaments past '02 Roland Garros. Andre has won one of the next two most important, the US Open and the Australian Open.
LLEYTON HAS THE 4-3 EDGE
Hewitt has a 4-3 lifetime record against Agassi, including Hewitt's two wins over Agassi in San Jose and Cincinnati last year, and Agassi's huge triumph over Hewitt in the US Open semifinals. Agassi has eight Slams overall, Hewitt two. While the 32-year-old Agassi gets the historical edge today over the 23-year-old (HE'S 22! You moron
)Hewitt, if you look the past two years and two months of play, you would have to give Hewitt the nod based on his more consistent record at the majors and because of his Davis Cup heroics.
Now the question is whether after two years at No. 1 whether Hewitt will have the same hunger he showed in 2001 and 2002. Agassi doesn't seem to care that much about getting to No. 1 again, but he does care about his level and if he's not beating Hewitt when he's playing, he won't be too pleased about his overall performance.
Despite the players' contention that he deserves the No. 1, Agassi said he doesn't think like he playing better than ever. "I don't know if it's possible for me to judge that," he said. "It's about getting better. The game better in some respects and you try to improve there. I would hope that I'm getting better, because that's my goal."
One man cares a heck of lot about what could tennis' greatest new rivalry: Cahill. He won't say a negative word against Hewitt, but their relationship ended on a sour note at the end of '01. He'd love to be the man who coached both a young horse and an old mare to the top, even if Agassi could care less.
"Andre plays tennis in his terms, which is playing his best and winning tournaments and let's the ranking take care of itself," Cahill said. "But he's had so many incredible achievements is his career that I haven't. So having Andre reach No. 1 might be more special to me than it is to him."
OMFG, all these shitty quotes from the players are freakin' me out!!
Lleyton is the BEST in the world, period!
He just needs to get it together.
I honestly do not understand why people think DH winning AO was an extraordinary effort. He had one of the lamest draws I've ever seen.
tennisreporters.net TOP 10 MEN: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24
10. Lleyton Hewitt:
Accepts a wild card into Scottsdale, which shows that he's dead serious about fending Agassi off for No. 1. (You got that right!