Hanley/Hewitt edge Australia ahead
The Australian Davis Cup team has two things to celebrate after the second day of its World Group play-off tie against Belgium. The hosts have taken a 2-1 advantage at the Cairns International Tennis Centre, after Lleyton Hewitt and Paul Hanley posted an easy 61 62 64 win over Olivier Rochus and Ruben Bemelmans. The win also gave Hewitt the kudos of becoming the most successful Davis Cup player in Australian history, by recording his 44th win in the competition.
It means Hewitt and Rochus will have all to play for in the battle of the No. 1s on Sunday. The last time the Aussies lost a tie when leading 2-1 going into the final day was all the way back in 1998, in a first round tie against Zimbabwe. That’s a 12-year record they would like to keep intact this weekend.
Hewitt and Hanley came into the doubles rubber with a 4-1 record together in Davis Cup, and Hanley certainly confirmed to captain John Fitzgerald that he’d made the right decision in selecting him for the team ahead of Chris Guccione. The 32-year-old was seamless throughout the match, unsurprising given his credentials – 23 doubles titles, a run to this month’s US Open quarterfinals and an undefeated record on hard court in Davis Cup.
“Experience is confidence,” explained Hanley. “When you’ve played big matches in front of big crowds that certainly helps.”
In contrast, it was a first-time partnership for the Belgians, and with Darcis still injured, a last-minute blend of Rochus’s long-term doubles expertise at both Davis Cup and Grand Slam level, and a young player who had never played doubles at tour-level before. The disconnection showed.
Australia raced through the first set 6-1, breaking both the Rochus and Bemelmans serve. The Belgians seemed a bit unsettled from the outset and when light drizzle hit the stadium 13 minutes into the match, their reluctance to play in the slippery conditions, and their opponents eagerness to keep going, was almost ominous.
Hewitt and Hanley needed even less time to secure the second set, breaking in the first and seventh games to close out the set 62 in just 24 minutes. Bemelmans appeared sluggish compared to his demeanour on Friday, his slow reactions at the net highlighting his lack of doubles experience.
A half an hour rain delay in the final set with the Belgians leading 2-1 applied a glimmer of hope for the visitors to regroup. The Aussies broke just once in the sixth game due to some frustrating errors from Bemelmans, and the pair couldn’t quite close out the match on their first match point at 5-4 40-30 after Rochus came up with a huge serve out wide. But it was Hewitt who served out victory, much to his partner’s surprise.
“He didn’t even know we’d won,” laughed Hewitt after the match.
It was a result captain Reginald Willems expected. “Yes they played a great doubles, great serve, great return. We knew it was difficult today. Even with Steve I don’t think we would have won it.”
Belgium has a big task tomorrow in needing to win both singles matches in order to win the tie. Hewitt may have won all three previous meetings against the diminutive Rochus but it’s their last that is the most significant – a five-setter in Davis Cup back in 2007, in the tie that bundled Australia out of the World Group.
“You’ve got to start again when you go head-to-head with someone,” says Fitzgerald. “We’ve a lot of respect for Oli, he’s a wonderful player.”