FYI, Lleyton Hewitt will be attending San Jose this year. Nyah!
Hewitt vs. Roddick Has The Makings Of A Classic Rivalry
January 3, 2006
by Matthew Cronin
Heated rivalries in the deep world of men’s tennis are hard to come by, but the 2006 SAP Open’s two highest ranked players – former champions Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt – are developing a fierce one.
"The last three or four times we've played, we've both been at the top of the game and we've had some extremely tight matches,” said Hewitt. "He's a tough player to play any time."
Hewitt owns a 6-2 lifetime edge over Roddick but almost all of their matches have been tight, well played affairs, including their first primetime match up in New York, a 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory for the Australian at the 2001 US Open.
Since then, the two have gone neck and neck with Roddick attempting to impose his big serve, big forehand game against Hewitt’s precise counterpunching. Both blondes are intense, animated players and in a normal Hewitt-Roddick match up, two-dozen fist pumps aren’t unusual.
In 2005, they played three terrific semifinals, with Hewitt snaring a 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 decision from Roddick in the Australian Open, and a 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 victory at the Pacific Life Open. Roddick then took a 6-4, 7-6 decision at TMS Cincinnati. Amazingly, six of the eight sets they played went to tiebreakers.
"We've had a lot of close matches and I haven't come out on the better end of them, which is, a little rare for me,” Roddick said. "But I want to get another crack at these guys. The only way that I'm gonna beat them is by playing them and putting myself in position enough times. It's the same thing with Roger [Federer]. They asked after Wimbledon, 'Would you want to play him again?' I said, 'I'll play him until I'm 1-31 against him.' I still want the opportunity. I want to go in there."
Roddick ended 2005 ranked No. 3 and Hewitt was right behind him at No. 4. Their contests certainly have been nail biters - but headed into the SAP Open, it’s clear that Hewitt has been a bit more mentally tougher, something Roddick would like to change.
"Lleyton's tough," Roddick said. "He's up there. I think once you get to that level of mental toughness, it's tough to decipher [who’s the mentally toughest]. But, he's definitely up there, no question."
Two-time Grand Slam champion Hewitt has made a living out of gutting out matches. In the past five years, only one man has eclipsed him physically, technically and mentally and that’s Federer, who has lapped the field. The 23-year-old Roddick has consistently pushed the 24-year-old Hewitt, but as the American has improved, so has the Aussie, who knows that he has to bring something new to the table every year if he’s going to stay in the top five.
Last year, Hewitt improved his forehand, which made it even tougher on Roddick to find a hole.
"He hits it great selectively," Roddick said. "The thing is, he's learned how to hit it in all corners, whereas before he definitely had his tendency in the one that he went to a lot. The same with the serve. He's mixing it up a lot more, keeping people off balance. I feel like a lot of people kind of caught up to him and maybe passed him. Now he's closed the gap and figured out new ways to win."
Hewitt knows that when he faces Roddick he has to do what he does best – return serve. With the world’s fastest first serve and a huge kick second serve, Roddick is nearly unbreakable, so the Aussie has to be patient and hope his foe has a down service game.
"Andy has one of the biggest - if not the biggest out there," Hewitt said. "But you go out there with the mindset that he's going to hit a lot of aces, he's going to hit a lot of unreturnable serves, and you got to really focus on your game and take your opportunities when they come because against guys like that you're not going to get as many opportunities as maybe playing some other top stars or players out there. So you really got to take your chances."
For Roddick, the main challenge is beating Hewitt is not to try to overly aggressive, but also not to get into two many backhand crosscourt rallies where Hewitt simply tires him out. Controlled aggression against Hewitt is key and Roddick is still attempting to figure out what his proper patterns are.
"He makes you think about how to construct points, how to win points, and he makes you win points," Roddick said. "I don't know if I've ever seen anybody wear Lleyton down physically, especially in a two out of three set match. But I think force of a shot, I have to use that against him because that's one advantage I do have over him. If you're talking about a long grind of a match, I don't see that affecting him. He'll stay out there for days. But if you're talking about weight of shot, height of shot, I definitely have to try to bully him a little bit."
Part of Roddick’s attempts to bully Hewitt involve more net approaches – not usually off his serve, but coming off short balls. Hewitt passes beautifully but he can be handcuffed with the right approach shots. When Roddick bested Hewitt in Cincinnati, he climbed all over the cords at key moments.
Should the two face each other in the 2006 SAP Open final, Roddick will again have to intelligently press the action, or he may end up looking up at a 2-7 record against his gritty foe.
"There's guys who are consistent, but then there's guys who are consistent when running across the court as fast as they can, tracking down a ball that you've hit as hard as you can, putting it back in play in an effective position," Roddick said. "As far as people rallying cross-court, there are a lot of guys who can do it all day, but they're not as quick as Lleyton and they don't play defense like he does."
"I told you to stop making me giggle when our picture's being taken."