Hewitt shows you can't keep a champion down LINDA PEARCE
June 15, 2010
Lleyton Hewitt holds the trophy after his win in Halle. Photo: Getty Images
FIVE months after leaving Melbourne Park on crutches, Lleyton Hewitt will return to the scene of his 2002 grand slam triumph buoyed by a rare defeat of Roger Federer at the Wimbledon warm-up event in Halle, Germany. To steal a line from the late Vitas Gerulaitis after his long losing sequence against Jimmy Connors finally ended in 1979, nobody beats Lleyton Hewitt 16 times in a row.
Indeed, the interruption to a streak that had stretched back to the 2003 Davis Cup semi-final is as ideally timed for Hewitt as it must be troubling for Federer, despite predictable post-match denials. The Swiss has not won a tournament from two finals since claiming his 16th major at the Australian Open in January, and was deposed last week as world No. 1 by Rafael Nadal.
He also led Hewitt by a set and had the Australian down 0-40 on serve at 4-4 in the second set, only for Hewitt to rally for a 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory sealed by a dead forehand netcord.
Hewitt's first title win since Houston last year and first on grass since Queen's in 2006 also brought a six-place rise in the ATP rankings to No. 26 in time for the Wimbledon seedings.
''It's fantastic for me,'' said Hewitt, 29, after his 28th career title, fourth-best among active players. ''I'm getting towards the end of my career now and I've just had a couple of surgeries after the Australian Open, and mentally to come back and know that I can compete at this level still … It's always tough doing the rehab and it seems a long way away, but I'm thrilled to be here and to have won another title.''
Having decided to switch his usual Wimbledon preparation from the Queen's Club, where he is a four-time champion, to Germany, Hewitt will return to London to practise this week at the All England club, ''and keep the eye in, just freshen up mentally and physically and get ready obviously for five-set tennis''.
The former No. 1 admitted that after his second hip operation and subsequent knee arthroscopy earlier this year, he could not have imagined that by June he would find himself upstaging his long-time tormentor on grass. ''At that point probably not. So obviously me and my team have done a lot of work,'' said Hewitt, acknowledging his coach Nathan Healy and physiotherapist Ivan Guttierez.
''I don't cut any corners. It would have been easy just to turn up and not have the surgery and say it's too hard to get back and retire there. But I still feel like I'm a good enough player to compete with these guys. It was a matter of getting my body in as good as shape as possible.''
So is Hewitt back, Federer was asked? ''For me he was not really gone, except obviously if he's under the knife with surgery, then you can say, 'yes he's not around','' said the six-time Wimbledon champion of a rival who is now 7-0 in career finals on grass and has won more matches (98) on the surface than any other active player.
''People write off former world No. 1s and former grand slam champions too quickly. You can see why this guy has been at the top for over a year and has won most of the grand slam titles and Masters Cups. These guys are tough. They know how to win, they know how to play well not just for one match but for entire tournaments. And he proved it this week, even though he was close to defeat in the semis. That's what makes him a great champion.''
And, indeed, one able to storm the continental fortress that, for Federer, Halle had become. Federer's last loss was in 2002, before the first of his five titles. Before Sunday's final, the 28-year-old had won 76 of his past 77 matches on grass, the sole blemish his memorable five-set loss to Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final.
Hewitt said he took most heart from the fact the encouraging result had come in a final, where the greatest players are usually the hardest to beat, and a grasscourt final at that. Federer said that in the pair's 25th career meeting, each obviously knew the other player's game ''by heart'', but blamed bad luck - Hewitt benefited from one very handy netcord when down break point in the ninth game of the second set - as well as a substandard serve and forehand at key moments.
''I'm happy with the way I'm playing,'' insisted Federer, despite entering Wimbledon after his leanest start to a year, in title terms, for almost a decade. ''It's unfortunate not coming through today, but I think my level of play is fine. This loss here doesn't worry me in any way. So, I'm excited about next week.''
Australians in the main draw at Wimbledon
MENLleyton Hewitt (ranked 26th)
Peter Luczak (88)
WOMENSamantha Stosur (7)
Anastasia Rodionova (76)
Jarmila Groth (90)
Alicia Molik (96)
■ Wimbledon starts next Monday. Eleven Australians, including Jelena Dokic, Sophie Ferguson, Carsten Ball and Bernard Tomic, will contest this week's qualifying event at Roehampton