Monday, June 29, 2015

Wimbledon Day 1: Hewitt's Greatest Hits

Hi all. Galileo here.

Goodbye Lleyton. And thank you.

QUESTION: Who did Lleyton beat in his slam debut?

*Suicide Picks*
We all know how this works. Pick a player to win each round but you cannot pick them again. And these are the picks I picked last week when the draw was announced.

MS 1st Rd: Dolgopolov d. Edmund
WS 1st Rd: Wickmayer d. Kulichkova

World number one at just 21 and winning everything, Hewitt was the favourite for Wimbledon. There was no real evidence he could even play on grass. Well, that's not true. He had won three Queens titles and all back to back. He'd defeated Henman and Sampras in the final of two of them. One of those was in 2002. He had also won the title at the Ordina Open played on grass courts. But he hadn't put together a Wimbledon run yet.
With all of the top 16 seeds not even making the fourth round except Hewitt and Henman, the draw was always going to throw up irregularities. And so it was that Nalbandian, seeded 28, defeated Malisse, seeded 27, in the semi-finals. Nalbandian was talented. He had already won a title that year and had game. But from the off he was never in contention. In the first Wimbledon final in an age to feature no serve-volleying, Hewitt dominated from the off and won 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. It would spawn a bitter rivalry. Much like Wawrinka now, the second slam showed that he was the real deal. The similarities with the Swiss end there, of course. But Hewitt had risen and he had dismissed Nalbandian. Of course, all the quarterfinalists are now retired. All but a handful of the draw now are retired. Well, except Hewitt. And again only one person from then is still relevant. Federer was seeded 7th. And the fact that every player just about at a slam that happened 13 years ago is now retired is a little sad.

Here is the man himself 16 years ago with a ponytail and everything. He always did have exciting hair. That must be where Roger gets it. And as he got older he got more mature and more like an elder statesman, though he still maintained his gritty edge. In that respect he was like Roddick.

Federer looked a little like Philippoussis. The Poo is returning and has taken a wildcard into the qualifying of Newport where he won his final title in 2006. At the 1999 Wimbledon edition he made the quarterfinals seeded seventh and led Sampras by a set before retiring.

At the 1999 Wimbledon edition Federer made his debut while it was the Wimbledon farewell of two great German champions. Hewitt beat Filippini and then Alami. But then he lost in straight sets to Boris Becker. Becker would only play one more match at Wimbledon. Sampras would win it, defeating Agassi in the final. Hewitt was in Rafter's section, with Enqvist and Bjorkman. Hewitt rose 4 places to 31 with the run to the third but it wouldn't be until the 2000 French Open he would be seeded at a slam.

Even if briefly, we must talk about 2003. In 1967, Santana was the defending champion. A combination of two of his opponents retiring, big seeds crashing out and sneaking through five set matches had given him the 1966 trophy. In 1967 he lost in the first round and was the top seed. Only once more would it happen. In 2003, with Hewitt. Karlovic beat him 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 He had played only ten matches on the tour before that and it was his slam debut. He had been ranked 203 in the world at the time but he invoked the spirit of Charlie Pasarell. He was involved in the longest Wimbledon match by games until that record was snapped. Well, utterly decimated in a match that still causes me to wince. Hewitt looked set to cruise but his insistence on continuing to try and lob proved foolish. And really a world number one should know different. And be able to try different things. Possibly because of that early Hewitt exit, Federer would drop just the one set on his way to the title. The fourth seeded Swiss lost that one set to a Mardy Fish. It was a different world back then.

Hewitt went 4-3 in finals, but went 0-5 against Federer. He never really solved the Federer puzzle. Interestingly he lost to the winner of the slam in every slam. He lost to Federer in the fourth round of Australia, in the quarters of Wimbledon and in the final of the US. Gaudio bested him in Paris. Hewitt may have had a slightly disappointing Australian Open campaign and a surprise loss at the French but he had gone two for two in finals that year. He was still firmly in the top ten. But at Wimbledon he had to make up for a surprising first round loss from the year before. And that Wimbledon would prove to be a bridging of the eras for Hewitt. He beat Melzer, Ivanisevic and Moya on the way to the quarters. He beat the future, the past and the present. Hewitt did beat Fed 7-1 in the breaker of their quarterfinals but if you take that set out, Federer really dominated. He won 6-1, 6-7[1], 6-0, 6-4. Just imagine what the ATP would be like if Federer had decided to play football instead.

Federer really haunted Lleyton's footsteps. It just seemed that wherever and whenever Lleyton seemed to be making a good run or building some momentum, Federer would just stop him. Here's why in a nutshell Federer could beat Hewitt: he had variety and so many weapons and different game styles. He had a lot of ways of hurting you and he was hard to grind down, especially on hard courts. Only one man has ever been able to grind Federer down and that really is as much mental as everything else.

Hewitt had to do an endless amount of these types of rallies:

Nevertheless, he was seeded fourth and had won a title that year. He had been to three finals, too. Federer was still a problem and Safin was, well, Safin. But Lleyton had struggled at Queens. Karlovic knocked him out in straights in the quarters. As the third seed at the slam, Hewitt cruised to the fourth round before facing 24th seed Dent. He beat the big server in four and then edged past Lopez in three very tight sets. The top three seeds were Federer, Hewitt and Roddick. That was ten years ago. Seems somehow so long ago. The top sixteen seeds all crashed out apart from those three and one or two others. In those golden days all the slams threw up upsets galore. Hewitt has made 64 slam appearances, exactly one less than Federer. He's third all time, behind Santoro on 70 and Federer on 65. He is also fourth all time on the grass court titles list. He is joint with McEnroe on eight. Federer [15], Sampras[10] and Connors [9] round out the top three. He's had quite the career. Rusty and the numbers don't even tell it all. But do they ever?

That was a brief and slightly fractured look at Hewitt and his best Wimbledons. His last tournament will be in Melbourne in 2016. 19 years after his debut at Melbourne in 1997.

ANSWER: He played Bruguera. He lost in three straight sets, but he did come through qualifying.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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