June 13, 2010

Switzerland 1, Australia 2

If we were talking World Cup that score might make sense -- though now that the Germans are leading Australia 4-0, maybe not. But while the rest of the globe is focused on a different kind of grass field, the two countries' best were also taking a shot at each other on the tennis courts, and the result was not what you'd expect.

Roger Federer has been a staple in Halle for most of the past decade, having won the trophy five times, and even signed a lifetime agreement to play every year until he retires. As the top seed, he progressed without challenge all week, surviving a few tiebreaks but never dropping a set on the surface on which he's won eleven titles.

In the finals he faced Lleyton Hewitt, another former #1 who is pretty comfortable on the lawn himself. The 2002 Wimbledon champ was playing in his first Gerry Weber Open after years of participating -- and winning -- at Queen's Club. As the eighth seed in Germany he also had a fairly easy run, as his opponents often took care of the other top contenders for him. In fact Roger and Lleyton were the only seeds to make the third round, so neither faced a big hitter until that championship round.

As two men who've been around for more than a decade each, Federer and Hewitt have played each other a lot, and often when the stakes were high. Before today, they'd played in three finals and eight semis. Twice they'd played in Davis Cup, three times at the year-end championships, and eight times each at Masters events and Grand Slams. And of those twenty-four total match-ups, Roger has won seventeen times -- in fact, the last fifteen straight. It looked like the streak would continue, but Hewitt was primed to turn the tables.

Federer got himself off to a quick start, breaking the Australian in the middle of the first set and running off to a 0-40 lead in the ninth game of the second. But Hewitt held strong and rallied to take the game and force a tiebreak, which he won. He broke Roger to kick off the decider and picked up his second serve percentage while his opponent began committing more errors. Federer had a chance to break again and draw even, but a strong forehand from Hewitt kept him ahead. Finally, after a little less than two-and-a-half hours, Lleyton had won his twenty-eighth title, his seventh on grass, and his first since Houston last year.

With only a week left before the start of the Championships, Hewitt certainly scored the win at an opportune time. Having spent the balance of the last two years recovering from hip surgery and various other injuries, he hasn't really been a force at the Slams in some time and only reached the quarterfinals once in the past four years. If he brings his momentum -- and the knowledge that he can still beat top players -- he might stand a chance at Wimbledon this year. This is, after all, one of his best surfaces, and today's victory will surely give his opponents in London a bit to worry about.

Sure, it's probably too soon to claim Hewitt is a favorite to win the big trophy in a few weeks, but the odds are certainly more in his favor now. After all, if you can beat Federer, who can't you beat...?

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