With all that happened in the Hamburg final on Sunday, one man’s performance has been stuck under the radar a little.
Lleyton Hewitt put up a respectable and surprising run to the semi-finals of the German Masters Series event, straight-setting clay court specialists Juan Ignacio Chela, Agustin Calleri and Nicolas Almagro. The former No.1 also outlasted Nikolay Davydenko in the third round, before eventually falling in a three set thriller to Rafael Nadal.
Hewitt hadn’t reached a Masters Series semi-final since Cincinnati 2005. It has been even longer since he made the last four at a clay court event, which was also at Hamburg, three years ago.
I was surprised with how well Hewitt was playing, especially on clay, his weakest surface. He was solid from the back, but played aggressively with his forehand when he got the chance. What impressed me most though, was the way the current No.16 was serving throughout the tournament. If only his delivery didn’t let him down after winning the opening set against Nadal in the semi-final, the Spaniard’s winning streak could have easily ended a day sooner.
Hewitt showed that when he is on, he can still be a major force in the sport. However, the keyword for Lleyton is fitness. Over the past two to three years, Hewitt has hardly managed to stay fit for a longer period of time. I believe this is partly because of everything that happened in his personal life. Splitting from Kim Clijsters, marrying Bec Cartwright and becoming a father have surely taken away from his tennis. The several injuries he’s had could have come forward out of the fact that Hewitt wasn’t a hundred percent focused on his performance on court anymore. How many times didn’t we hear he had lost the fire in his eyes?
I can tell you one thing, the fire was burning brightly over in Germany the past week. Hewitt was very eager to perform and his antics appeared to be just that little bit stronger than they were in recent years. Now that he has settled down with his wife and daughter, it seems that the Aussie fighter has his mind set to making a return to the upper echelon of the game.
If Hewitt really has left his niggling injuries behind him – the latest being a back injury he endured at Indian Wells which kept him out until Rome – I believe he has the ability to get back to the Top 5. In 2006, with hardly any decent preparation for neither Roland Garros nor the US Open, Hewitt reached the fourth round in Paris and even made the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows.
Sure, Federer and Nadal will be out of reach, but if he stays in shape, Hewitt is at least on the same level as Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez, currently ranked 4 and 5, and I like his chances against No.3 Andy Roddick, whom he leads 6-3 head-to-head.
Other than his fourth round at Roland Garros, Hewitt has a lot of points to defend over the grass season with a win in Queens and a quarterfinal at Wimbledon, so it will be hard for him to move up the rankings over the next weeks. However, discounting his quarterfinal showing at the US Open, there’s a lot to gain for the rest of the season. Hewitt did not compete in three out of the four Masters Series events after Wimbledon last year, while he retired in the second round in Toronto.
Lleyton Hewitt won his first ATP title in 1998 when he was just 16 years old. It’s hard to see the ’01 US Open and ’02 Wimbledon champ win another Grand Slam, but the man is still only 26 years of age and should have at least 3 good years left on tour. I wonder how Tony Roche feels about him.
For more on Abe Kuijl, check out his blog at http://abetennis.blogspot.com .
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