Hewitt Takes Charge as Murray Rolls
June 25, 2009 -- It's a fact... time travel is not possible. But today on Centre Court, Lleyton Hewitt made tennis history vanish as he upended the #5 seed Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets 64 75 75 in a stunning exhibition of all-court tennis.
The 2002 Wimbledon champion executed his strategy with perfection. He ran the tall Argentine from sideline to sideline, came to the net when he had the opportunities, lobbed with precision, and sliced balls that were so low for his opponent they forced error after error off his racquet. Basically, Mr. Hewitt left Mr. Del Potro helpless on the baseline as he sprayed forehands and backhands wide.
Hewitt's footwork was as brilliant as ever. He hovered along the baseline with a familiar intensity. The former number-one player in the world served with alacrity and precision, winning 83% of his first service points. He served 14 aces, to Del Potro's 10; and, his winners to unforced errors ratio was an astonishing 43 to 14. Pretty darn clean for a man who has had hip surgery, is raising two small children, and perhaps thought that his golden years were behind him.
"Yeah, I executed perfectly. Hit the ball great," Hewitt said. "Served unbelievable for most of the match. Yeah, took it to him right from the start. So, you know, I was pretty happy with the way I played."
This was the first time these two players had met in a match, although they had practiced in the past. Hewitt came out confident and feeling great. Whereas Del Potro looked out of place and disconcerted.
"I had a lot of fun being out there," he continued. "I guess, you know, kind of the underdog out there a little bit, as well. But, I'm not surprised I won. I just played a really smart match."
Mr. Hewitt took full advantage of his one break chance in the first set, winning the set because of that break of serve. For the match he was 4 of 9 on break opportunities, while Mr. Del Potro was 1 for 8. And that one break came when Hewitt served for the match the first time. Even then, the Aussie reversed what could have been a turning of the tables and broke back in the next game. Del Potro had nothing to answer Hewitt's charge.
"Yes, he play very good," Del Potro said. "We play a high-level match. I play good, too, but was not enough to beat him. He has many matches here in grass court. He was a champion here. So I need time to learn how can I play on this surface, and that's it."
The audience on Centre Court stood behind Hewitt throughout the match. Several clusters of Aussie fans, complete with yellow Afros and face paint, cheered repeatedly, lending a Davis Cup air to the competition. What else rose to the surface was Hewitt's battle cry "Come on," accompanied by a strong diagonally pumping motion with his left arm. He had kept that yelp under wraps lately, many thinking that with age comes wisdom and maturity. Why scream when experience speaks for itself? Well, forget that. He held nothing back. His throat was primed.
"You don't want to go out there and have excuses," Hewitt said. "Yeah, I wanted to lay it out on the line, playing one of the best guys in the world, and see how you go. I felt like I was able to do that. I compete as well as I've ever competed."
The question now is can he continue his intensity and move into week two.
American qualifier Jesse Levin advanced to the third round of Wimbledon, for the first time in his career. It's also the farthest he's been in any Grand Slam. And, he had never won a five-set match in a tournament until today.
"It was actually last year here that I lost in the fifth set to [Jurgen] Melzer, so obviously that went through my mind, that it's not going to be like last year," Levine said, who came from two sets down to win the match.
He attributed his improved fitness to his ability today to stay competitive in the fifth set. Mr. Levine will play #19 Stanislaus Wawrinka next, where he will again take on the role of underdog.
"He's a very talented player," Levin began. "Once again I'm the underdog, I've go nothing to lose, so I'll go out there swinging away."
Ernest Gulbis was the underdog today on his first trip to Centre Court as he faced the national hero of the championships -- Andy Murray. Nerves and shaky hands were the raison d'etre for a quick first set where Murray looked like a coach and Gulbis played like an amateur. The second and third sets were a bit more competitive, but Ernest Gulbis showed none of the bounce and skill he had shown the tennis world over the last couple of years.
Last year at this event, he was the only player to take a set off Rafael Nadal as he made his way to the title. But today against the Scot, Gulbis had nothing. He served big and has one of the most efficient and beautiful serves on tour. However, his ground game was amateurish and his shot selection questionable. For a player ranked #74 in the world, his volleys lacked oomph and his drop shots should be stored in a deep freeze for a while.
With a massive serve, should come massive overheads. But he didn't hit them with conviction and Murray ran them down, like almost everything Gulbis fed him.
Although Mr. Murray won the match convincingly in 88 minutes 62 75 63, he probably won't win this major playing the way he did today. Murray is a defensive player, and today he defended well. He did what was necessary to win. But bunting back serves and groundstrokes won't get the job done if he's across the net from, let's say, Roger Federer.
Yes, Murray has a winning record on the Swiss maestro. However, grass rewards aggressive play, not stiff-armed tactics like we saw today. But by the time the round of sixteen starts on Monday, the baseline will be chewed up to the point that bad bounces may account for more unforced errors than keen strategy and service aces.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 24, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Young and Old Compete at Wimbledon
June 23, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Sunny Wimbledon
June 22, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Wimbledon... The Perfect Grand Slam