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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Match analysis: Hewitt v Del Potro

Photo Titled Hewitt serve strategy
Hewitt serve strategy

Two giants of the game squared off against each other today on Centre Court. Argentina’s finest, rising star Juan Martin Del Potro, number five in the world, was up against experienced Aussie fighter Lleyton Hewitt, in what could easily be mistaken for a semi-final match, such is the quality of these two players.

In today’s tough contest, experience overcame youth, with Hewitt’s mental strength being greater than his opponent’s as he rekindled the glory days of 2002 to win 6-3, 7-5, 7-5.

In 2000, Hewitt became the first teenager to win four titles in a season and qualified for the season-ending Masters Cup. In 2008, Del Potro electrified the tour, becoming the first player to win four straight titles and a trip to Beijing for the Masters Cup.

Although Lleyton Hewitt is currently ranked 56 in the world, his performances this year at Queen’s and in the previous round at Wimbledon suggests he is a real threat to the top seeds.

Del Potro has yet to develop a grass court game like Hewitt, playing more than 100 fewer games than his seasoned opponent, but he has had a taste of the big time at Wimbledon in 2007, where, as a lanky teenager, he lost to Roger Federer.

Hewitt has 90 grass court victories and a cabinet full of trophies. Six have come on grass - one Wimbledon title, four at Queen’s, one at s-Hertogenbosch.

In the opening exchanges of the match, Del Potro found the first break point chances relatively easy to achieve, using his reach to flick the ball back in play, occasionally for a clean winner off the return, or otherwise use his monster forehand to take control of the rallies. But he could not capitalise as Hewitt denied the Argentine the early break.

However, Hewitt knows his opponent’s strengths and was able to force Del Potro back behind the baseline and into the backhand court with his legendary backhand cross-court returns.

Hewitt survived the early break point chances, kept his unforced errors to a minimum, and pounced first, breaking the 6ft 6in Argentine using his finely tuned tactical brain to race ahead 6-3 after 49 minutes.

When two great players face each other on grass, the first set is all about patience. Great players tend to serve solidly and wait for the other player to lose concentration in that one game where any errors will be punished.

Hewitt was rewarded for playing a wise first set, only gifting his opponent three unforced errors and predominantly hitting to Del Potro’s backhand, although he mixed things up on the serve to keep Del Potro from establishing a rhythm. He tamed the world number five by getting inside the baseline where he was able to hit 43 winners by the end of the match.

Hewitt knew he had to raise his game to thwart the Argentine’s advances

Del Potro’s ace count began to increase as he analysed his game and realised one per set was not going to win the match. He looked to be becoming more competitive, but Hewitt also knew he had to raise his game to thwart the Argentine’s advances and amazingly won every point on his first serve throughout the second set.

He seized the one break of the set, in the 10th game, as a lapse in concentration by Del Potro gifted Hewitt four unforced errors and then led to him serving out the set 7-5.

Del Potro would be two sets up against most of the draw with his performance today but could not sustain the intense high levels of play achieved by the two of them. Hewitt, on the other hand, sensed the moment to crush his 20-year-old opponent, and had the experience, drive and confidence to edge ahead early in the third while Del Potro was still deflated from losing the first two sets.

Astonishingly, five break points went to the Australian in the first Del Potro service game and he had the third round in his sights. Lleyton just had to keep going, the match was now his to lose.

Del Potro briefly levelled the set, breaking Hewitt for the first time after two and a half hours of trying, only to let Hewitt regain his break advantage to go 6-5 ahead. Del Potro was making nervous, unforced errors, particularly on the backhand side. Hewitt’s coach, Tony Roche, would have highlighted that area as the key to winning against Del Potro on grass.

The match was won by Hewitt keeping his unforced errors down (14 to 24) and winning 52% of his second serves while Del Potro only managed 48%, the 4% margin between them accounts for the four crucial break points Hewitt achieved.

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