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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Preview: Roddick v Hewitt

Photo Titled Rod rocket
Rod rocket

If you were to sit down and try to devise a Wimbledon men’s quarter-final with gigantic all-round popular appeal, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better tie than the match between Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt.

It is not just that they are both former world number ones, although that helps, and each coincidentally has 27 career titles to his name. Their charismatic entertainment value was perhaps best personified by that image of them from Queen’s earlier this month, when their third round match was delayed by a security alert, and they spent 15 minutes laughing and chatting together on court at the net before they were given the all-clear to start warming up.

Hewitt may be sure of the noisier crowd support here – a knot of yellow-clad Australians have followed him throughout the fortnight – but in terms of which player will enjoy the greater crowd backing, it will be a close-run thing.

“Playing Lleyton, everything is a fight,” says Roddick. “He’s not going to give you anything. He doesn’t really have a lot of holes in his game. He’s pretty solid off both sides. He volleys well. You’re definitely not going to get on top of him mentally.”

But Roddick will not be thrown by the volume of support from the Australian fans for Hewitt. “No, that’s fine,” he says. “I’ve dealt with fans before. I have no problem with the crowd getting rowdy, as long as the respect level is there. I have no issue with it at all.”

Hewitt, of course, is loving the support from his fellow citizens. “They’ve been great,” he grins. “I draw a lot of emotion and energy from those guys out there. The rest of the crowd seem to be going for me as well. Especially when you’ve got to dig deep, to find a way out of it, you know they’re going to be there for the long haul.”

Head-to-head Hewitt leads their career encounters 6-5, but 26-year-old Roddick has had the edge the past four times, including their two matches on grass. Now ranked six, Roddick won his lone Grand Slam at the US Open in 2003, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final, who is a possible semi-final opponent for the American here. But he would need to lift the gold trophy on Sunday to secure a return to the top five, where he was last ranked in November 2007.

'Everyone knows Lleyton is certainly capable of playing very well on this surface'

Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion and the only Australian man to start the main draw, is in his first Grand Slam quarter-final since the US Open of 2006. The 28-year-old is unseeded here for the first time in 10 years. After a hip injury last year, he dropped out of the top 100 this February for the first time since 1999, but by making the last eight here he is back in the top 45.

He will surely take huge confidence from his heroic comeback in the fourth round against Radek Stepanek, when he recovered from two sets down. Interestingly, he has the highest tally of 0-2 comebacks of any active player.

“I have loads of respect for Lleyton and what he’s been able to accomplish,” says Roddick, who is enjoying his first Wimbledon under the tutelage of coach Larry Stefanki. “Everyone knows he’s certainly capable of playing very well on this surface. I don’t think anyone in the locker room at any point took Lleyton lightly, especially on grass. It certainly elevates him into one of the better players in this tournament.

“I’ve seen him play too much good tennis to have ever really let him drift too far from consciousness so far as the top guys go. He definitely got the best of me for a little while. I feel like we always had close matches. I just pulled a couple out. I was lucky to get through in Memphis this year and we had a real good match at Queen’s a couple of weeks ago.”

Hewitt agrees with him there. “Queen’s was only one or two points in the match,” muses the Australian, coached these days by Tony Roche, albeit for the Slams only. “You know you’re going to get aced out there. You know he’s going to come up with big shots. You’ve got to weather the storm and take those small chances when you get the opportunity.”

This quarter-final at least guarantees one thing – a popular winner at the end of it.

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