SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Roger Federer has scored his first-ever win over Lleyton Hewitt in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, beating the Aussie warrior 57 76(5) 62 63 to level the World Group play-off in Sydney at 1-all.
Eight long years since their last Davis Cup stoush at Rod Laver Arena, an epic five-setter Hewitt won from two sets and 5-2 down, the Swiss maestro got the Aussie back on his own turf, at the Royal Sydney Golf Club.
In the wake of Bernard Tomic’s upset of Swiss No.2 Stanislas Wawrinka, Hewitt threatened an Aussie sweep of the first day by jumping to a 75, 3-1 lead. The Swiss star lacked his usual dazzle but turned it on in the tiebreak, firing three aces and a backhand winner to reach set point.
Breaking for 1-0 in the third, Federer swept the set in 28 minutes, his unerring serve booming down a stream of aces - 22 for the match, to Hewitt’s three. The Aussie continued his unflagging fight in the fourth set, but Federer held Hewitt off on five breakpoints and broke serve for the match, ending the day’s play at Royal Sydney with a regal backhand pass after 2 hours 46 minutes.
‘Halfway through the second match I was thinking, ‘I want two-nil,’ admitted Aussie captain Pat Rafter. ‘But you expect Roger to lift, and he did. That’s why he’s been at the top so long.’
‘It was a big victory for me, after a rough last week,’ said Federer, alluding to his semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic in the US Open, after holding two match points. ‘Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career.’
Hewitt, Australia’s leading match winner in Davis Cup, is the only player to twice defeat Federer in Cup singles, and in brilliant Sydney sunshine looked a good thing to continue his streak to three. ‘Moving was difficult. I felt a bit tired early on - that’s what a grass court does to you,’ admitted Federer, who only had two days’ preparation after a long-haul flight from New York.
‘In the beginning I all of a sudden realised that this is much more difficult than I expected. I was a bit afraid of hitting my shots,’ Federer noted of adjusting to the soft, ‘old-school grass court.’
Absent at Switzerland’s 5-0 loss in Kazakhstan a year ago, Federer is back in the familiar position of having the tie on his racquet. Win all his three rubbers and Switzerland returns to the World Group - with the bonus of beating Australia for the first time. Switzerland lost to Spain in the 2010 World Group, while Australia’s last appearance in the top tier was a loss to Belgium in 2007.
The way Federer finished in ominous touch ratchets up the degree of difficulty for Bernard Tomic, who takes on the all-time great in a live fourth rubber on Sunday.
Tomic earlier extended his Davis Cup winning record to 4-0 with a 46 64 63 63 defeat of Wawrinka in the first rubber. The 18-year-old landed 83 percent of his first serves and again showed his ability to confound higher-ranked opponents.
‘His game is perfect for grass courts,’ Wawrinka noted of the lanky Aussie, youngest Wimbledon quarterfinalist since Boris Becker in 1986. ‘A lot of first serves in, he’s mixing a lot, flat forehand, comes to the net, some dropshots. He’s going to be a great player. He have a special game. I knew he can play at that level.’
The youngster admitted to first-set nerves, not least at the sight of Federer watching courtside. ‘I was a bit nervous - having Federer watch you, it’s a bit difficult to have your idol watching.’
How about playing you? Tomic sounded every bit the big kid he is when he looked ahead to his first meeting with the Swiss master: ‘I just pray that he doesn’t like my game. If he likes it, I’m screwed.’
But first, the all-important doubles gets underway Saturday at 12.30 pm, with Federer and Wawrinka facing off against Hewitt and big-serving lefty Chris Guccione.
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Roger Federer (SUI) - 16/09/2011
Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 16/09/2011
Captain Severin Luthi (SUI) - 16/09/2011
Captain Patrick Rafter (AUS) - 16/09/2011
Bernard Tomic (AUS) - 16/09/2011
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 16/09/2011