SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: The Aussies have surged ahead 2-1 in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off against Switzerland, with Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione stunning Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, 26 64 62 76(5) in unseasonal heat at Royal Sydney Golf Club.
Outclassed in the first set by the Beijing gold medallists, the Aussies rode a wave of momentum as irresistible as the breakers on nearby Bondi Beach. A crazy sea-change began in the middle of the second set with two lob winners from Guccione and Hewitt, which landed a break of the Wawrinka serve for 3-2. From 15-30 down in that fifth game, the Aussies swept seven of eight points and the tide had turned.
The Swiss were using the I formation, Federer poised to take over the middle of the net, forcing the Aussies to go down the wings on their returns. The Australians responded by staying back on their opponents’ first serves, forcing the Swiss to play more volleys rather than risk rapid-fire duels.
Hewitt withstood two breakpoints on his serve at 4-3 - one a volley gaffe by Federer that brought a wry smile from the maestro - and Guccione thumped down his biggest serve in the match, a 217km bomb, for the set: 64. Up and animated now, the Aussies broke Federer in the first game of the third, charged to 4-0, and Guccione boomed down an ace for the set: 62.
Swiss resistance stiffened in the fourth set, but the Aussies were playing virtually error-free doubles - a heroic Hewitt in his element. The Swiss led 4-2 in the breaker but the Aussies landed all their first serves and finally, a Hewitt backhand return on match point drew a long Wawrinka volley.
“That’s the stuff!” Hewitt shouted to his giant mate in the post-match uproar. Guccione, lowliest ranked on the court at 225, is now 4-0 in Davis Cup doubles. Hewitt, one of the titans of Davis Cup singles, is now 10-3 in doubles. All-time doubles great Todd Woodbridge called it: “One of the best doubles performances in Australia’s Davis Cup history.”
Federer lamented the ‘horrendous call’ at 2-all, 30-all that brought up breakpoint on Wawrinka’s serve. “A huge turning point in the match,” Roger rued. “It’s unfortunate some of this was necessary to give the Aussies momentum.” But he complimented the Guccione serve – “virtually impossible to return” and paid tribute to Hewitt’s lion-hearted play: “At times I thought we were playing Pat Rafter at the net.”
With the traditional swing match under their belts, the Aussies now have serious momentum heading into the reverse singles, especially given the strong hints post-match that Wawrinka may not get up for a fifth rubber. The world No. 19 has played with a leg inflammation carried since the US Open, while a downcast Federer revealed, “I‘m completely beat-up too.”
Any chink in the Federer armour was more likely to be exposed in doubles, and so it proved again. The Swiss superstar’s last loss in Davis Cup was to Czech pair Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek four years ago; his last loss in singles eight years ago against the Aussies at Melbourne Park. Now 29-6 in Cup singles, Roger is a more beatable 11-6 in doubles. In the six ties that Federer has won two of three rubbers, the Swiss have prevailed just once.
The 2-1 lead has Bernard Tomic jumping out of his skin at the prospect of a first-ever meeting with Federer to clinch the tie. “I think our biggest thing we’ve got to do, myself and Rochey (coach Tony Roche) is calm him down to not lose too much nervous energy (before the match),” revealed Aussie captain Pat Rafter.
At 18 the youngest man in the Top 100, by the end of tomorrow Tomic will have faced the big three in his breakout 2011 season: Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon and now the great Federer in Davis Cup. How the youngster’s intricate game fares against the brilliance of Federer is a drool-worthy match-up.
But today Hewitt played the hero again; though 30 years old and injury-ravaged, still the mental ballast of the team. He may yet have his wish for a live fifth rubber - since expecting Tomic to trump Federer is a bridge too far even for fanatical Aussies. “If I have to play a live fifth rubber, I’ll be ready,” Hewitt vowed. “Bring it on.”
Spirits are decidedly lower in the Swiss camp. “Chances to win now are extremely slim,” a dark Federer noted. “Gonna be tough day tomorrow. We’ll believe, but it’s tough.”
Should Federer level the tie and Wawrinka be outed by injury, the Swiss will have to send in cold for the decisive fifth match either Marco Chiudinelli, ranked 217, or Stephane Bohli, No.196.
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Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione (AUS) - 17/09/2011
Captain Pat Rafter (AUS) - 17/09/2011
Roger Federer (SUI) - 17/09/2011