Hewitt underrated in 2012, but can he topple Djokovic tonight?
The 31 year old fighter from Adelaide goes into tonight’s third round encounter at the Olympic Games against world number two Novak Djokovic with nothing to prove and even less in the expectations department.
He may not have played anywhere near the number of matches the top fifty in the world have this year, but Hewitt has put on a good show when he’s been on court.
His tough two set victory over Marin Cilic last night was a typical Hewitt performance, hitting less winners than his opponent, but keeping more serves and shots in the court to see him through.
It’s hard to believe that he started his Grand Slam career in 1997, but even fifteen years down the track he still retains that keen eye and sense of composure that saw him become a two-time Slam champion.
I respect Lleyton Hewitt very much as both a person and a tennis player. The bloke has had his fair share of injuries in his time, which continually acts as bait for the media to pressure him into retirement.
But he keeps on keeping on and has improved both his image and his personality into the back end of his career, especially in comparison to his time as world number one. His game and fitness might not be near the same level, but he is still playing sublime tennis at times.
Results this year have been better than the record books suggest. All first round exits have been to highly ranked players (Troicki at Sydney, Tsonga at Wimbledon), players on favourable surfaces (Karlovic at Queens) and included a tough loss on his least favourite surface (Kavcic at Roland Garros).
Perhaps only in his loss to Karlovic did he ever look completely out of a contest this year. His four set battle with Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open should go down as one of his best performances in a losing match. Not to mention his straight sets loss to Tsonga being one of the least one-sided three set wins I’ve seen in a Grand Slam.
After missing last year’s French and US Open’s due to a foot injury, and missing large chunks of 2010′s calendar to rib surgery and and a wrist injury, Hewitt looks like he’s found a little performance boost.
He’s playing more consistent, inspired tennis and looking about as fit since he upset Roger Federer in the Halle final two years ago. It’s fantastic to see.
In his first final since that day in Germany, Hewitt lost to world number 11 John Isner last month on the Newport Grass in anything but a poor showing from the Australian.
Despite having only played six tournaments this year prior to the Olympics, Hewitt’s had his share of some unfortunate match-ups. These may have masked the fact that he is playing as clever, defensive tennis as he was back in the middle of last decade.
He remains one of the most mentally sound players the modern game has seen, a trait put on show when he took the third set from a red-hot Djokovic at Melbourne. I wish him the best for his second encounter with the Serb this year, and hope he can find just a fraction of that fighting spirit once more.
I’m of no doubt a loss tonight will spark a retirement question again from all corners of the country, but on the back of the few matches Hewitt has been able to attend this year, performances suggest to me he might just have a little longer left in him.
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