With another Australian Open about to begin for Lleyton Hewitt, fans of the Australian great could have reason to be optimistic the 31-year old could make one final run into the tournament’s second week. Entering a record 17th consecutive Aussie Open, the Australian public has seen a fair share of ups and downs, with a 2005 final appearance surrounded by some shock first round losses and regular disappointment. Many of these losses, especially in the past few years can be attributed to a horror run of injuries which have threatened the longevity of his career. Despite this and the cries from the media to hang up the racket, Hewitt has regained some of the form that has seen him through such an illustrious career.
For Hewitt, his tournament rests on a make-or-break scenario in the first round. Hewitt has been drawn to meet the number 8 seed Janko Tipsarevic, from Serbia. Getting past the number 8 seed will certainly open up the draw for Hewitt, with the number 32 seed in Julien Benneteau in the third round, and then Nicolas Almagro (10th seed) in the 4th. So you can see that a potentially great run is on the cards for Hewitt, who would be a great chance of getting through to a quarter final.
But back to his first round clash with Tipsarevic. Looking at their current rankings, you would say Tipsarevic will take an easy straight sets win into in the 2nd round, but he’ll be a tad bit nervous after drawing the Aussie battler for many reasons. Firstly, their head to head record, which stands at 3-1 in favour of Hewitt. Not having played since 2009 may be a factor, as Tipsarevic has shot up the rankings since then, but Hewitt’s injury woes that plagued him in that period are a thing of the past. This is a favourable matchup for Hewitt, with big hitters not troubling him usually, as his pace creates potential for a counterattacking game plan. Combine that with his defensive skills for which he is famous for, and you’ve got a tough match.
Another thing worrying Tipsarevic is playing in Australia, which is a big tick in the Lleyton Hewitt box. He thrives under the intense pressure of a big home crowd, and playing on the first night will no doubt magnify this. The Aussie crowd is going to give Hewitt a huge leg up from the first point, and look out if he can get a break early on in the match, as it will be hard to Tipsarevic to silence the boisterous fans after that. Finally, Tipsarevic has also no doubt taken note of Hewitt’s wins at the Kooyong Classic over big hitters Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro. While Tipsarevic cannot dominate on serve as much as these players, he possesses the firepower on his groundstrokes to match them. What he lacks on his serve compared to these guys he makes up in better court movement. Even though he possesses a stockier frame, he covers the court in a more natural way than these two.
With these factors in mind, we’ll try to break down how each player should win the match.
Lleyton Hewitt Victory
Hewitt will have to do what he does best, grind. With his foot and toe issues behind him, his movement is back to where it was during his prime, obviously allowing a bit for his age. Tipsarevic is going to be coming at him with a relatively heavy serve and big groundstrokes that will push him from side to side for the duration of the match. Not one to shy away from a grind like this, Hewitt must chase these balls down and not let Tipsarevic push him further behind the baseline. He can do using his backhand slice, which is one of his greatest, yet underrated assets. He has magnificent control over this shot, so he will be looking to push Tipsarevic further back behind the baseline with great depth control. Another way he can nullify the heavy Tipsarevic ball is to take the ball down the line. Something which he has not in the past been willing to do, at Sydney this year and again at Kooyong he was willing to go for the riskier shot down the line, moving his opponent across the court and taking their time away. Hewitt will also look to take advantage of the shorter ball arising from both of these two scenarios where his brilliant net game can finish many points.
Janko Tipsarevic Victory
Tipsarevic must take control of the match from the outset, using his big serve and groundstrokes to push Hewitt deep into the court. He cannot get sucked in to playing Hewitt’s game as he simply won’t win this way. He must pounce on any short ball Hewitt gives him to take control of the rally with deep shots pushing Hewitt from side to side. Taking time away from Hewitt will be another key to Tipsarevic’s success, so he may look to wrong-foot Hewitt into giving up a weaker reply. This may require riskier gameplay from Tipsarevic, including lower percentage down the line shots, but it may be crucial to his success.
Something else for Tipsarevic to exploit is Hewitt’s depth of shot. Hewitt plays with very little topspin compared to the modern day player, so as a result his groundstrokes have a flatter trajectory, often falling short at around the service line. Tipsarevic can attack these shorter balls to put him in a winning position in the rally. Giving up a break early in the match will be the worst case scenario for Tipsarevic as he’ll be facing an uphill battle against both the Aussie crowd and an in-form Hewitt who has traditionally thrived when given a confidence boost.
Hewitt is playing his best tennis for years, and I don’t think that he’s willing to let that go to waste. His defensive game is going to be too much for Tipsarevic to hit through, and he’ll take advantage of any opportunity he’ll get. Hewitt’s newfound confidence in taking the ball down the line will give Tipsarevic all kind of problems, resulting in short balls for Hewitt to advance on and finish at the net.
Hewitt in 4 sets.