The much anticipated clash on Monday night at the Australian Open revealed a few obvious gaps between two eras of mens tennis, with the grinding and defensive baseline game of Hewitt being bullied by a more explosive and attacking game of Tipsarevic. This was too much for Hewitt to handle, despite the form he demonstrated in lead up tournaments with wins over similar big hitters.
My preview article for this match called for Hewitt to play a risky game where taking it to Tipsarevic would be his only way of winning. On the occasions where Hewitt looked like he was on top of Tipsarevic, Hewitt was able to make use of his excellent net game to end a lot of points, coming to the net a total of 34 times. He did this one of two ways. Firstly, in a general cross court rally, particularly backhand to backhand, Hewitt’s groundstrokes which can sometimes tend to fall a little short, actually gave him a bit of an advantage, where pulling it wider in the court forced Tipsarevic into a digging slice which rose at a good volleying level. Hewitt and his veteran knowledge identified these situations well and came into the net to finish off the easy put away shot. Hewitt was also able to change direction of the rally quite well on some occasions, where an approach down the line resulted in another weaker reply for Hewitt to finish off at the net.
Hewitt was unable to do this as frequently as he would like, as the pace of shot from Tipsarevic forced Hewitt into a more defensive frame of mind where he couldn’t make use of a down the line shot that would force the rally into his favour. Tipsarevic did this through big hitting, and willingness to crunch a ball down the line, usually for a winner. He was given this opportunity because of Hewitt’s shorter groundstrokes. A general rally that would be in favour of Tipsarevic would be a simple crosscourt rally with Hewitt’s shots landing on around the service line. From here, the weight of shot would slowly force Hewitt back off the baseline resulting in a weaker reply, but a more loopy reply from Hewitt, one that would be easy for Tipsarevic to exploit. He would smoke this down the line for a winner or a Hewitt weaker reply to finish off at the net.
The battle on serve was also crucial, and definitely showed a difference between the two types of player. The average first serve speed for Hewitt throughout the match was measly 169kmh, compared to Tipsarevic’s 187kmh. While Hewitt enjoys feeding off the pace of his opponents, these big serves proved too much, with the accuracy from Tipsarevic too much to handle. The big bombs down the T, plus his slider out wide to the deuce court really opened the court up for Tipsarevic to attack. Hewitt’s serve did not provide much for him last night, with less than 50% first serves in the court with 68% and 43% success rate on his first and second serve respectively. Again, Tipsarevic could take advantage of this and put himself in a positive position in the rally.
So where to now for each of these players? Well Tipsarevic certainly showed he was deserved of his top 10 ranking, taking it to Hewitt on the big points, and even stepping up as so many top players do when behind in a crucial stage of a set, as shown in the second set when he was down 3-0. He was able to find that next gear which separates the top 10 from everyone else. Sure, anyone can hit out on a big point, but the top 10 make the plays they need, more often than not to success. With a Rafa-less quarter, Tipsarevic’s highest ranked opponent he will face is David Ferrer, who like Hewitt is a grinding baseliner. I can see Tipsarevic progressing this far into the tournament, and maybe providing some trouble for Ferrer. However, unlike Hewitt, Ferrer can hit with more pace on his groundstrokes, which may give Tipsarevic some grief. For Hewitt, it’s tough to say. He certainly has the heart and desire to keep playing the game he loves, but even with a relatively healthy body, he has definitely lost a step, rendering his defensive tendencies ineffective against a modern age dominated by power. The general slowing of the courts over the years also doesn’t help Hewitt, who relied on faster surfaces to bridge the gap between his own stroke and his opponent’s. With Bernard Tomic ready to take the reigns as Australia’s number 1 tennis player, the time to call it quits is certainly approaching for Hewitt. However, the cries from the Australian media and the tennis public for him to end his career does not do justice to the service he has given tennis in Australia. Hewitt understands that it’s going to be tougher to compete on the professional tour, but you have to respect his drive for success and willingness to take every extra step to find the competitive player he once prided himself on being.