When Roger Federer took on Lleyton Hewitt today in the third round at Arthur Ashe Saturday, one couldn't have expected a much better contested match, though for some the final result turned out to be a bitter pill to digest.
But there again one has to admit: If valour defines Lleyton Hewitt, then he didn't disappoint any of his fans in the least. From the start till the end of those two-and-a-half hours he played at the USTA centre court, he made sure that Federer wasn't getting this match on a silver platter.
Point for point, shot for shot, Hewitt was blazing guns. Forcing Federer to remain well behind the baseline, he came to the net and attacked. And when it came to long rallies, he made sure that he exploited Federer's weak backhand and drew equal errors from Federer's second most solid arsenal: his forehand.
Till the sixth game of the first set, Federer's errors appeared to have been controlled and muted; he was not only able to hold his service games to love but was also able to break the Aussie in the fourth game.
Federer looked focused and poised to grab a straight-set victory to the fourth round, and, given the way he was working and mixing his shots at that point in the first set, it wasn't that difficult to assume or imagine.
But, post the sixth game it became a different ball game altogether, as Hewitt came charging and broke Federer in the seventh game, the fact heightened even more because Federer was leading 40-0 to take a 5-2 lead in the first set.
And from Federer's errors' perspective, they ended up transforming, and progressively so. The first six games could have very well been a lull before the storm, as the phrase goes.
And more prolonged were the rallies, more were the points that Hewitt was able to garner, which ended up giving Hewitt opportunities to break Federer's serve.
But in spite of being given so many free points generously (14, to be exact), Hewitt was able to break Federer's serve just thrice, as opposed to Federer's conversion of five break point chances out of the 11 he got.
And this brings us to the main demarcating point between Federer and Hewitt—the point that forms a pivotal reason for Federer's victory over Hewitt, in spite of all Hewitt's heroics and aforementioned "valour".
The serve. Federer's serve, when compared with Hewitt's even when he was missing all those easy points off his forehand, was by far better than that of Hewitt, whose wobbly first serve went down to as low as 36 percent in the third set.
Federer was able to mix and camouflage his serves well, making it difficult for Hewitt to read and construct his points, and even when Hewitt had chances to go up a break or two, he wasn't able to battle successfully against Federer's slyly crafted serves.
To sum it up, it would be easier said than done to quote the proverb The Winner Takes It All, for, even though Roger Federer came through this encounter just slightly bruised, he has a long way to go if he wants to reclaim that trophy for the sixth year running; banking on his serves alone won't be enough against the likes of the Berdychs and the Roddicks—it will be a different ball game altogether!