Lleyton Hewitt: The last time the former No. 1 Australian beat Roger Federer it was 2003, and Hewitt actually had more majors to his credit than the Swiss. To get this win in Halle, one week before the major where Hewitt has the best chance of breaking through again, is fitting.
In previous encounters with the Swiss, the Australian’s storied consistency was no advantage, as Federer felt little pressure from Hewitt’s groundstrokes, and had plenty of time to work the point and eventually set up his heavy forehand or great net coverage. This forced the Australian to play more aggressively than he would like, as his flatter shots cannot generate the same kind of pace that Federer’s do with the same margin for error.
In the Halle final, we saw something we haven’t seen in seven years, which is that the long rallies favored the Australian, who recognized that Federer was mistiming his groundstrokes and not controlling play at will. Though Federer’s struggles are alarming, credit to Hewitt for playing well enough to take advantage.
With this win, Hewitt’s ranking improves from 32 to 26, which should go a long way in preventing an early encounter with Federer (like at the US Open and Australian Open) or Rafael Nadal (like at Roland Garros). Though a tough third and fourth round match with a higher-ranked opponent is still likely, Hewitt’s grass experience and swelling confidence suddenly make him a good bet to reach the second week.
Depending on where he lands relative to Federer or Nadal in the drawsheet, exceeding last year’s quarterfinal appearance is not unthinkable.
Sam Querrey: Okay, who saw this coming? In most years Queens, the top grass court warm-up event, has drawn consistently high-profile winners even in Federer’s absence, be it Hewitt, Roddick or Murray.
But with Hewitt joining Federer in Halle and the rest of the top seeds stumbling out of the gate, Querrey was left to grab his first grass-court title over friend and one-time doubles partner Mardy Fish. Querrey is quietly putting together a breakthrough season, having one title apiece on the lawns, the dirt and the asphalt. That’s one more title than Roddick.
Before we anoint him with an outside chance at Wimbledon, though, it should be pointed out that he won in the clay of Belgrade just prior to his first-round exit at Roland Garros. Querrey has never been past the second round at Wimbledon and never past the fourth of any major.
While Querrey, 22, has just posted the biggest win of his career, he must improve his GS record to be considered any more than the new, improved Jan-Michael Gambill.
Roger Federer: The last time The Great Swiss lost in Halle it was 2002. He had a ponytail, no Grand Slam semi appearances, and losing records against Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Juan Carlos Ferrero. His loss here, and the fact that it came to a player he’d beaten 15 straight times (and is actually older than Federer) is alarming now that Federer seeks to regain his stride at his favorite tournament.
What happens now is hard to say, basically because we haven’t seen the Swiss enter the All-England Club with such an absence of momentum in many, many years. He’s still a champion, and the familiar environment and best-of-five format may yet inspire him the way the 2008 US Open did.
It’s still really hard to see him losing before the semis, and it’s not like the rest of the top 10 is looking a lot better on the grass. Still, the Swiss camp must be hoping that Nadal does not settle into his grass groove this year.
Rafael Nadal: The last time he played in Queens the Spaniard took the title, launching him to a historic Wimbledon win and the eventually the No. 1 ranking. By that standard, his quarterfinal loss to Feliciano Lopez is a disappointment.
In 2006 and 2007, though, Nadal won two matches each before exiting, then overcame an early five-set challenge (or two) at Wimbledon and reached the final. In both of those cases, once Nadal grew accustomed to the grass it took no less than Federer in the finals to stop him and, in case you haven’t noticed, Federer isn’t playing up to the standard he set in those years.
Watch Nadal’s early matches and see if he draws a bruiser in the second or third rounds. If he does, and proceeds to overcome him, the Spaniard’s chances of a second Wimbledon title aren’t bad.
Andy Roddick and Andy Murray: Both of the Andies lost in conditions that practically scream “fluke!” That’s particularly true of the Scot, who fell to the eventual finalist under controversial circumstances. Still, both crave the Wimbledon crown more than any other and, after their clay struggles, needed momentum.
Given Roddick’s serve and Murray’s all-court game, early losses in Queens probably won’t translate into early losses at the All-England Club, but it’s not looking like their year to take the title.
Novak Djokovic: Following an early exit in Queens, the Serb took only his second career doubles win with Israel’s Jonathan Erlich. A nice result, but part of a troubling trend, as Djokovic continues to post results that suggest that he’s neither broken through nor hit bottom.
The fourth round of Wimbledon sounds about right.