Federer and Hewitt Rewind

Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will meet in an epic third round match up at the 2009 US Open in a battle of former champions. Rene Stauffer, the author of book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) describes a memorable match-up between the two future Hall of Famers from the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China. The excerpt is below.

In the semifinals, Federer faced Hewitt, who already clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for a second year in a row. The Australian barely qualified for the semifinals and benefited from Carlos Moya winning a three-hour mean­ingless match over fellow Spaniard Costa, where a Costa victory would have him reach the semifinals rather than Hewitt. Although Federer lost five of the last seven matches with Hewitt, he reasoned his chances of beating him and winning the first big championship of his career were very attainable.

Federer started his semifinal with Hewitt in furious fashion, taking a 3-0 and a 5-2 first-set lead, but Hewitt ran and fought as if his life were at stake. Hewitt fought off five set points and rallied for a 6-5 lead. Serving for the set, Hewitt staved off another five break points, before capturing the first set 7-5. Federer, however, was not ready to surrender. The second set turned into a wild back-and-forth struggle. Hewitt served for the match at 5-4 and held match point, but Federer broke back for 5-5. After holding serve for 6-5, Federer evened the match by breaking Hewitt’s serve, connecting on his fourth set point of the game.

The Chinese fans went wild—out of their seats, screaming and cheering. In the commentary booth high above the stadium, Heinz Günthardt and Stefan Bürer, the Swiss TV commentary team, described the tension and fast-paced action to the audience back in Switzerland, where it was Saturday morning and many people postponed their weekend shopping to watch the dramatic match with their new sports hero.

As the match extended into a third hour, the breaks seemed to fall in favor of Federer. Leading 4-3 in the final set, Federer held two break points to put him in the position to serve for the match. Both opportunities, however, were lost and Hewitt held for 4-4. Hewitt then subsequently broke Federer’s serve the next game to serve for the match at 5-4. The Australian reached his second match point—and shockingly double-faulted. Federer then broke Hewitt’s serve to square the match at 5-5. Serving with new balls in the next game, Federer committed two consecutive double-faults to allow Hewitt to break him back and gained another opportunity to serve for the match. It took Hewitt another four match points before he finally corralled Federer and advanced to the final with an epic 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory. Following the match, Hall of Fame journalist Bud Collins walked into the press room and asked his fellow scribes, “Have you ever seen a better match?”

In the craziest match of his career to date, Federer was aware that he let victory escape from his grasp. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said to a small group of Swiss journalists who traveled to China. “Luck wasn’t on my side. I blew a big opportunity. That hurts.” A vacation in Phuket, Thailand helped heal the wounds.