A Battle of Champions: Andy Roddick defeats Lleyton Hewitt

Friday in Memphis was pretty action packed. I got to the press room bright and early in hopes of doing some writing before the start of play, but not quite early enough to actually get a full post written. Even though I wasn’t quite finished writing, there was no way I was going to miss the first match, Milos Raonic v. Robert Kendrick. There’s been so much hype around the young Canadian and based on the matches I’ve watched him play on TV/streams, I knew I wanted to see him in person. I don’t want to get side tracked, but I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed with Raonic. He’s been playing so well. He also gave a great press conference that I’ll likely write about later.

Andy Roddick

The real action was reserved for the night session. The first night match featured two former Grand Slam champions, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Andy’s pretty much a favorite at any American tournament, but I was surprised at how much support Lleyton got last night. I think that’s a true testament to Lleyton as a player and as a person. I’m not sure that there’s another player on tour who fights the way that Lleyton does for each and every point and I think crowds really respond to that level of dedication.

Hewitt started out playing incredibly well and Andy started out just the opposite. Roddick got broken in the very first game of the match and was taken to deuce on his serve nearly every game in the first set. I was sitting directly behind Lleyton’s parents, and they were incredibly supportive throughout the match, constantly yelling encouragement. This became significantly more important once Roddick found his rhythm in the second set and the match went into a third set. While Roddick broke Hewitt’s serve fairly early in the third set, Lleyton was in every single game. There were a lot of long rallies and games with tons of deuce points. He definitely had some chances to get back on serve, but as Lleyton mentioned in his presser later on, Andy’s a great closer and he knows how to finish a match.

Comparing Andy’s match with Lleyton and Andy’s match with Janko on Thursday is basically night and day. Even though Roddick was in control for the vast majority of his match against Tipsarevic, he was angry. He was mad about line calls and at times, he looked like he was actually mad at his opponent. To be honest, Hewitt had a very similar in his match against Mannarino. He was arguing with the umpire about the lack of Hawkeye and throwing dirty looks at his box. Last night was totally different. Both guys had moments where they were frustrated, but overall, both were much more calm and collected. Lleyton actually got called out for foot faults three separate times, but each time he just accepted the call and moved on.

The tournament hasn’t been requiring players to do press after a loss, as far as I know, but Lleyton Hewitt agreed to do a press conference after the match last night. He was in the interview room not 10 minutes after the end of the match. He was very gracious about the loss. He mentioned that it was tough for players like him and del Potro who aren’t seeded because they’re “in the hands of the Gods a little bit” in terms of drawing top players in the early rounds of the tournament. He said that he started out well, but was definitely helped out by Andy’s high unforced error count in the first set. While a lot of players would be frustrated by such a close loss, it almost seemed like that made it easier for Lleyton. He said, “with a little bit of luck I could have beaten Nalbandian [at the Australian Open] and I could have beaten Andy here tonight.” He’s right. There was really no shame in this loss. Lleyton forces players to take control of the victory because he never gives up. Finally, when a journalist mentioned that Hewitt appeared to be dealing with some kind of foot/leg injury, Lleyton rebuffed the comment, saying, “Yeah, no I’m alright.” It was the least forthcoming he was all night and led me to believe that something was definitely going on.

Only minutes later, Andy arrived to do his press conference. He looked like he was ready to leave the second he walked in the room. The entire press conference lasted about three and a half minutes, including some awkward silence. However, he did have some really important things to say. First of all, he recognizes that he needs to start his matches better if he’s going to continue on in the tournament. In two out of his three matches, he acknowledged that he started slow and was able to turn things around, but that isn’t always the case. But he felt that in the second and third sets, he was playing his best tennis of the tournament thus far.

By far the best thing to come out of Andy’s presser was what he had to say about Hewitt. When asked about his opponent, Andy said, “There’s a reason why Lleyton is going to be a Hall of Famer in this game. He just fights so hard. I don’t know what exactly was wrong, but he was fighting through something tonight and he does it in a way, he doesn’t bring attention to it, he’s not full of a bunch of histrionics. The guy just goes out and competes and he certainly has the respect of all of us.” I love that Andy was able to acknowledge his respect for Lleyton and how he plays the game.

Andy Roddick will move on to face Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals on Saturday night. Lleyton Hewitt will not play again until Indian Wells in March.