Australia’s favourite hero Lleyton Hewitt has stunned the tennis world, overcoming Swiss master Roger Federer 6-1 4-6 6-3 to claim his first title on Australian soil since Sydney 2005 in a match few expected but fewer will forget.
The only thing better than a Federer–Hewitt final was the Federer–Hewitt dogfight it became – the long-time rivals traded momentum and touched every corner of the court as the world No.60 fought off a Federer comeback to clinch his maiden Brisbane crown.
“It’s been a couple years. So I was just ready for the challenge today. Played great obviously at the start, really well. Took Roger little bit of time to get into the match,” said Hewitt.
“For the first set I was seeing the ball like a football. Didn’t really matter where he served, I was on it. I felt great out there.
“Roger obviously picked up his game and cut out a lot more of those cheap errors, and then he started serving a lot better towards the end of the second set, and especially the start of the third set.
“Then I just had to fight hard at the start of the third set.”
With his first title since Halle 2010, at which he also beat the Swiss star, Hewitt could jump as high as No.43 in the world rankings.
Roger Federer hadn’t been broken this tournament, but buoyed by the fantatics’ stirring rendition of “I Am Australian” Lleyton Hewitt didn’t seem to know it, breaking the Swiss master three times in the opening set.
Showing no signs of nerves, Hewitt opened the match dancing around to a forehand down-the-line winner before three uncharacteristic Federer errors gifted Hewitt the break of serve.
A backhand air-swing to give Hewitt a 2-0 lead after just five minutes was an indication that Federer’s eye wasn’t quite in.
But that took nothing away from Hewitt’s near flawless form, playing smart angles on his shots with errorless tennis that ensured the game’s star was left with little breathing room.
After his trademark backhand topspin lob left Federer craning his neck at the net, a forehand winner saw the Australian walking to his chair with a 6-1 set in his pocket after just 27 minutes on court.
Federer paid tribute to Hewitt’s fast start: “I think it was a combination of two things, that Lleyton played good. Definitely got a lot of returns back and put the pressure on me from the baseline. I really was struggling with all sorts of rhythm.
“You want to keep playing your game and hope that things turn around for you eventually. Kind of did in the second set, so that was better.”
With the match quickly rushing past him, the opening of the second set was critical for Federer to find his rhythm; vocal in a fighting opening service game, his serve began to come together, holding to love for 2-2.
The top seed was rewarded in the next game with his first break point of the match, but Hewitt refused to lie down, pulling off a dive volley to save the game before quickly holding serve.
Hewitt could have been mistaken for his 10-year younger self after a stunning forehand passing shot set up a break-point chance at 4-3 that, if won, could have all but sealed the match.
But finishing a smash winner with a fist pump to level the set, Federer was finally starting to lift to the challenge, and after Hewitt squandered a 40-0 lead in his next service game, Federer found his chance, breaking the Hewitt serve for the first time in the match.
The aces started to flow from the Federer racquet before an off-forehand winner – that finally fell inside the white lines – confirmed a love-service game to clinch the second set 6-4 and ignite the dogfight the crowd had been cheering for.
After fighting to hold in crucial opening service games, in which Federer toyed with five break-point chances, Hewitt managed to seesaw momentum and bring up two break points of his own, pocketing the coveted third-set break to race to an ominous 4-1 advantage.
“Lleyton did a good job hanging around, but I should have taken advantage already earlier I think in the 1‑All, 2‑All games. So I have some regrets there,” said Federer.
“It’s unfortunately one of those matches that got away from me. I got to try to do better job next time around when I get in this position.”
And Hewitt had to put everything into defending it – with two break points against him, he rushed across the baseline and skimmed the net to save it, edging to within one game of the title.
With his experience behind him, Hewitt was relentless in his lead, serving out the match and throwing his hands in the air after two hours and seven minutes of play.
“Winning here at a new tournament and it’s only the second time I’ve been up here as well,” said Hewitt. ‘I’ve won nearly every tournament there is to win in Australia.
“To beat possibly the greatest player in the final means a lot.”
The final topped off a record week with 105,730 fans attending the event, breaking the previous record of 92,802 in 2012.