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Berdych brings the heat, stymies Hewitt

No. 6 Tomas Berdych in his first round match of the 2014 US Open.
By Neil Schlecht
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WHAT HAPPENED: The first rounder between Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt, two veterans who had met just twice in their long careers, looked ripe for an upset.

The sixth-seeded Czech was coming off a dismal hard-court season, having notched just two victories and three losses, falling early in Cincinnati, Toronto and Washington. And the resurgent Aussie, healthy for the first time in many years, had won two ATP events in 2014 and seen his ranking climb back to No. 41.

But on a sweltering summer afternoon in Ashe on Wednesday, the 6-foot-5 Berdych brought the heat, using his relaxed, almost nonchalant power to overwhelm Hewitt, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. The Aussie finally got his teeth into the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead and issuing his patented “C’mon!” exhortations to his box, but Berdych quickly reeled off five straight games to claim the set and deflate Hewitt.

Hewitt had opportunities in Berdych service games in each set, but he was able to convert just two of seven break points. Behind his big serve, Berdych dictated play, capitalizing on weak balls that Hewitt sent to the middle of the court and scorching forehand winners to the corners. Repeatedly stretched out wide, the Aussie could do little to make an impact on Berdych’s game. Hewitt hit just 11 winners in the match.

Though Hewitt broke Berdych’s serve in the final set to even it at 3-3, he immediately handed the advantage back to Berdych. The Czech smacked yet another torrid forehand, his 43rd winner of the match, to break serve for a sixth time and close out the match in straight sets.

WHAT IT MEANS: Hewitt is a classic counterpuncher and retriever, but he can no longer count on youthful legs as well as grit to get him out of points and frustrate his opponents. Although finally free of the injuries that resulted in a litany of surgeries, the 33-year-old doesn’t have the weapons to hurt more powerful, offensive players. Berdych is one of the cleanest and heaviest ball strikers on tour. Yet at 29, since a disappointing Australian Open semifinal loss to Stan Wawrinka, the big Czech’s confidence has waned.

With the win, Berdych entered a select club of active players who have won 100 matches at Grand Slams. He now advances to play Martin Klizan of Slovakia, who needed five sets to advance. Berdych is in David Ferrer’s quarter of the draw, a fairly soft section. If he gets on a roll, Berdych could do some damage.

With two titles this year (at Brisbane and Newport), Hewitt – the 2001 US Open champion and 2002 Wimbledon winner – appears determined not to hang it up just yet, but his days of making deep runs in majors are probably coming to a close.

THE QUESTION: Is this win over a former world No. 1 and two-time Slam champion enough to get Berdych’s confidence back on track?