Karlovic has been a hard nut to crack for Hewitt
Lleyton Hewitt entered Wimbledon 2003 as the defending champion and as the top player of the New Balls generation. His peers were making inroads prior to Wimbledon 2003. Juan Carlos Ferrero was an Australian Open quarterfinalist and won Roland Garros. Andy Roddick was an Australian Open semifinalist who fired his coach after a first round loss at Roland Garros. He hired Brad Gilbert and promptly won Queen’s Club in an impressive fashion. Roger Federer won a number of titles in 2002 and in early 2003 such as Dubai prior to winning Halle for the first time heading into Wimbledon. Still, Hewitt had 2 Grand Slam titles and a pedigree on grass. Hewitt was the defending champion at Wimbledon and owned 5 career titles on grass. He also drew an at the time unknown named Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the first round.
How does one return Karlovic?
Karlovic quickly became known as he beat the defending champion in 4 sets. Hewitt is listed at 5’11”. I stood next to him as he left the practice courts at Cincinnati in 2002 and I am 5’11”. He was shorter than me. Lleyton Hewitt may be close to 5’11”, but he is also a slightly built guy. Ivo Karlovic is 6’10”. When I had press credentials to the 2009 Cincinnati Masters Series event, I passed Ivo on the stairs leading to the press box. He’s not only tall, but he cuts a pretty intimidating figure. He smiled as I walked by so that put me at ease, but he is a big dude. Anyway, Karlovic looked like “he was serving from a tree” as Andy Roddick described it. Hewitt’s reign among the New Balls generation was on shaky ground entering that match, but Ivo knocking Lleyton out just as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick cut through the draw to have a semifinal clash was not great timing. Federer won the match with Roddick and took the tournament. Roddick in turn won 2 Masters 1000 events and Indianapolis as he headed into the US Open and claimed that title and the #1 ranking. Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Hewitt and Andre Agassi en route to the US Open final. Ferrero and Roddick dueled for the 2003 #1 ranking in the fall just as Federer dominated the World Tour Finals without losing a match and snatching the #2 ranking from Ferrero. Hewitt ended the year #4 among the New Balls players. When Marat Safin rejuvenated himself and reached the 2004 Australian Open final, Hewitt in reality was 5th among his peers. His solid 2004 hard court summer re-established Hewitt, but the Karlovic loss was the beginning of the end of his dominance.
Both Guys Still Pull Off Big Wins
Lleyton knows your pain Grigor
Lleyton Hewitt won his first career title in 1998. Halle 2010 and Brisbane 2014, his two most recent titles, entailed defeating Roger Federer in the championship match. Hewitt beat Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon 2013 and beat Juan Martin del Potro at the 2013 US Open. Ivo Karlovic beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets to open the 2014 Roland Garros championships. These are two guys no one in the top 10 particularly wants to see in their section of the draw at a Grand Slam event.
Hewitt Could Win Titles on Grass at 5 Different Events
Roger Federer holds 13 career titles on grass. No one is catching that record in the near future. Lleyton Hewitt holds 7 titles on grass at 4 different events. He has a Topshelf title from the Netherlands, a title at Halle, 4 Queen’s Club titles and 1 Wimbledon title. Andy Murray has 4 grass court titles at 3 events (Queen’s Club, Wimbledon and the Olympic Games). Federer’s 13 grass court titles have all come at either Wimbledon or Halle. Hewitt has won grass court events in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany. A title in Newport, Rhode Island would mean 8 grass court titles spread over 5 events and 4 nations. That is a pretty unique achievement. Win or lose, Hewitt will eventually be inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Karlovic has to be Favored
Hewitt will be the underdog in his third consecutive Newport final
Karlovic has won 2 grass court events in his career. He also is 4-1 head-to-head versus Hewitt. Giving up a foot in height on a surface that tends to reward the server is not ideal for Hewitt. Most distressing to Hewitt’s camp has to be Karlovic’s 3-0 record versus Hewitt on grass.
I think Hewitt will find a way to sneak out two sets and win this event. Hewitt d. Karlovic 6-4, 6-7, 6-3