|By Erik Gudris
|Photo Credit: Mark Peterson / Corleve
(January 17, 2012) Taking a quick glance at the men’s draw of the Australian Open website, the sight of a pair of names scheduled to play each other in the second round might have you thinking you’ve clicked the wrong button and landed on an archived page from 2005. That was the last time both Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick faced each other in Melbourne, with Hewitt winning their semifinal match in four sets. But fast forward seven years and once again we have Hewitt and Roddick set to add another chapter to their sometimes contentious rivalry, but this time much earlier in the event and for both men much later in their careers.
Roddick leads the overall head to head seven to six with the American having won the last six meetings including their most recent encounter last year in Memphis. Fans probably remember their now classic five set match in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2009 that Roddick won on his way to the finals and in a way that match was the last time both men were considered as having even an outside shot to win a Major. Since then, a variety of hip and foot injuries have sidelined Hewitt off and on for the last few years causing his ranking to dip well outside of the top 100. While Roddick is still in the top 20, Roddick himself suffered a variety of health issues in 2011 that limited his playing time and despite a run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals last summer, few see Roddick even as a contender for Majors this year or in the future.
Despite having very different playing styles, Roddick and Hewitt’s careers almost parallel each other in terms of their achievements and disappointments. Both reached No. 1 in the early 20’s and each were viewed as continuing the long tradition of America and Australia dominating the sport. But soon came the “Swiss Maestro”, Roger Federer, who himself dominated both Roddick and Hewitt in their respective head to heads. How often have we heard the phrase, “If Federer wasn’t around, how many Majors would Roddick or Hewitt have won?” It’s probably a safe bet both men have wondered that themselves a few times over the years.
For two men with such huge personalities both on and off the court, many have openly wondered how each will choose to end their tennis careers especially with the increasing likelihood neither will ever return to a Major final. Hewitt, despite his current ranking, still appears eager to compete though his body may finally end up telling him it really is time to quit. Roddick’s body might hold out longer, especially if he makes good on recent comments to not play as many events as he once did. But it’s hard to see Roddick being content watching his ranking drop as younger players pass him by, though he has enjoyed his role as a mentor to rising American players such as Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock. Both Hewitt and Roddick have recently done work doing sports commentary -- Hewitt sticking to covering tennis for Australia’s Channel 7 while Roddick has started his own sports radio show with friend and radio personality Bobby Bones. Some could view this as a distraction for both men in terms of training for tournaments, but instead it feels more like a necessary and actually an exciting transition for Hewitt and Roddick before each hang up their racquets for good.
As far what to expect from tomorrow’s match, Roddick himself summed it up by saying. “I think when we play, numbers go out the door as far as the number next to our name as far as ranking. I don't pay much attention to it when it comes to Lleyton. He knows how to win tennis matches. He's a fighter. I have as much respect for him as I do for anybody in the game, how he goes about his business, how he competes, how professional he is. I've won the most recent meetings, but I think out of the six that I've won, four or five have gone the distance to the last set. We always have a bit of a war. I probably don't see it being any different.”
Tomorrow’s match probably will end up like that. And for those fans who like their tennis served with a splash of nostalgia, a drop of contention and mixed all together with an ample portion of mutual respect, they wouldn’t have it any other way.