Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt has roared out to a 14-1 start this season and appears to be serious in his bid to regain his former top-ranked status.
The fiery Aussie rolled to his second title of the year by edging out Spanish star Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-7 (1-7), 7-5, 6-4 in Sunday's blockbuster final at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The strong field in The Netherlands included such stalwarts as Australian Open and Wimbledon winner Roger Federer, the French Open champion and U.S. Open runner-up Ferrero and four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman.
Hewitt, seeded sixth last week, soared to No. 4 in the ATP Champions Race by besting a fifth-seeded Henman in the semis and a second-seeded Ferrero in the title match, marking his second championship of this young 2004 campaign. His first title of the year came at an Aussie Open tune-up last month in Sydney, where he handled fellow former world No. 1 Carlos Moya in the final. Hewitt's only loss of the year thus far came at the hands of the remarkable Federer in the fourth round in Melbourne, where the "Fed" went on to claim his second Grand Slam title in three outings.
Hewitt pumps his fist after upsetting Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Hewitt moved to 5-3 lifetime against Ferrero, including wins in two straight and four-of-five matchups. He's 2-0 against the "Mosquito" since losing to the Spaniard in the U.S. Open quarters, including a grass-court Davis Cup victory over the free-swinger last fall.
Disappointing for Hewitt was his beloved Aussies' first-round Davis Cup loss at the hands of the visiting Swedes in his native Adelaide earlier this month. He secured Australia's lone rubber victory in that stunning 4-1 Down under upset. The powerful Aussies were fresh off their 28th Davis Cup title late last year and appeared primed for another run this year. Oh well.
Hewitt is coming off a 2003 season in which he was a solid 37-10, but many considered the campaign a "failure" since he was unable to get past the quarterfinals at all four Grand Slam events, lowlighted by a shocking first- round loss at Wimbledon, where he was the defending champ. Unheralded 6- foot-10 Croat Ivo Karlovic sent Hewitt packing at the All England Club, where the ultra-slick Federer went on to capture his first major. The only Slam quarterfinal Hewitt reached last year was the U.S. Open, where he lost to the formidable Ferrero in four sets.
The 2001 and 2002 year-end No. 1 Hewitt finished at No. 17 last year, but look for the speedy star to settle inside the top 10, once again, in '04. His career titles currently rest at 21, but look for that number to climb in the coming months.
Two years ago, Hewitt became only the seventh player to finish No. 1 in back- to-back seasons, joining legends such as Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg.
The world No. 9 Aussie is idle this week, as is his fiance Kim Clijsters, who also titled over the weekend with a big win in Antwerp in her native Belgium. The two tennis icons are spending time together this week, as Hewitt celebrates his 23rd birthday (Feb. 24). The power couple won their titles an hour apart on Sunday, and by nightfall they were together in Clijsters' hometown of Bree.
With three of the four Slams still remaining on the '04 schedule, Hewitt will look to add to his major total, having claimed the 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon championships. Just don't expect one to come at the French Open in late May/early June, as his best tennis does not typically come on red clay, although he was an eye-catching 8-2 on the dirt a year ago. He's clearly at his best on hardcourt (U.S. Open) and grass (Wimbledon).
FYI, Hewitt's victory in Rotterdam sent his career prize money over the $12 million mark. Way to go mate.