Our Lleyton tonight becomes the latest
Washington General to Rafael Nadal’s Globetrotting show, facing the young
Spaniard in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
It promises to be a cracking match: Hewitt
is starting to hit serious form, post ankle-injury, and boasts a 3-0
head-to-head record against the 20-year-old wunderkind.
The thing is, none of those three wins were
on clay and Nadal is still on an all-time men’s claycourt-winning run. His record is now up to 56 straight matches
but Hewitt will have seen a lot to like if he watched Nadal’s five-hour effort
to get past Frenchman Paul-Henri
Mathieu on the weekend.
If ever there was a
time to take on Nadal, this is it. He was stretched to the limit by the
Frenchman, who has an awkward angled game and never-say-die attitude. In fact,
Matthieu’s biggest strength was his unwillingness to bow in the face of Nadal’s
reputation. Right to the end, he kept swinging, making Nadal look mortal, even
if Rafael did eventually close it out, 5-7 6-4 6-4 6-4.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
And yes, that was four
sets in five hours (well, four hours, 53 minutes if you want to get technical).
This is Hewitt territory – stay on court as long as it takes, and hit a million
balls without complaint.
Matthieu was actually a lot closer to
victory than a four set scoreline would suggest. Nadal was working very hard to
keep that engine revving by the end, even aside from needing an injury time out
after a piece of banana caught in his throat.
The big question for Hewitt is whether such
a marathon, on top of 55 previous claycourt struggles, has taken enough out of
Nadal’s legs to make him vulnerable to an all-court terrier like Lleyton?
Roger Federer will be watching closely,
wondering whether to cheer Hewitt to victory against the one man who appears
capable of wrecking Roger’s Grand Slam Dream, or whether he should hope Nadal
makes the final, so a potential Grand Slam can include beating the King of Clay
on his own surface.
Oh, sorry, one match at a time. I forgot.