Australian Open: Tipsarevic. d. Hewitt

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MELBOURNE—Hewitt. Tipsarevic. Baseline battlers. Solid two-handers. This one had marathon written all over it. But the word was only written on paper, it turned out.

On the surface, when it was over, this appeared to be a clear-cut case of age giving way to youth, something you don’t see all that often on the ATP tour these days. But look a little closer and you’ll find out that, at 28, Tipsarevic is only three years younger than the allegedly ancient Hewitt. Age played a role—Hewitt has a lot of miles and scars on him—but Tipsy’s 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-3 win was mainly a result of one guy doing the same thing a little better than the other guy. And then a lot better.

Tipsarevic stood closer to the baseline, hit his ground strokes a little harder, deeper, and closer to the corners, served bigger—he finished with 14 aces to Hewitt’s five—and got better as he went along. With his compact yet full-throttle style, the Serb is always a surprise and a pleasure to watch live, and he didn’t disappoint tonight. He took the chanting energy of the pro-Rusty crowd and smacked it back with blistering down-the-line winners. Those shots only grew fiercer as the night continued. Tipsarevic finished with 47 winners; that’s a healthy number, but it felt much higher. Whenever he needed a point, he seemed to shoot a bullet on the sideline.

In the past, Hewitt has crafted his way out of these types of matches in Rod Laver Arena. And he tried again tonight, moving Tipsy along the baseline and following the ball forward when he could—he was 22 of 34 at the net, and came in twice as many times as Tipsarevic. He looked ready to even the match in the second set, and send the evening into marathon territory, when he led 3-0, up two breaks. But he played a sloppy service game, and Tipsarevic, with new hope, cleaned his up in response. As Hewitt said afterward, he could have been up two sets instead of down two. "To his credit," Hewitt said of his opponent, "he raised his level.”

Near the end of the match, after Hewitt put one of his 48 unforced errors into the net, he snapped, “Too flat.” That sums up much of the match. Rusty couldn’t the find the variety or the tricky patterns to throw Tipsarevic off his rhythm. His shots were like a medium breeze running headlong into a stronger, and more accurate, one.

Hewitt gave the home audience a cursory wave as he left, and was obviously disappointed afterward—the “hard yards” hadn’t paid off, he said in frustration. Tipsarevic, who claimed he was dreading a night match with Hewitt here, put on a clinic in aggressive baseline tennis—the down the line, from both sides, has rarely been abused so successfully. He’ll move on to play Lukas Lacko next. You have to like his chances of moving farther.

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