By reputation and body language, you'd think that Lleyton Hewitt, the little scrapper from Down Under, would never get tight. But his matches have always told a different story, and the one he played against Milos Raonic on Thursday night in Washington, D.C., did as well. It came down to two tiebreakers, and Hewitt gave them both away.
In the first, Rusty handed over an early mini-break by poking a backhand into the net, followed that by shanking a forehand into the stands, and served himself out of it completely by double faulting to go down 5-1. The second tiebreaker was even worse. This time Hewitt gave up the first mini-break by hitting a forehand into the net, then followed that quickly with another forehand in the net, a backhand in the net, and a forehand that landed 20 feet long. Raonic had his 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3) win, the first of his career over Hewitt.
Aside from watching the Aussie implode in the tiebreakers, Raonic won this match, as he does every match he wins, with his serve. He finished with 27 aces; that’s a remarkable number for two sets, but it actually seems a little disappointing considering the start he had. After two service games, Raonic had made 10 serves; eight of them were aces.
But this was also a match that showed Raonic’s gradual improvement in other areas. Two years ago, Hewitt beat him at the Australian Open with low slices that stayed out of the big man’s strike zone. This time Raonic was more consistent from the ground, and he was mobile enough to get around Hewitt’s crosscourt slices into his backhand corner and take them as forehands. Raonic was also adept at short-hopping Hewitt’s deep returns, so adept that the Aussie bared his teeth in frustration and shook his head in disbelief a few times. While Raonic earned only a single break point, he wiped away four of Hewitt’s. On one of them, Rusty had a look at a forehand pass, but he tightened up again and left it in the middle of the net.
As Raonic said in his post-match interview, he was happy, after a month away, “to get through and give myself a chance to play better in the next round.” He’ll get his chance in the quarterfinals on Friday against Stevie Johnson.