Hewitt realizes road to title goes through Federer

9/9/2005 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- Lleyton Hewitt knows that there's no easy way to win a grand slam title.

Not only has he fallen short in his last 11 attempts, but the 24-year-old Australian has lost to the eventual champion in the last six major tournaments. Half of those losses were to Roger Federer, whom Hewitt will now face in the U.S. Open semifinals.

"If you're going to win the majors, you're going to have to beat him somewhere along the line," Hewitt said of Federer.

Although Hewitt needed five sets against Jarkko Niemenen on Thursday and Taylor Dent in the fourth round, he's still the guy who has the best chance of taking out Federer. Their 18th career meeting was solidified when Federer took 100 minutes to beat David Nalbandian in three sets on Thursday night.

Federer has dominated Hewitt of late, having defeated him eight straight times dating back to their meeting in the fourth round of the 2004 Australian Open. In fact, Hewitt has not won a set from the world's top ranked player in their last five meetings. But Hewitt, at his best -- armed with speed, ability and the necessary mental fortitude -- could give Federer more trouble than any of the remaining players.

"He's good enough with his base to beat me on a day when I'm not on," Federer said.

Federer, who has won Grand Slam titles everywhere but on the Roland Garros clay, has proven that he's very consistent on all surfaces. He has only lost three matches this year and is now 33-0 on hard courts this season.

Over the course of their careers, however, Hewitt actually has a better winning percentage than Federer on the courts in Flushing Meadows. Hewitt's 34-5 record represents a men's draw high of prevailing in 87.2 percent of his matches.

"The court surface, I think suits my game pretty well," said Hewitt. He says the pace of the ball coming off the ground is similar to the courts he played on while growing up in Australia.

Hewitt and Andre Agassi, who has an 81.7 percent winning percentage throughout his 20 years of playing in this tournament, are the only active players who have fared better at the USTA National Tennis Center than Federer. With his win over Nalbandian, Federer's career record in New York is now 22-5 (81.4 percent wins).

That Hewitt has played in two five-set matches might suggest that he's not as sharp as in years past. But in 2001, the year he won it all here, he also was forced to play a fifth twice.

Hewitt knows that beating the defending champion will be a monumental task.

"No one has been able to find the exact formula to topple him just yet," Hewitt said.

Said Federer: "I've been standing in his way and the more chances that he gets, the more chances he has to beat me."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.