Up next for Hewitt: Federer
WIMBLEDON, England Feliciano Lopez looked like a man whose ego was bruised and whose body was weakened. He hadn't lost a set in his previous three matches and yet Lleyton Hewitt disposed of him Wednesday in the men's quarterfinals as if it were as simple as flushing the handle on a brand new toilet.
After the match, Lopez's words were soft, his shoulders slumped and he openly admitted he had no idea Hewitt had that sort of game. But he also sent a warning to anyone drawing the conclusion that Hewitt might be the favorite to knock off world No. 1 Roger Federer and end his 33-match winning streak on grass in Friday's semifinals.
"He has a chance," Lopez said. "But Roger is another level. It's not me."
Hewitt knows that. That's why after his 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over Lopez, there was little celebration. No running around the court in delight or proudly waving to the Wimbledon faithful. Just a simple pump of the fist in the most confident, Jordan-like fashion, followed by Hewitt's trademark yell.
Perhaps it was a message to Federer, the man who has the title that Hewitt craves, world's greatest tennis player. At the age of 20, Hewitt was the youngest year-end No. 1 in the sport's history, but his star has since been eclipsed by Federer. The man Hewitt dominated earlier in his career, beating him in seven of their first nine meetings, is now the world's No. 1 and has won seven consecutive matches between the two. That includes three finals, a semifinal and last year's Wimbledon quarterfinal.
"He's obviously the best player in the world for a reason," Hewitt said. "When he plays some of his best tennis, he's nearly unbeatable in certain matches. I'm going to have to try and find something in the next couple days."
Wednesday's victory was a good start. Hewitt was in control against Lopez, revealing a pinpoint serve that Lopez wasn't prepared for. Not only did Hewitt rack up 15 aces, but he won points on 89 percent of his first serves.
"I know he's quite a good serve," Lopez said. "But not like today. After that first set, he started serving unbelievable. He didn't give me a chance."
Hewitt has said all week that although his serve has been rather inconsistent, when it's on, it's better now than when he last won Wimbledon in 2002.
"I've got more variety," he said. "Those two weeks I served really when I needed to. I'm a good enough returner that I'm going to get opportunities to break if I can clean up my service games."
But will it be enough to beat Federer? Former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, commentating during the Hewitt-Lopez match for the BBC, isn't so sure.
"This is the best I've seen Hewitt play that's the good news," McEnroe said. "The bad news is that he's going to have to beat Federer."
The distance between Federer and the rest of the tennis world is just that great. But it doesn't mean that Hewitt, known for his long blonde hair, backwards hat and high-strung emotions, won't be confident.
His body is fresh, after he missed the clay court season because of a pair of cracked ribs he suffered while falling down the stairs at his Sydney, Australia, home.
"I was wearing socks," Hewitt said. "I slipped on my shoes at the bottom of the stairs. It was pretty painful at the time."
And his mind is right, too. This is the chance he's waited for. This is the shot at Federer he wanted. And, believe it or not, Hewitt quietly thinks there are areas of his game where he has an advantage over Federer.
"But I won't be telling you," he said.
The last time Hewitt defeated Federer was in a Davis Cup match in 2003, after Hewitt dropped the first two sets, but came back to win the next three to take the match.
After dropping six of his previous nine matches against Hewitt, Federer said that match turned around his confidence, even though he lost.
"I had the feeling I could dominate for three entire sets against him," Federer said. "And I had never had that feeling before against him. That's when I learned I could turn around this series for me."
This marquee matchup, bringing together the world's top two players, should be taking place in a Grand Slam Final. But Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam not to follow ATP rankings when putting together its draw. This year, the committee awarded fourth-ranked Andy Roddick, who lost to Federer in last year's final, the No. 2 seed. Hewitt slipped to the third seed.
That move didn't sit well with Hewitt, who said in May, "Realistically, [Wimbledon] probably comes down to Roger and myself." He echoed those feelings Wednesday.
"It's a strange situation," Hewitt said. "I don't know how many times it would have happened that the top two ranked players in the world would be playing in a semifinal in a Slam. But if you knock the best player off out there, then you've got to be pretty confident going into Sunday."
And at this point, that's all he can hope for.
"He's beaten me enough to believe in his chances," Federer said. "He knows how to win."
Now the question becomes: Can he?
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.
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