Today we’re going to look at the end of the Andy Roddick – Lleyton Hewitt semifinal at the Cincinnati Masters event and see if Hewitt manages to get under Roddick’s skin and beat him in yet another semifinal. Then we are going to look at the Amelie Mauresmo – Justine Henin-Hardenne semifinal in Toronto. What happens when one of the mentally toughest players on the tour, Henin-Hardenne, plays the more mentally fragile Mauresmo? To say that Mauresmo is mentally fragile is a relative statement. Relative to Justine Henin-Hardenne, 98% of the population is mentally fragile. I get nervous every time I get the lead in a match.
Roddick is a very gracious competitor. His former coach, Brad Gilbert, didn’t like Roddick’s habit of applauding his opponent’s good shots. Hewitt can be a jerk. If you get annoyed when he celebrates your errors, and who wouldn’t, he’ll get combative and celebrate more. Hewitt uses his emotions to push himself to fight harder. Roddick’s emotions derail him. If he gets a bad call or tangles with an obnoxious opponent, he gets frustrated.
We join Roddick and Hewitt with Roddick serving at 5-6, 15-15 to stay in the second set. Roddick has already won the first set 6-4.
One of Hewitt’s mental strengths is his relentlessness. He goes after everything that moves. Right away he gets an impossible pickup. Roddick chips and charges a low ball to the corner. Hewitt manages to get over to the ball then flick it up off the ground and past Roddick for a winner.
Roddick’s record against Hewitt is 1-6. Against Federer it’s 1-10. If he can’t add something to his game, those results will not change. When you can serve over 150 mph, one obvious tactic to try is attacking the net on your serve. Which is what Roddick does for the next three points to win the game and get to the tiebreaker.
Roddick continues his Pete Sampras imitation and comes in every point on his serve in the tiebreaker, including a serve and volley on second serve. He wins the tiebreaker and match, 6-4, 7-6(4).
Roddick’s new aggressiveness doesn’t work against Federer in the final, Federer will win his fourth Masters Series tournament of the year and take his first Cincinnati championship. But it’s a good development for Roddick. He has more game than Hewitt and should beat him most of the time. If he continues to develop the attacking part of his game, he’ll be a better match for Federer.
Relative to Justine Henin-Hardenne, 98% of the population is mentally fragile. I get nervous every time I get the lead in a match
Mauresmo is the defending champion and loves to play in Canada. Well, Montreal anyway. She’s won this tournament twice when it was in Montreal. Henin-Hardenne has won four of the six tournaments she’s entered this year including her fourth grand slam title at the French Open. This should be a good match.
Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne have the best one-handed backhands in the game are also two of the best shotmakers. They throw high loopers, flat angled shots and slices at each other and come to the net four time between them in the first game alone. Mauresmo is the first one to crack. She hits a load of errors and loses her second service game at love to go down 1-2.
Henin-Hardenne is an aggressive player. She takes chances to go for winners and comes to the net at any opportunity. She is clearly here to win this match as soon as she can. Mauresmo is not as aggressive, relatively speaking. She stays back and hits more shots to the center of the court. It doesn’t help that she’s getting less than 50% of her first serves in.
Up 4-3, Henin-Hardenne lets a ball get away from her and gives Mauresmo a break point. Mauresmo then does something unusual. She moves way over to the center tee to challenge Henin-Hardenne’s favorite serve down the middle. Henin-Hardenne hits the serve right at Mauresmo. The ploy works, Henin-Hardenne hits another error to give the break back.
Serving at 5-5, Mauresemo is faced with a break point when she finally decides it would be a good time to come to the net only to be passed by a gorgeous backhand down the line. Henin-Hardenne serves out and wins the first set 7-5.
Mauresmo gives up a break in the first game of the second set as Henin-Hardenne picks up where she left off – going for winners. In the second game, Mauresmo should have let an overhead bounce. Instead, she hits it into the middle of the court and Henin-Hardenne returns it so hard that Mauresmo can only send it wide.
Then the momentum changes. Mauresmo increases her first serve percentage significantly and begins to take the net away from Henin-Hardenne who starts spraying forehands everywhere but the court. Mauresmo wins five straight games before Henin-Hardenne finally remembers what got her there and starts going for more winners and coming to the net again. You have to appreciate this. The net is not the easiest place for a 5’5” player to camp out and Henin-Hardenne is not that comfortable there but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Henin-Hardenne wins one more game before losing the second set, 3-6, but then Mauresmo completely falls apart. She loses the third set 1-6 winning her lone game on a break of serve. Mauresmo wins only half the points on her first serve and no points at all on her second serve.
In some sports competitions, the difference in score between second and first place can be very small, a tenth of a point in a gymnastics competition for instance. But the difference between first and second place can be huge because the first place finisher is a champion in their mind. They’ll do whatever it takes to win.
Mauresmo is ranked number three in the world but the distance between her and the number one ranked players is at least as big as the distance between Roddick and Federer.