There was a time when Lleyton Hewitt had Roger Federer's number, winning seven of their first nine matches. Even when he beat him at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2004 it was only after a struggle.
Then came their meeting in the US Open final here later that year, with Hewitt losing 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. "An incredible match," Federer recalled late on Wednesday night after his victory over Simon Greul earned another meeting with his old Australian foe, a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela, in the third round here tomorrow.
What hold Hewitt had over Federer was loosened long ago, the world No 1 having beaten him in their last 13 matches. Just about the only wavelength they share these days is as fathers, but even in that respect the Swiss has got the better of him: Hewitt has one daughter, whereas Federer's wife, Mirka, recently gave birth to twin girls.
Federer's run of US Open titles began with that 2004 victory. David Nalbandian, who knocked the Swiss out in the fourth round in 2003, was the last player to beat him here. When Federer was asked after his 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 victory over Greul to name the opponents who had ever established any sort of hold over him he chose to ignore Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – who have 13-7 and 6-3 winning records respectively against him – and recalled instead Nalbandian, Hewitt and Tim Henman from his earlier years.
"I realised against Nalbandian that I was panicking," he said. "Against Hewitt it was similar. Every time I would come to the net he would pass or lob me. Henman was just uncomfortable because he always kept coming at me."
If Federer's early form here has encouraged those who have been backing the Swiss to win his sixth US Open title in succession, not everybody shares that view. Andre Agassi is among those tipping Murray to go one better than last year, when he lost to Federer in the final.
What did Federer make of Agassi's choice? "Not everybody can pick me, so it's fine," he said. "The only thing is that Andy hasn't won a Slam yet, but he's still quite young. I think he is definitely in the best shape of his life right now. He was last year as well, but with one more year of experience he's definitely got a great chance to do well this year."
Murray plays his second-round match today against Paul Capdeville, the world No 87. Three years ago the Chilean and Mario Ancic were fined $3,000 after squaring up to each other after a match at the French Open, but that is about the only occasion when he has made his mark at a Grand Slam tournament, having never gone beyond the second round.
Capdeville and Murray got to know each other some years ago when they trained together at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona. They were even occasional doubles partners and shared the same coach, Pato Alvarez. Capdeville recalled: "Pato Alvarez always used to say: 'Andy's the next No 1.' I practised with Andy all the time, but he's a different guy now. He's world No 2 and plays great. He's won a lot of tournaments. He's so smart."
Dinara Safina was among those first on court yesterday and laboured for the second round in succession before beating Germany's Kristina Barrois 6-7, 6-2, 6-3. The match followed an identical pattern to the Russian's victory over Olivia Rogowska. Once again she lost the first set tie-break on a double-fault before recovering to win in two hours and 13 minutes. With 38 unforced errors alongside her name, it was not the form of a world No 1.Reuse content