On the rare occasions when Roger Federer's fortunes have faltered in the past, normal service has nearly always resumed once the grass-court season has come around. Even when his run of five successive Wimbledon victories was ended by Rafael Nadal two years ago, Federer returned to the All England Club 12 months later to reclaim his crown and thereby eclipse Pete Sampras's all-time record of 14 major titles.
Until this week, that defeat to Nadal had been Federer's only grass-court defeat in 77 matches going back over eight years. But yesterday, the Swiss lost 6-3, 6-7, 4-6 to his old rival Lleyton Hewitt in the final at Halle, Germany, where Federer traditionally completes his Wimbledon preparations.
Not only was it Federer's first defeat at the tournament since 2002, but it was also Hewitt's first victory over him in his past 16 attempts. The Australian used to be a persistent thorn in the world No 2's side, winning seven of their first nine encounters, but this was his first victory over him for seven years.
Hewitt's career has been dogged by injury in recent times – he had hip and knee surgery after this year's Australian Open – but the former Wimbledon and US Open champion remains a great competitor. He gave Nadal one of his toughest matches at the recent French Open and has always performed well on grass.
The match was tight and ended, after two hours and 20 minutes, when a Hewitt forehand hit the top of the net and toppled over on to Federer's side of the court. It was the world No 32's first grass-court title for four years.
"It was a very sweet win," Hewitt said afterwards. "After surgery, you're never quite sure how long it will take to be truly competitive against the best players in the world, but I had glimpses of it against Nadal in Paris, when I felt I was right in the match. Today, I really felt my movement had come back. It was good quality tennis."
Federer's defeat will reinforce the opinions of those who wonder if he may be on the slide. The Swiss has bounced back from adversity in the past, but he has been on a particularly poor run ever since he beat Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open. He has not won a tournament since then and his quarter-final defeat to Robin Soderling in the French Open ended his record run of 23 successive appearances in Grand Slam semi-finals.
It was Hewitt's first appearance in Halle, the Australian having warmed up for Wimbledon for the previous 12 years by playing at Queen's Club in London, where he has won the title four times.
Queen's crowned a new champion yesterday when Sam Querrey won the Aegon Championships by beating Mardy Fish, his friend and fellow American, 7-6, 7-5 in the final. Querrey, 22, has now claimed titles on three different surfaces this year, having won on clay in Belgrade and on a hard-court in Memphis.
Querrey saved three break points in the second game, but thereafter rarely looked in trouble on his serve and took the first set tie-break 7-3. Four successive aces got the world No 23 off to the perfect start in the second set, only for Fish to break in the fifth game. However, Fish played a poor game when serving for the set at 5-4, rounding off with two woeful backhands, and Querrey broke him again two games later to secure the match.
Maria Sharapova's attempt to win the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston for a third time ended in a 7-5, 6-1 defeat by China's Li Na, who also beat the Russian in last year's semi-finals.
Laura Robson, the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion, was beaten 6-3 6-4 by Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, the world No 47, in the first round in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, but Heather Watson, Britain's US Open junior champion, recorded the best victory of her career when she beat Tsvetana Pironkova, the world No 81, in qualifying for this week's Aegon International at Eastbourne. Watson, who had never beaten a player in the world's top 100, won 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. In the first round of the men's event Britain's Jamie Baker went down 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Alexandr Dolgopolov.Reuse content