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Hewitt Clinches Second Clay Court Title

Houston, U.S.A.

Australian Lleyton Hewitt claims the Houston title.© Tessa KolodnyLleyton Hewitt With The Trophy

Former two-time ATP World Tour Champion Lleyton Hewitt defeated American Wayne Odesnik 6-2, 7-5 on Sunday at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston to win his 27th ATP World Tour title and his second on clay.

As the winner of the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament, the 28-year-old Aussie collects $79,000 and 250 South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings points.

"[It’s been] a while coming, so it feels great," said Hewitt. "It’s always nice to get back in the winner’s circle. This is what the hard work’s for, to play weeks like this and to have this kind of feeling at the end of them. It makes all the hard work and gone through the surgery all worth it, so it’s a good start to the year now."

Hewitt made a strong start in the first unseeded US Men’s Clay Court Championship final since 2006 (Fish d. Melzer), going up two breaks of serve against first-time ATP World Tour finalist Odesnik to take the 3-0 lead. Though Odesnik recovered a break to get on the board at 3-1, Hewitt broke him again in the seventh game before serving out the opening set.

Odesnik once again fell behind a double-break in the second set, but then made crucial saves on serve and capitalised on his break point chances to win the following five games.

"The second set, when I was down 3-0, I kind of relaxed and was able to play more aggressively," said Odesnik, who faced at least one break point in each of his service games. "I had nothing to lose, and I started playing much better, and had some chances in the second set to serve for it, but things didn’t go my way today."

Hewitt prevented Odesnik from getting the match back on level ground, winning the final four games to secure the win in just over two hours. He became the 13th player in the tournament’s Open Era history to win the title without the loss of a set, and the first Australian champion since Jason Stoltenberg won in 1994 (d. Markus) in Birmingham.

Hewitt, who converted seven of 16 break point chances, said afterward: “Clay is a tough surface to close players out. I was playing extremely well up to that point. I played some unbelievable clay court tennis, and he’s a tough competitor. He doesn’t give you cheap points out there; he makes you work for all of them. I felt like I was able to put pressure on him up until that stage. Even though he got back in that second set, every game bar one that he won in the second set I had game points. It could’ve easily been 6-love, 6-1 in the second set. I had a lot of chances, I played well to create chances; you’ve just got to take those opportunities.”

It marked Hewitt’s first title since March 2007, when he captured the Las Vegas title (d. Melzer). He had won at least one ATP World Tour title for 10 straight years before his streak came to an end in 2008. He improved to a 27-14 record in ATP World Tour finals, including a 2-0 mark on clay. He won his first clay court title in May 1999 at Delray Beach (d. Malisse), his second of 27 career titles.

“It’s been 10 years since I’ve won a clay court tournament so it’s a big day to win another clay court event,” said Hewitt. “I feel like I’m getting better and better every year on this surface, so now I really look forward to the French Open. With a bit of luck, with a good draw, I think I can do some damage there.”

Hewitt now stands at a 499-169 wins-loss record on the ATP World Tour, and could post his 500th match win at this week’s Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he has received a wild card entry. He takes a 7-6 head-to-head record into his first-round match against another former ATP World No. 1, Marat Safin. Should he defeat Safin, he would join Roger Federer (634) and Carlos Moya (573) as the only active players with 500 or more match wins.

Hewitt, the ATP World Tour Champion in 2001-02, finished last year ranked outside the Top 25 at No. 67 for the first time since his rookie campaign in 1998 after being hobbled by a left hip injury and underwent surgery on Aug. 16, 2008 in Melbourne. Prior to Houston, his best results of 2009 included a semi-final run in Memphis (l. to Roddick) and quarter-final result in Sydney (l. to Nalbandian). He will move from No. 88 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings to around No. 56 by winning the Houston title.

Odesnik was trying to become the first first-time winner on the ATP World Tour this year in 22 tournaments. The 23-year-old Floridian had entered the week with a 0-3 season match record and a No. 100 ranking, but will climb to a career-high around No. 73 following his runner-up effort in Houston.

“My first ATP final is a bit disappointing, but Lleyton’s won many titles and at the end of the week, I still made the final, which is a good week,” said Odesnik. “He’s one of the greatest returners in the sport. I think his ranking is 70 or 80, but he’s been injured and if you look at his results every time he’s healthy and playing, he’s a Top 10 player. I feel my game has come a long way but I still got a long way to go as far as improvement.”

Odesnik has a 7-3 match record at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship, placing him seventh among active players for matches won at the tournament. Last year, he held two match points in his semi-final loss to eventual champion Marcel Granollers of Spain.

 

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