Semi-finals day at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships was looking good for our bets until the last set of the day.
Rajeev Ram gave us a good start on Saturday by taking the one required set from Lleyton Hewitt despite serving appallingly and blowing a 4-1 first set lead. Ram lost five games in a row to lose the opener before serving three double faults at 5-3, 40-15 in the second.
The American served 12 double faults in all, which enabled the veteran Aussie to win the match despite serving poorly himself, with seven double faults and a first serve percentage of 48%.
John Isner and Ryan Harrison looked like they would bring the overs bet in as well in their match, after playing out an opener that saw zero break point chances and the inevitable-tie break. But Isner raised his level in the second as Harrison dropped away, resulting in Harrison being unable to secure the five games we required from him to win our overs wager.
So, it’s the classic big man versus little man final today, with Isner facing Hewitt. The match pits a big server against a good returner from 7pm UK time tonight.
It’s a match-up that Hewitt has enjoyed so far in their careers, with the Aussie winning all three of their matches comfortably in straight sets. Two of them have come in very low key events though – the Hopman Cup in 2010 on indoor hard and the World Team Cup on clay the same year, which followed their initial meeting in Shanghai back in 2009.
So there’s no recent history to go on, but the ease with which Hewitt has brushed Isner aside in the past has to be a concern for Isner backers today at odds of around 1.37.
Clearly the two players have gone in opposite directions in terms of rankings and level of play since those three meetings and injuries have taken their toll on Hewitt, but there’s still little value in backing Isner at that price.
Hewitt has never lost a grass court final in his entire career and barely lost a set in those seven championships matches. Isner has struggled lately in finals, with two wins from his last eight on all surfaces. He is, though, one from one on grass.
One factor in Isner’s favour is his outstanding record against players under six feet in height. The big man has won 17 of his last 18 matches against those opponents, with the one exception being a loss to Nikolay Davydenko in Nice before the French Open this year. Going purely on the displays that we’ve seen this week from both players it’s hard to make much of a case for Hewitt, whose serving has generally been poor.
This match will probably come down to how well Isner can return. Hewitt has been broken on numerous occasions this week by the likes of Ram, Tim Smyczek and Dudi Sela, and you would think that Isner would be able to add his name to that hardly illustrious list.
It then becomes a question of whether Hewitt still has the reflexes and speed of movement to return the Isner serve as effectively as he has in the past. The evidence of the last time he faced a big server – Ivo Karlovic at Queen’s last month - suggests that he's struggle.
Hewitt will need to be the Rusty of old to win this and although I don’t think he will, I do think he’ll have enough about him to grab a set as he tries to keep that perfect grass court final record going.
Back Hewitt +1.5 sets at around 1.80