- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Playing in the first tournament final of his young career, little-known Gilles Muller literally hit a wall.

His name was Lleyton Hewitt.

Every time Muller thought he stroked a winner, Hewitt ran it down and returned it, almost as if Muller was playing by himself and banging shots off the facade of William H.G. FitzGerald Center.

On a gloriously sunny day in the nation’s capital, the second-seeded Hewitt became the first Australian in 32 years to win the Legg Mason Tennis Classic with a 6-3, 6-4 victory yesterday.

Less than 24 hours after knocking out top seed Andre Agassi in the semifinals, the 21-year-old Muller tried to get every shot in his impressive arsenal past Hewitt, but the world’s fifth-ranked player returned everything to sender.

“Lleyton is so difficult to play, much like you’re playing against the wall. I knew he was running so fast. He was running everywhere, and he was bringing everything back, and then I kind of lost my confidence and I shouldn’t have,” said Muller, who will break into the top 100 for the first time in his career when the newest ATP rankings come out today. “I was so surprised. I made some mistakes because I tried to hit too hard to make the winners.”

Muller, who is from Luxembourg, tried delicate drop shots only to have Hewitt chase them down. He tried to power his left-handed serve past Hewitt, but the Australian positioned himself perfectly. Muller’s strong crosscourt shots, which probably would be winners against anybody else in the tournament, simply sailed back over the net.

“I’d like to be the wall. The wall doesn’t lose,” said Hewitt, who became the fifth player this year to win at least three tournaments. “I was just trying to put as much pressure on him as possible and make him play that one extra shot. If he’s good enough to hit the winner, then so be it. It’s won me a lot of matches in the past, that hustling never-say-die attitude. I continue to keep doing that, especially against a guy like that who is still a little hit-or-miss from the back of the court at the moment.”

Hewitt, 23, became the first Aussie to win in Washington since Tony Roche in 1972. Ken Rosewall was the only other Aussie to win in D.C. in 1971.

Hewitt took home $69,200 for winning the 36th Legg Mason, and Muller pocketed $40,700 as the runner-up, the biggest payday of his career. Before the tournament, Muller had won only one match on the ATP Tour.

It was Hewitt’s second consecutive appearance in a final. Two weeks ago, Hewitt lost in three sets to Agassi in the finals of the Cincinnati Masters. With less than two weeks before the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., Hewitt, a two-time world No.1, is playing at a high level and has to be considered among the favorites entering the last Grand Slam event of the season.

“I’m happy with where my game’s at, but I feel just to get some more matches, keep the roll going, get match toughness in the same court, same balls everything with the U.S. Open there, it’s not far away,” Hewitt said of his decision to play in this week’s TD Waterhouse Cup in Long Island, N.Y. “Just trying to continue what I’ve built on, just sharpening a couple of areas up before the U.S. Open.

In yesterday’s final, Hewitt broke Muller on five of his last seven service games and forced Muller to 16 break points. Hewitt won 88 percent of his first service points in this match and fired six aces in the first set.

Muller has a reputation of having a big serve. But in the second set, Hewitt broke Muller in the fourth, eighth and 10th games.

“Right from the word go, I felt like I was in his serve, especially as well as I could have been considering I really haven’t seen him play before,” Hewitt said. “It was tough knowing what he was going to do on big points or whatever, purely because he hasn’t been in that situation in semis and finals or tour events before. I felt that I handled going out there and just worrying about my game more than anything.”

Note — In the doubles final, the unseeded South African duo of Chris Haggard and Robbie Koenig defeated American Travis Parrott and Russian Dmitry Tursunov 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 for their fifth ATP Tour doubles title.


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