By JOHN PYE
2014-01-04 09:22 PM
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt earned three-set victories on Saturday to set up a meeting in the Brisbane International final, renewing a rivalry that stretches back to the last millennium.
Federer beat No. 8-seeded Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3 in a semifinal featuring just two service breaks, immediately after Hewitt's 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over second-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan.
The pair of 32-year-old former No. 1s have met 26 times dating back to Hewitt's win at Lyon in 1999. Federer leads their head-to-head record 18-8, including 16 wins in their last 17 matches, and has 17 Grand Slam titles to Hewitt's two.
"We go way back," Federer said. "My rivalry with him was pretty intense. Never nasty or anything, but just good matches.
"We're total opposite from one another the way we play. ... I think that's why it's always an interesting matchup for both of us."
Hewitt is coming back from long-term foot and toe injuries, is ranked in the 60s and is into his first final on home soil since losing the Australian Open decider to Marat Safin in 2005 -- that last time he went beyond the semifinals at a major.
The last time they met in a final, Hewitt broke Federer's streak of 15 wins in head-to-heads with a comeback victory in three sets at Halle in 2010. That was the last of Hewitt's 28 career titles. Federer has won 77 titles, the last being at Halle last year.
"You want to play against the best players, and obviously Roger and I have a good history and a lot of tough matches in the past in slams and Davis Cups and everything," Hewitt said. "We're the same age. We grew up together. He's a great guy. I have the upmost respect for him, not only as a player but for what he does off the court as well."
Hewitt handled the heat better than his Japanese opponent as the temperatures topped 104 F (40 C), and his grinding style paid dividends as the match extended to 2 ? hours. He
"I love a battle," said Hewitt, who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002 and spent 80 weeks at No. 1 before Federer assumed the top ranking and held onto it for 4 ? years. "Mentally this is a major win to have come back and gone the distance."
Federer said he struggled against Hewitt earlier in his career before getting on top in the rivalry. Now both married with kids, they're occasional practice partners and get on well.
Both players have reflected on a Davis Cup semifinal between Australia and Switzerland at Rod Laver Arena in 2003 as the turning point in their rivalry, and in Federer's career. Hewitt rallied from two sets and a break down to win that match, but it still changed Federer's mindset for the better.
"I was ... serving for the match, ended up losing 6-1 in the fifth," Federer recalled Saturday. "It really proved to me that I could play great tennis not just for a set, two sets, but three sets or maybe even longer against the toughest guys out there.
"And for me to be able to not just do it tennis-wise but physically and mentally gave me the big belief that I could hang with the best -- then I went on a run like I did."