For more than 10 years Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick have forged remarkably similar careers alongside each other. But tonight, for the fourteenth time in their careers, they will come face to face on court.
“There are a lot of parallels between us on a lot of levels,” said Roddick in the lead-up to tonight’s Rod Laver Arena feature showing.
“I think we're pretty similar in the fact that we always compete pretty well, fight pretty well. He's definitely maximised his game. He's got a great tennis IQ.
“I think there's a lot of mutual respect there. For sure there is from my end.”
Both are former world No.1s, Grand Slam tournament champions and have each won dozens of titles (Hewitt 28 to Roddick’s 30).
While Roddick was quick to note the similarities between the two, this week's rankings show that a chasm 165 places wide now separates the former top 10 roommates. Not that Roddick takes any comfort from the space between the two.
"I think when we play, numbers go out the door as far as the number next to our name as far as ranking," said Roddick.
"I don't pay much attention to it when it comes to Lleyton. He knows how to win tennis matches."
Hewitt has, in fact, won 552 matches – six of them over Roddick – in a career that started professionally back in 1998. Since 2000, Roddick has chalked up 590 wins, seven of them against Hewitt.
In recent years tonight’s match would have been a more likely quarterfinal or semifinal match-up, certainly not a second-round encounter. But thanks to Hewitt’s recent injury battles and subsequent ranking blowout, these two warriors will lock horns earlier than usual.
In their first few matches, it was Hewitt, the youngest player to ever hold the No.1 ranking at 20 years and eight months, who dominated the pair's head-to-head record.
But lately, it's been all one-way traffic. Roddick has won the pair's past six matches, but there have been some close calls.
"A couple of those matches have been extremely tight. Obviously, the Grand Slam at Wimbledon could have gone either way, fifth set," reminisced Hewitt.
"Played him a couple times at Memphis, won the first set and lost three in tight three-setters there, as well. Just haven't been able to get those one or two points against him when I needed them."
Their shared history has given them both a good insight into each other’s game. Over the years both players have evolved, but their core strengths remain.
"Don't really have to ask around too much to find out what Andy's strengths and weaknesses are," quipped Hewitt.
"His strengths are still pretty much the same. Obviously his serve's his biggest strength. For a big guy he moves well. From the back of the court his forehand is probably stronger than his backhand."
"He's a fighter," said Roddick. "I have as much respect for him as I do for anybody in the game, how he goes about his business, how he competes, how professional he is."
In recent times, both players have had to fight their way back from various injuries. Hewitt's mind has railed against a body that has suffered from various ailments stemming from the stress his grinding style of play puts on it.
Most recently a foot complaint has kept the former No.1 off the court. It’s a problem that is lingering and still requires "a little bit of work every day" according to Hewitt.
Roddick has had his own share of problems – a bout of mononucleosis in 2010 and then last year an injured shoulder kept him out of the French Open, followed by an abdominal strain that added to his time on the sidelines.
Looking at tonight’s match-up, 15th-seeded Roddick, regardless of what he says about rankings being meaningless, will start the favourite.
In his favour, Roddick has had an easier passage to tonight’s match. A 6-3 6-4 6-1 win over Robin Haase provided the American with the perfect entree to tonight’s main course.
Hewitt, however, had to rely on his instincts to navigate his way into the second round after up-and-coming German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe provided some early resistance to Hewitt’s charge. Hewitt ultimately prevailed in four sets, but it was not as straightforward as his team, especially his physio Ivan Gutierrez, would have hoped.
Ever the warrior, even in his post-match press conference Hewitt was mentally preparing himself for another fight.
“I'll just go out there and see what happens.”
And whatever happens, one thing’s for sure – it will be compulsive viewing.