Feeling the heat in more ways than one, Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt kept their cool to book a Brisbane International men’s final showdown at a sweltering Pat Rafter Arena on Saturday.
Hewitt bore the brunt of the brutal conditions in a stirring 5-7 6-4 6-3 win over second seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.
And ex-world No.1 Federer was made to sweat it out by hard-hitting eighth-seeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy before prevailing 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in their semi-final.
Federer, 32, played in cooler temperatures but Chardy turned up the heat on centre court, bouncing back from a lacklustre start to claim the second set tiebreak.
In contrast, Hewitt and Nishikori spent breaks between games with ice packs around their necks and on their heads nestled next to fans as temperatures hovered around 40 degrees.
World No.60 Hewitt hung on to book yet another showdown with his long-time rival and good friend in an ideal pre-Australian Open warm-up.
“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 – I’m going to enjoy it,” Hewitt said.
World No.6 Federer – a 17-time grand slam champion – holds an 18-8 record against Hewitt spanning 15 years, winning 16 of their last 17 encounters.
However, Hewitt won their last meeting on the tour, ending a string of 15 straight losses by prevailing in the 2010 Halle final in Germany.
“Well, I reckon nearly everyone had some kind of run against Roger those years,” Hewitt said of his losing streak against Federer.
Two-time grand slam champion Hewitt is enjoying the best start to a summer since 2005 when he made the Australian Open final against Marat Safin after overcoming world No.17 Nishikori.
“Obviously you come off a couple months not playing any matches, so just to get that self-belief and match toughness back and to beat quality players match after match…it’s good,” he said.
Hewitt, 32, was up 40-0 serving at 5-all but was still broken before Nishikori sealed the first set with a stunning backhand winner.
However, Hewitt again showed his fighting spirit to break Nishikori – eight years his junior – in the 10th game and seal the second set.
On a roll, Hewitt rattled off a total of five straight games to jump to a 3-0 lead in the third and didn’t look back.
Fit again after a career-threatening toe injury and back in the world top 75 for the first time in three years, Hewitt is suddenly feeling very good ahead of the year’s first grand slam.
“I keep putting myself through it. Must like punishment,” Hewitt smiled.
“Mentally this is a major win to have come back and gone the distance.
“You are retired a long time. I want to squeeze out everything I possibly can before then.”