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July 13 (Reuters) - Ageing warrior Lleyton Hewitt claimed the 30th title of his career when he downed towering Croat Ivo Karlovic in the final of the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport on Sunday.
Australian Hewitt, who famously lost to Karlovic in the first round of Wimbledon as defending champion in 2003, edged a grasscourt battle between the two tour veterans 6-3 6-7(4) 7-6(3) in two-and-a-half hours.
“I felt relief to have finally won here,” Hewitt, who won the Newport final in his third successive bid, told reporters.
“For me, I’ve come here the last three years and have come awfully close the last two years. It’s nice to be rewarded today.”
The 33-year-old has now won eight grasscourt titles, second only to Roger Federer amongst active players and is one of only four current players to have 30 career titles.
But he did it the hard way, squandering two match points on serve in the second set, before Karlovic broke and subsequently took the tie-break.
The scene was a virtual carbon copy of Hewitt’s runnerup finish last year, when the 2002 Wimbledon champion served for the match at 5-4 in the second before losing.
The Australian got off to a slow start in the third set, but saved three break points. The pair held serve until the tie-break, and Hewitt converted on his third match point.
“We had tough conditions today, especially for serving,” Hewitt said of the gusty winds. “I was just trying to play clean tennis as much as possible. From the baseline I was able to adjust to (the) wind better than him.”
Karlovic said his serve, his greatest weapon, had deserted him. “I was committing a lot of double faults and missing volleys, both of which I don’t normally do. That was because of the wind and because Hewitt was always right there.”
According to the ATP, the combined 68 years and 10 months between Hewitt and Karlovic made the match the oldest tour-level final since 1977, when Ken Rosewall and Tom Gorman played in the Hong Kong final (74 years and 8 months).
Later in the day, Hewitt teamed with fellow Australian Chris Guccione to win the doubles title 7-5 6-4 over Israel’s Jonathan Erlich and American Rajeev Ram.
It was sweet ending to the week for Hewitt, who lost in the Newport singles final to Nicolas Mahut last year and John Isner in 2012. (Writing by Andrew Both; Editing by Ian Ransom)