LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Juan Martin Del Potro leapt over the net, dived across the court and was often left rooted to the spot as his idol Lleyton Hewitt produced his best tennis in years to cut the lofty fifth seed down to size on Thursday.
The 2002 champion, something of an underdog after slipping down the rankings following hip surgery last year, directed proceedings from the baseline to win 6-3 7-5 7-5 and book his place in the third round at Wimbledon.
“I executed perfectly, hit the ball great, served unbelievable for most of the match. I took it to him right from the start,” the former world number one told a news conference.
“I competed as well as I’ve ever competed ... (it was the best I’ve played) probably since 2005.”
The Australian had expected to face a different Spanish-speaking, bandana-wearing player in this round before holder Rafael Nadal withdrew from the championships injured and the draw was reshuffled.
Hewitt grasped his opportunity with both hands.
His cap may have been back to front but that was the only thing awry as the 28-year-old spent much of his time behind the baseline pelting the Argentine with inch-perfect low shots and forcing him to make mistakes.
Having held serve for 3-2 in the opener after a marathon series of deuces, Hewitt broke in the next game and then sealed the set with an ace.
A cheeky drop shot in the fourth game of the second set had Del Potro charging forward and jumping over the net as if he was competing in the high hurdles.
After the Australian grabbed the second set with a smash, 20-year-old Del Potro — affectionately cheered on as “Del Boy” or “Juan Man” — was again sent flying by a drop shot as he tumbled sideways after stretching to reach it.
Against the 1.98-metre Del Potro, Hewitt was never going to have much opportunity to use his renowned topspin lob but when he did get the chance he made it count by setting up break point in the first game of the third.
As the sun beamed down on Centre Court and Hewitt turned up the heat with 14 aces, including three in a row, a small yellow-and-green-clad Australian contingent got up and launched into a rendition of “Feelin’ hot, hot, hot.”
Hewitt had to serve for the match twice after Del Potro broke in the 10th but he made sure second time around when the Argentine’s service return went long.
The pair spent longer than is usual shaking hands at the end of the match which was mainly down to the Argentine.
“I said ‘congrats’. He’s one of my idols. I said ‘You are in very good shape again, so I’m happy for you and good luck’,” said Del Potro, adding he still had lots to learn on grass.
Hewitt, who said the thought of quitting the sport had been at the back of his mind before he opted for surgery, tipped his admirer as a future grand slam champion. Before that happens, Hewitt could add a third to his name.
“I think if draws open up and the body feels good and I can execute that kind of style of tennis for over five sets, there’s no reason why I can’t put a bit of pressure on these (top) guys,” he said.
Editing by Ken Ferris; To comment on this story: firstname.lastname@example.org