NEW YORK (Reuters) - A fist-pumping Lleyton Hewitt turned back the clock as he wore down an injured Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-0 7-6(2) 1-0 on Tuesday to extend his U.S. Open grand slam goodbye.
Playing on a small outside court in the shadow of the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium that provided the stage 14 years earlier for the brash Australian’s win over Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open final, Hewitt typically appeared up for a fight.
“Obviously everyone has to call ‘time’ at some stage,” offered a philosophical Hewitt. “I‘m very comfortable with how it’s all panning out at the moment.”
Set to retire after next year’s Australian Open, Hewitt may have lost a step and his groundstrokes are not quite as ferocious but the 34-year-old showed he has lost none of his combativeness, particularly in a ruthless first set that ended with Nedovyesov calling for the trainer to treat his shoulder.
With his wounded opponent on the ropes, Hewitt showed the Kazak no mercy and forced the second set to a tiebreak which he easily won 7-2. After the Australian grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third, Nedovyesov threw his racquet towards his chair and waved the white flag.
In many ways, it was a typical performance from the battling Australian who constructed a career around a relentless fighting spirit that became one of his calling cards.
An Australian Rules player growing up before he focussed on tennis, Hewitt has brought the same rugged, take-no-prisoners approach of his nation’s indigenous football game to the court.
Dressed mostly in black with his trademark baseball cap slung low over his brow, Hewitt had the small crowd cheering as he chased down balls and gave the spectators full value for the price of admission.
It was also a trip down Memory Lane for the former world number one, who cemented his reputation as a blue collar brawler on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.
”Pete Sampras, in the (2001) final, in his home grand slam,“ replied Hewitt, when asked about his greatest U.S. Open memories. ”The semi-final and final I felt invincible out there. Didn’t feel like I could miss a ball.
”Pete hadn’t dropped serve for something ridiculous going into the final. I remember sitting right here, everyone saying, ‘You can’t beat him, you can’t break his serve.’ I just tried and I broke him first game. That gave me a lot of confidence.
“For me it was a surreal feeling, but it gave me confidence for the rest of my career going out there and being able to play well in those situations and not be in awe of the situation.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes