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Focused Tsonga sees off Hewitt

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga returns a shot in his first round match.
by Ronald Atkin
Tuesday 26 June 2012

In the end, the wild card which got him into The Championships 2012 was not enough for Lleyton Hewitt. At the age of 31, the feisty Australian who won Wimbledon ten years ago was no longer fast enough or fit enough, following a series of foot operations, to contain the superior power of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the fifth seed, who ended up winning comfortably 6-2,6-4,6-4 in one hour 58 minutes on No.1 Court.

Because of the foot problem, as well as a groin injury, Hewitt played only 20 matches in 2011 and this year, having undergone surgery to remove bone growth from a big toe in March, he arrived at Wimbledon having played only six tournaments and without a singles win since that operation. But surgery could not excise the fighting spirit which radiates from Hewitt beneath that trademark back-to-front cap. Urged on by a group of supporters in Australia's national colours of green and gold, Hewitt gave it his best shot, no doubt remembering that he, and not Tsonga, has his name on the honours board at these Championships.

He held a couple of break points early in the first set, and was to have eight of them in all, only for Tsonga''s booming game to rescue him every time. The difference in power between the two was encapsulated by the ace count. Tsonga blasted 21 of them, Hewitt just one.

Having led 3-2 when rain caused a brief break in play, Tsonga return to win three straight games and wrap up the first set in 32 minutes. Hewitt's best shot at staying in contention came in the sixth game of the second set. He had three break points for what would have been a 4-2 lead but the tall Frenchman saved all three with aces and then added another flourish by rescuing that game with another ace. As in the first set, Tsonga won three straight games for a two-set advantage and increasingly Hewitt found himself without an answer to his opponent's sizzling cross-court forehands - and of course that booming serve.

Tsonga was also slightly handicapped by the damaged finger suffered at The Queen's Club tournament, but insisted he was not in pain, except when he dived. "So I only did one dive today." He paid tribute to Hewitt as a true champion. "It's never easy to play a guy like this. When you go on court you know he played unbelievable matches here and is maybe still able to play the same tennis. But it's better for me to play somebody like this because I have to stay focused. And today I did well. I played well. Very good tennis. Aggressive. Very solid."

Hewitt claimed he is not thinking about possible retirement. "I'm an athlete. I'm still playing the game to compete. I walk off the court the same as the year I lost first round to [Ivo] Karlovic [2003]. Disappointed and wishing I was still in the event. I didn't do a lot wrong really. Considering where I've come from, that was probably as good as I could have done today.. I returned pretty well, I felt sharp, but he served too well."

Hewitt feels that, having beaten Roger Federer in last year's quarter-finals, Tsonga has a chance to do well again this year. "But the tough thing for him is he is probably going to have to beat at least two, maybe three good players in a row." And those three players - Djokovic, Nadal and Federer - keep improving, in Tsonga's opinion. "But one day I hope they will stop improving and I will continue to improve."

As for his own future, Hewitt said "I'm proud of what I've been able to do, all the hard work it's taken to get here. I'd like to be back, absolutely, but we'll have to wait and see."

In fact it won't be long before Hewitt is back at Wimbledon. Immediately after the match he learned that he had received a wild card for the Olympic tennis event to be played at the All England Club next month.

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