The 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt has rolled back the years to blitz the No.11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round. In the gloaming on No.1 Court, the Australian father-of-three – now ranked 70 – defied his 32 years with a signature display of determination. Hewitt last beat the Swiss six years ago and as recently as March was briskly defeated by him in straight sets at Indian Wells. But not for nothing is he the second most successful active player on grass (behind Roger Federer). Hewitt needed five match points to nail the win, but he did it. Wawrinka has now fallen at the first hurdle in five out of nine career visits to Wimbledon, while Hewitt has won three of his last four matches against top ten players.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” said Hewitt. “I knew it was a tough draw as soon as I saw it. I’ve lost a couple of tight matches to him and he’s a quality player, but I played really well. When the match points were slipping past, it was getting pretty dark out there and hard to see. He came up with some big serves and big shots to keep himself in it before I won.”
Wawrinka came here having made the final on the grass of ’s-Hertogenbosch, although that boost may have been dulled by his straight sets obliteration in that final by the world No.240 Nicolas Mahut. On the other hand Hewitt arrived at his 15th straight Wimbledon with confidence heightened after beating Grigor Dimitrov, Sam Querrey and Juan Martin Del Potro to make the Queen’s semi-finals.
Even as the players finished warming up, the traditional noisy knot of Australian support was making itself heard very loudly with a rendering of the country’s national anthem. But the din was not enough to rouse Wawrinka, who was 0-4 down in 10 minutes. The 28-year-old revived enough to get back to 4-5, but with Hewitt leaking just one unforced error throughout the set, his chances were few. Hewitt saw three set points go by before a wild forehand from Wawrinka proved the clincher, to a chorus of approval from the Australian faithful.
Wawrinka replied by taking the opening 12 points of the second set and went 3-0 up, before Hewitt clawed the advantage back. At 5-5 Wawrinka’s forehand was wayward again, and when the ball unhelpfully bounced out off the netcord, it gave Hewitt the chance to serve for the set. When he sealed it, even his chanting supporters could not drown out his red-faced bellow of celebration.
Among Hewitt’s challenges now was not running out of steam, as he had in the first round at Roland Garros last month where he led the No.15 seed Gilles Simon by two sets to love before losing in five. He broke at once, and showed his mettle in the sixth game by fending off four chances Wawrinka had to level it. Hewitt grasped victory on his fifth match point, sinking to his knees in triumph, then leaping into the air as if he were six.
How extraordinary to think that in 2012 Hewitt required wild cards to all four Slams and dropped to No.233 in July after surgery to cut bone from his big toe. As the choral tribute of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” rang around No.1 Court, and no one watching could begrudge the salute.
“I don’t know that I’d call it an upset,” said Hewitt. “I didn’t feel like a total underdog going into the match. I’m proud of myself. I loved the support out there, every minute of it. People ask me when I’m going to retire, but honestly why would you want to retire when you have support like that? It’s the biggest adrenalin rush I could possibly have.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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