Djokovic looms as Hewitt closes in on quarter-finals
DateSeptember 3, 2013 (0)
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Linda PearceSports writer for The Age
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"At least I know who I’m playing": Hewitt. Photo: AP
Lleyton Hewitt. Into the fourth round of the US Open for the first time since 2006. A surprise to many is no shock to one of his boyhood idols, Mats Wilander.
''We know that, in grand slam tennis, Hewitt is one of the best 20 players in the world, still,'' the seven-time grand slam champion said at Flushing Meadows. ''He's just not seeded.''
Novak Djokovic still potentially awaits Hewitt in the quarter-finals but first comes Mikhail Youzhny, seeded 21, in a winnable round-of-16 battle of the 30-somethings. For Hewitt, a nice change, in more than one respect.
''At least I know who I'm playing,'' Hewitt said after Monday's 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-1 defeat of world No.102 Evgeny Donskoy in less than three hours on a hot and humid Grandstand court. ''Half the draw I don't know any more.''
Advertisement Such are the perils of being the oldest man and the only Australian left in singles contention. But if Youzhny is of the Hewitt generation, he was not, for much of his career, quite in the former No.1's league.
Of the six times the higher-ranked Youzhny and Hewitt have met, Hewitt has won five times, most recently in Cincinnati last year. The Russian, 31, took out the even longer-toothed Tommy Haas, 35, so it would have been a clash of the geriatrics either way.And they're all still going because? ''I'm not sure. I don't know,'' said Hewitt, 32. ''We obviously want to keep playing [because] we love the game so much.''
Hewitt is back in his element. Appreciating the love he is getting from well-wishers such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Enjoying his non-retirement and answering with his actions all those questions about his future.
Against Donskoy, Hewitt served well, won 24 of his 31 net approaches, executed another well-devised game plan after deducing he would not be too damaged by the Donskoy backhand and duly took only a brief hit from the Russian's forehand in the third set.
Donskoy's mentor is Marat Safin, the brilliant player, now politician, who denied the host nation and its great hope that cherished Australian Open title in 2005.
Hewitt acknowledged there had been the threat of a let-down after his momentous win against Juan Martin del Potro at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night.
''It was a matter of still staying focused and staying in the moment as much as possible,'' Hewitt said. ''I still felt a little bit flat today going out there. actually felt like I got better as the match went on. That was a good sign, physically, for me as well.''
Hewitt was already on his way back to his family's base in Connecticut when Haas and Youzhny were in the early stages of a match the Russian won 6-3, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 against his more favoured opponent.
The temperamental Youzhny was twice a US Open semi-finalist, in 2006 and 2010, and was once as high as No.8.
''I lost to him last time for sure, and I think I just beat him once, and we play many matches, so it will be really, really tough for me,'' Youzhny said of Hewitt.
''I saw his match a little bit against Donskoy and a little bit against del Potro.
''He's in good shape. I practised with him before the tournament here and so I understand, for me, it will be tough.''
Another of a similar age is Federer, a more regular Hewitt practice partner - most recently last Monday, when the pair shared a couple of two-hour sessions on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
''At least I got used to centre court, which was a bonus,'' the South Australian said.
''It was funny, we didn't do any points at all. We just did drills for four hours.''
Useful ones, if Hewitt's latest performances at what remains his most fruitful grand slam are any guide. Incredibly, the quarter-finals are now almost close enough to touch.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/djokovic-looms-as-hewitt-closes-in-on-quarterfinals-20130902-2t13p.html#ixzz2dk1QTwKX