Friday 24 March 2017

Fired-up Hewitt rolls back years

Mark Reason

LLEYTON HEWITT has always believed the impossible is possible, but surely even the most triumphalist Australian does not believe he can win the Wimbledon title back at the age of 29. Not after two hip operations. Not eight years after his only victory on the lawns of Wimbledon.

Twelve days ago Hewitt ended Roger Federer's 29-match, eight-year unbeaten run on the grass of Germany. It was the first time he had beaten Federer in 16 matches. Yesterday, Hewitt dismissed Gael Monfils in straight sets to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon. He believes.

For a set and a half Hewitt played the sort of tennis that had you thinking beyond future reality. He dropped just eight points in his first 11 service games and was always threatening Monfils' delivery.

Halfway through the crucial second-set tie-break, Monfils challenged a call on the side line. As he walked towards the replay that would determine his fate, Monfils began to shake his hands and arms with mock terror. When the scoreboard confirmed the challenge, Monfils raised his arm and stood there like the Statue of Liberty.

It was great drama that soon turned to farce when Monfils followed up by promptly serving a double fault. Hewitt just kept punching away.

Up in the stands, the green and gold fanatics changed their chant from "Come on, come on" or "Let's go Lleyton, let's go" to the more amusing chorus of "Can you feel it?" as Monfils faced break point in the final set.

The young man turned, grinned and gave them the thumbs up. He then hit a magnificent forehand to save the break point, looked very pleased with himself and promptly dumped the next two points to lose the game. At the end, Monfils applauded the crowd and received the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

The football-shamed France can be proud of their tennis this year. They had seven men through to the third round, a stat that makes a laughing stock of Britain, who would kill for an engaging artist like Monfils.

Not too many people have called Hewitt an engaging soul over the years. He tends to divide opinion: you either dislike him or you loathe him: But it is hard not to have a sneaky admiration for the chippy Aussie.

Asked after the match if he still had the fire of his younger years Hewitt said: "Yeah, it's still the same. That's who I am. You can't buy that. I've always played with my heart on my sleeve. It wins a lot of matches."

Next up is Novak Djokovic, Australia versus Serbia again. Djokovic said: "When my football team loses I am a very bad loser. I had a sleepless night after we lost to Australia."

Hewitt described Djokovic as "shattered" in the locker-room and said: "They expected us to tank." Surely Djokovic knows better.

Meanwhile, giant American John Isner's bizarre Wimbledon adventure ended abruptly yesterday when the rigours of his Herculean first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut caught up with him in brutal fashion.

Just 19 hours had elapsed since he won the 980th point of his mind-boggling 11-hour five-minute duel against Mahut and when he walked gingerly back out on court yesterday lunchtime it was clear there was nothing much left in the tank.

From winning the longest tennis match ever likely to be played, spread over three days, a fragile Isner was cut down to size in 74 minutes by ruthless Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker.

Shortest

Yesterday's 6-0 6-3 6-2 defeat was the shortest men's match so far at this year's championships and it contained not one single ace off the Isner racket, compared to the record-smashing 112 that he fired past Mahut.

Despite yells of "C'mon John" from those who flocked to Court Five to watch iron man Isner in action, the 25-year-old's body would not respond.

"I was low on fuel and didn't really have a chance," said Isner who lost the first set in 16 minutes having spent the morning stretched out on a treatment table after waking up with a stiff neck, heavy legs and blistered feet.

"It wasn't like I was dying out there, I was just tired.'ve never been this exhausted before but it still stinks to lose in the second round."

Andy Roddick blasted his way into the fourth round, overcoming the potentially dangerous German Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5 6-7 6-3 6-3.

But Roddick, three times a finalist at the world's most famous tournament, was angry with himself after his victory at dusk on Court One was greeted with tumultuous cheers.

"I got a little complacent. He was the aggressor for the majority of the first two sets," he said.

Roger Federer rediscovered some of the graceful touches that has helped him to six Wimbledon titles when he eased past Arnaud Clement 6-2 6-4 6-2. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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