x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Class proves permanent for Hewitt

Lleyton Hewitt returned to his old stomping ground at Wimbledon's Centre Court to beat the fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro.

Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro jumps over the net as he over-runs for a ball against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt on June 25, 2009.
Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro jumps over the net as he over-runs for a ball against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt on June 25, 2009.

LONDON // Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years on Centre Court yesterday, the 2002 champion pulling off the biggest shock of the tournament so far when disposing of world No 5 Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets. The pugnacious Australian was always going to be a handful for his imposing Argentine opponent. No match physically for the 6ft 6in powerfully-built Del Potro, Hewitt more than compensated for his size disadvantage with speed and tenacity and was streets ahead in knowing how to construct a grass-court victory. To describe Del Potro as resembling "Bambi on Ice" would be going too far but he was less than comfortable scrambling along the baseline in pursuit of Hewitt's well-placed ground shots and he lacked the confidence to spend too much time at the net exploiting his tremendously long reach. It is doubtful that Del Potro, who has lost in the second round on all three of his visits to Wimbledon, put a priority on the short grass-court season. If he does and experiments with the serve-volley tactic used to such devastating effect by the seven-time champion Pete Sampras, then he is capable of doing serious damage here. In the short term he will be hoping history repeats itself because he left Wimbledon last year to embark on an eye-catching run of four successive tournament wins leading up to the US Open at which his sequence was finally broken by Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. While Del Potro, 20, who was a schoolboy fan of Hewitt, looked resigned to his 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 fate long before the end of his two-and-half-hour struggle, looks longingly to the future, Hewitt, 28, is looking to seize this unexpected moment back in the limelight. Having opened up a section of the draw which was originally occupied by defending champion Rafael Nadal, who withdrew with a knee injury, the Australian, who is steadily regaining his reputation after hip surgery, will now fancy his chances of enhancing his impressive record on grass. Hewitt, who has also won four titles at Queen's Club and one on the Dutch lawns of Rosmalen to go with his cherished Wimbledon honour, was in command from the moment he broke Del Potro in the sixth game of the opening set. A further break of the daunting Del Potro serve - it was a pity the Argentine did not have more to back up that fearsome delivery - in the 11th game of the second set proved pivotal and when Hewitt broke again in the opening game of the third it looked all over. Only then did Hewitt, a former world No 1 but now ranked 56, show any hint of weakness, failing to serve out for the match at 5-4. That lapse was not costly because the Australian fashioned another immediate break and this time made no mistake in completing what was clearly an important victory to him. "I knew what I wanted to do, but whether I could go out there and execute it was another matter," said an elated Hewitt. "I executed perfectly and hit the ball great. I served unbelievable for most of the match. I took it to him right from the start. So I was pretty happy with the way I played. "It was a big win for me. I wanted to beat a top-five guy and these are the places you want to do it. "I've got a lot of respect for Del Potro. He's only going to get better. He's a future grand-slam champion on possibly any surface. I knew it was going to be a tough match today, but I was up for it from the start. "He's a very talented player, but he's still a little bit raw. I had to try to take advantage of that as much as possible. And I did that. I played a really smart match." Hewitt is now on course for a quarter-final meeting with another former grand slam champion, Andy Roddick. The American dropped a set for the second time here but still had enough in reserve to account for Russia's Igor Kunitsyn 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 and next faces the 26th-seeded Austrian Jurgen Melzer.

wjohnson@thenational.ae Watch Wimbledon live and for free on Abu Dhabi Sports