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Veteran Lleyton Hewitt shows no sign of giving up the fight

Lleyton Hewitt in practice
by Alix Ramsay
Tuesday 24 June 2014

One day, Lleyton Hewitt will be old, a little frail and not quite as nimble as he is now. But even if he is walking with a Zimmer frame and as deaf as a post, it would be wise not to challenge him to a duel. If it is the last thing he does, he will try to win no matter what the contest: from tiddlywinks to tennis, Hewitt was born to be a winner.

Luckily, at the age of 33, Hewitt is still young enough to compete at the big events and consider himself in with a chance of doing some damage to reputations of the big boys. He moved carefully into the second round with a 6-2, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 win over Michal Przysiezny, the world No.120 from Poland, and now faces and even bigger Pole in Jerzy Janowicz, all 6ft 8in of him (Hewitt stands a diminutive 5ft 11in). That will be a big ask for the veteran Australian but with all Hewitt’s experience and court craft, you just never know.

He warmed up for that encounter by taking the scenic route around Przysiezny although that was clearly not his intention. His tactical sat-nav appeared to be on the fritz for a spell in the middle of the match – and, to be fair, Przysiezny did play well – and he was not happy. With every missed backhand or flubbed forehand, there was a lot of chuntering, a few expletives and, from time to time, a few instructions howled at his support crew.

Known as The Fanatics, this group of Aussies turn up at tournaments around the globe and sing of the appreciation for Hewitt. They had taken over a whole section of the stand on No.3 Court and kept up a constant chorus of support for their man. They are a remarkable group – their repertoire is quite extensive and yet they regularly and consistently fail to hit a single note in any one of their songs. No matter; what they lack in pitch they more than make up for in enthusiasm. But it was getting Hewitt down.

As he struggled against a rejuvenated Przysiezny in that second set, he yelled at his fans to get up and shout. So they got up and sang. And then he told them to sit down and shut up. This was not going well.

But however well or badly it is going on court, you can be sure that Hewitt will never give in. That is what has won him two Grand Slam titles over the years and given him two years at the top of the rankings. Not even surgery (two operations on his hips and three on his toes) will slow him down so a fellow veteran with a relatively lowly ranking was not going to be allowed to get in his way. Hewitt simply regrouped and started again once he had missed seven set points in that second set tie-break.

“I came out really being aggressive at the start and got off to a great start,” Hewitt said. “Then he started serve really well in the second set, hitting his spots and hitting his forehand crosscourt really well. I kept getting back into it but I couldn’t quite close it out in the breaker but to my credit, I managed to get on top at the start of the third.

“It doesn’t get any better than playing out here in this tournament. I’ve been through some tough times, some tough surgeries in the past four or five years but when you get out here, it makes it all worth it.”

Przysiezny really has not been having much luck of late. As he walked through the gates of the All England Club on Tuesday morning, he was less than secure in the knowledge that he had only won one match on the main tour all year and was on a 13-match losing streak.

There is only limited information available about the Pole and most of it tends to be about what he hasn’t done rather than was what he has. For example, we are told that he failed to qualify for Eastbourne last week and he failed to win a match in Halle the week before. What these little nuggets of information being handed around the press room omitted to mention was that he can also wallop his serve and welt his forehand.

The problem was that he forgot to do either of the above for the first set, suddenly remembered what he was supposed to be doing in the second set and was then overrun in the last two sets. He was back to being remembered for what he hadn’t done – he hadn’t taken his chance when it presented itself and he had paid the price.

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