NEW YORK — Displaying the shots and grit that made him the world’s top player years ago, Lleyton Hewitt pulled off a shock five-set victory over Juan Martin del Potro at the U.S. Open on Friday.
Hewitt won 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 in a second-round match between two former U.S. Open champions which lasted four hours.
The match was the ninth time in the past 10 years that two past U.S. Open title winners faced each other in New York. Hewitt was involved four times, losing the other three.
The 32-year-old Australian won the U.S. Open in 2001, and Wimbledon in 2002, but has been troubled by nagging injuries more recently and is now ranked 66th.
“A couple years ago, when I had a couple foot surgeries, I didn’t know if I was going to play tennis again,” Hewitt said.
“For me to be out here competing, it’s a … lot of fun. I cherish every match I get out there. This is why I still play, to have moments like this,” he continued. “Sometimes playing the smaller tournaments, it’s hard to get up for. It’s not hard to get up for here, that’s for sure.”
The Australian repeatedly showed his trademark hustle on the baseline to stretch for terrific groundstrokes.
“He’s a great champion, a great fighter, and for the second round, he’s a very difficult player to play,” del Potro said.
Looking sluggish at times, and particularly ineffective off his generally weaker backhand side, del Potro finished with a whopping 70 errors, 27 more than Hewitt.
“The wrist is not the way I’d like, but it’s not an excuse,” said del Potro, who did not try to defend his U.S. Open title in 2010, because of a left wrist injury that required surgery.
Hewitt got broken when he served for the first set at 5-4, and again when he served for the fourth at 5-3. Still, he eventually managed to claim the fourth by playing what he termed “one of the best tiebreaks of my life.”
Already ahead 4-0, Hewitt smacked a backhand passing winner down the line from a full stretch, then followed that with a cross-court forehand passing winner to earn set points. After del Potro erased the first with a service winner, he double-faulted to send the match to a fifth set.
And that’s when Hewitt really took over, which makes sense considering the two players’ records in such lengthy matches. This was the 51st five-setter of Hewitt’s career, and he improved to 32-19. Del Potro, meanwhile, dropped to 4-8.
Hewitt next faces 102nd-ranked Evgeny Donskoy of Russia.
“I hit with him a couple of days ago,” Hewitt said. “First time I’d ever seen him.”