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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tennis: Hewitt knocks off No. 5 del Potro at Wimbledon

AP Tennis Writer

WIMBLEDON, England His ballcap is turned backward, just as it always was.

He scurries along the baseline, getting to nearly every ball, just as he always did, and celebrates big points with plenty of shouts of "Come on!" and fist pumps.

And Lleyton Hewitt matters at Wimbledon, just as he did in 2002, when he won the thing.

Hewitt dropped to his knees and lifted his arms in the air Thursday, not after winning the last point of the final, but after winning the last point of a 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 victory over No. 5-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina to reach the third round at the All England Club.

It ended Hewitt's 11-match losing streak against players ranked in the top five.

"Oh, it was a big win. I wanted to beat a top-five guy," Hewitt said. "These are the places you want to do it, too."

The Australian once was ranked No. 1 himself, and he won the 2001 U.S. Open in addition to his Wimbledon title. But Hewitt dropped out of the top 100 in February for the first time in a decade, after having hip surgery in August. He's currently ranked 56th.

"Kind of the underdog out there, a little bit," he said.

Hewitt is now 28, married and a father. Good as he looked against the 20-year-old del Potro a rising star who was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January and a semifinalist at the French Open this month Hewitt acknowledges it all comes a bit tougher nowadays.

"It seems like you've got to ice a lot more spots on your body these days than I had to eight, 10 years ago," he said with a smile.

There were no issues with his hip or anything else against del Potro, the highest-seeded man to lose so far at Wimbledon.

Hewitt compiled 43 winners and only 14 unforced errors. He hit 14 aces and saved all seven break points he faced through the first two sets.

Then, serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, Hewitt faced an eighth break point and del Potro managed to convert it.

"I had to sort of put it behind me," Hewitt said. "It's not an easy thing to do, but I'm bloody glad I did it."

He certainly did, breaking del Potro right back to go up 6-5, then serving out the match on his second attempt.

When del Potro pushed a service return long, Hewitt dropped to his knees near the baseline. When he rose, he acknowledged a raucous group of Australians cheering for him in their yellow-and-green T-shirts and hats. Hewitt is the only man from his country who entered Wimbledon, the lowest representation for Australia at a Grand Slam tournament in the 41-year Open era.

"I heard there was a few of them sleeping over last night to get some tickets out here to come in today. I appreciate the crowd," Hewitt said. "I love playing in London. I love playing in England. It's a lot of fun for me. It feels like a second home, really."

Del Potro, meanwhile, simply found it fascinating to be across the net from Hewitt for the first time during a tour-level match.

He was struck by hearing Hewitt's trademark shouts of "Come on!" up close and in person.

"You know, he's one of my idols," said del Potro, who has lost in the second round every time he's played at the All England Club, including against Roger Federer in 2007. "I start to follow him when I was young, like 11."

All these years later, Hewitt is still around.