Australian Open

Hewitt rides emotional wave

2012-01-21 19:27
Lleyton Hewitt (AP)

Melbourne - An emotional Lleyton Hewitt somehow dragged his battered body into the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday with a 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3 victory over young gun Milos Raonic.

The former world number one, a wildcard in his record 16th appearance at Melbourne Park, rode a wave of emotion from a frenzied 15 000 crowd on Rod Laver Arena to rally from a set down to beat the 23rd seed.

The 30-year-old Australian sealed victory after four deuces in his final service game with a lob that Raonic could only return over his shoulder into the net and afterwards lay prone, arms and legs oustretched, on the court.

"It's tough serving out any match," said Hewitt, who will play world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the last 16.

"A couple of weeks ago I would have given anything to be serving to go into the second round at the Australian Open and it's hard to block that out.

"It's just another game but it's a big bloody game."

Montenegro-born Canadian Raonic, who had his breakthrough year on the ATP circuit in 2011, was only six years old when Hewitt made his Australian Open debut as a qualifier in 1997.

Raonic's hero was Pete Sampras and there is a physical resemblance between the 21-year-old and the seven-times Wimbledon champion as well as a similarity in playing style, particuarly in the serve.

Hewitt, of course, beat Sampras to win the 2001 US Open but that was in the days before the physical exertion and injuries from 14 years as a professional tennis player had taken their full toll.

The latest surgery on his foot came last March and limited him to 20 matches in 2011.

His mental strength is undiminished, however, and, with his trademark backwards baseball cap, staring eyes and arm-pumping "C'mon!" yell, he rolled back the years.

Like an old car, Hewitt took some time to get going on a cool evening and Raonic took the first set on the back of his fierce serve, which peaked at 228 kilometres per hour.

Hewitt served solidly, returned manfully and gradually drew Raonic into errors on long rallies, striking back to win the second set and setting up a dramatic third.

The pair swapped service breaks as they headed for a tiebreak, which Hewitt clinched 7-5 when a rattled Raonic, to his horror, netted a routine high forehand volley.

Hewitt knew the momentum was with him and he grabbed an early break in the fourth before defending his own serve like his life depended on it.

With Bernard Tomic playing Roger Federer on Sunday, Australia have two men in the last 16 at their home grand slam for the first time since 2004.

Hewitt was not prepared to rule out going even further, despite his date with Djokovic.

"He's the best player in the world and he's there for a reason," he said. "I'm going to have to come out here, take it to him and see what happens."

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