Australian hope escapes 5-0 deficit; wins in straight sets
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -- Marathon man Lleyton Hewitt insisted he was ready for more torture in his bid for a first grand slam title after escaping the clutches of German Tommy Haas at the Australian Open on Thursday.
Australian Hewitt, who overcame a hamstring injury to score a five-set victory over Jonas Bjorkman in the first round on Tuesday, retrieved a 0-5 first set deficit against Haas to reach the third round with a 7-5, 7-6, 6-4 victory.
The epic match took three hours and three minutes and, added to his grueling Bjorkman triumph, means the seventh seed has been on court for six hours 45 minutes in just two rounds.
"I feel surprisingly good, and the hamstring is getting stronger by the day," said Hewitt, who is also playing in the mixed doubles with his Belgian girlfriend Kim Clijsters.
"I came here prepared to play seven, best-of-five singles matches to win this title, and also the mixed doubles.
"I'll do whatever it takes. I want to experience that feeling of walking out to play on the second Sunday of a grand slam."
Hewitt is certainly going about it the hard way.
Just watching the young Australian, with his catalogue of fist-clenching and heart-pumping antics on court, is a draining experience.
Even he was forced to admit that his win over Haas was an intense struggle.
"That was probably the toughest three-set match I've ever played," he said.
"I could just have easily lost it three sets to love instead."
Haas, the world number 23, was kicking himself after throwing away the chance to beat Hewitt for the second time in a month.
The German had prevailed in their match at the Australian hardcourt championships in Adelaide, and when he raced into a 5-0 lead after 15 minutes, the writing was on the wall again.
Haas moved into a 4-1 lead in the second set before the pressure of seizing the moment in front of 14,000 hardcore Hewitt fans on the Rod Laver Arena court made him disintegrate.
The 22-year-old held three set points in the first set and two in the second -- but wasted them all.
Worse was to come, for Haas contrived to pass up 14 of the 18 break points he carved out during the contest.
"I feel sad," said Haas.
"Perhaps I think too much about the game and the situations I am in when I am on court.
"I don't want to go through that again. You are left wondering how you let it all happen."
Haas could not find a way to shake off Hewitt.
And with the Australian serving at 5-6 and deuce in the second set, Haas was literally left down and out.
A brilliant rally climaxed with Haas lying face down on the Rebound Ace court for what seemed an eternity after seeing two of his spectacular diving volleys retrieved with interest by Hewitt.
The effort brought further histrionics from Hewitt and even greater delight from the spectators.
"Words can't describe how much the support means to me out there," said Hewitt.
"I don't see too many fans complaining at my behavior on court. I admit it is an advantage to have home support, and hopefully we can keep this going."
Hewitt faces Carlos Moya in the third round, the Spaniard and 1997 Australian Open runner-up who has dropped just 14 games in the first two rounds this year.
"It sounds like it will be another tough, long battle," said Hewitt.
"But the way I am playing, he is going to have to play well to beat me."
Despite the fighting talk, Hewitt is eager to deflect as much attention away from himself as possible.
"I don't think the fans expect me to win the title just yet.
"I am certainly not putting any extra pressure on myself. I am not the favorite to win here -- you have to look first at the guys who have been in a grand slam title before."
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