Lleyton Hewitt's 2013 US Open Might Be a Return to Tennis Glory

Peter Richman@ peter_f_richmanCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30:  Lleyton Hewitt of Australia celebrates a point against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina during their round match on Day Five of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 30, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"Come on!" 

You could hear the high-pitched scream from multiple boroughs away. 

It was the call of a seasoned warrior, the sound emanating from a 32-year-old, double-fist-pumping 5'11" Australian in a backwards cap in Queens on Friday night.

The resilient Lleyton Hewitt had just defeated former champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1. Right around 11:30 p.m., the four-hour, five-set match finally culminated in a vision that reminded many longtime tennis fans of 2001.

The blue hard court of Arthur Ashe looked and felt like home to the Australian. He extended his arms to the crowd as if he was making both a warm homecoming and the beginning of an emotional exit.

Thirteen years ago on the same court, the scrappy blond Aussie lost to beloved American Pete Sampras in straight sets at the 2000 U.S. Open semifinals.

The following year, at just 20 years of age, Hewitt won his first singles Grand Slam title. He got his revenge, too, defeating Sampras on Arthur Ashe Court in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1, 6-1. 

At the beginning of the millennium, Hewitt was considered the hottest player on the ATP, and he stood as the World No. 1 to show for it. He went on to win his next singles Grand Slam title in 2002 at Wimbledon, utterly dominating David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

But that was his last Grand Slam win.

He has lost in the first round of his last six major tournaments and has been the victim of multiple foot injuries and surgeries as of late, including a radical, successful one in 2012.

He was not in the world's top five coming into Friday; nor the top 10 or top 25. No, the 66th-ranked Hewitt overcame the No. 6 player in the world—a 6'6" Argentine who was crowned champion on the same court only four years prior.

Sometimes it is hard to expect what will be on display under the lights at the Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows. On Friday, it was something new, an idea reimagined and a man reborn along the former site of the 1964 World's Fair.

Juan Martin Del Potro is only 24 years old and he turned professional in 2005.  He might possess the most powerful forehand in the game, the pop of his flat-spin groundstrokes from the baseline like a musket's gunshot at times. 

But Hewitt knows a thing or two about playing hard-nosed defensive tennis, and he took his time to exploit the weaknesses of the 2009 U.S. Open champion. 

He took the first set 6-4, but succumbed to Del Potro's pounding in the next two sets, 5-7, 3-6. 

With his back against the ropes, however, Hewitt took the fourth set to a tiebreaker and then took it home 7-2. In the post-game interview at the net, Hewitt referred to it as one of the best tiebreaks of his life.

He is like the scrappy leadoff hitter of a baseball team in the bottom of the ninth, fouling off pitch after pitch just to drive the perfect mistake down the line.

Hewitt survived multiple rallies, defending and deflecting Del Potro's whopping forehand, consistently finishing him off with a quick snap of the wrist, kissing the tape and catching the Argentine on the wrong foot.

In the fifth set, Hewitt initially broke Del Potro's serve at 1-1 and soared to victory in the next five games over the obviously fatigued big-hitter. The Argentine had no two-handed backhands remaining in the tank, resorting to slicing and chipping balls back to Hewitt's seemingly exponential energy.

Hewitt's best point of the matchand one that reminds us of younger yearscame in that final set on a return of serve, already up 5-1 but at deuce. He lunged to his forehand side, nearly falling but delivering a cross-court winner before Del Potro could even get his feet set. The flash of beauty set up his second, and final, match point. 

Here is that final sequence, including the incredible shot (at about the 30 seconds mark) and the eventual match-sealing double-fault:

After watching his marathon of a match—in which he danced, lunged, bounced, dove and hollered to victory on the hard court—you can imagine the chronic arthritis and deformity Hewitt has inflicted onto his big toe over the years.

It's safe to say that on Friday night, the Aussie's feet felt better than they used to.

Del Potro had nothing but respect for the 2001 U.S. Open victor, saying (per ESPN.com), "He's a great champion, a great fighter, and for the second round, he's a very difficult player to play."

New York has long been known as the hub of America—the foundation of new births, re-births, new lives and bright futures for formerly fractured souls.

From the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th, millions of immigrants travelled by boat to America and arrived through New York to begin anew.

On Friday night, Lleyton Hewitt may have been reborn in Flushing on the hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadiumthe same place where he first arrived and greeted the world stage back in 2001. It may be the same court from where he will try to begin a new road to tennis success in his 30s. 

After an absence from the past months' warm-up tournaments for the season's final major, the Australian had some reflective, insightful words for the New York crowd after the match (per ESPN.com).

A couple years ago, when I had a couple foot surgeries, I didn't know if I was going to play tennis again...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...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.

Hewitt next faces Russia's Evgeny Donskoy in the third round. Donskov is the 102nd-ranked player in the world, having beaten out world No. 27 Jurgen Melzer in the first round (7-5, 6-3, 7-6) and No. 146 Peter Gojowczyk in the second round (6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4).

The two have never played each other, though. Hewitt said to the same reporter, "I hit with him a couple days ago," but that it was the "first time I've ever seen him."

We've seen Lleyton Hewitt before and we've seen him in rare form. He is not a lock to make the finals of the 2013 U.S. Open. He is not even close.

But that's the beauty of his current little run: We haven't seen him with this type of energy and success in a major for so long that we don't know what to expect. 

And that's a good thing.




    After Early Miami Exit, Roger Federer Says He’ll Skip the French Open

    Tennis logo

    After Early Miami Exit, Roger Federer Says He’ll Skip the French Open

    The Associated Press
    via Nytimes

    Roger Federer to skip clay-court season after shock loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis

    Tennis logo

    Roger Federer to skip clay-court season after shock loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis

    via the Guardian

    Federer Will Not Play Clay in 2018

    Tennis logo

    Federer Will Not Play Clay in 2018

    via Tennisnow

    Federer Won't Play in French Open After Miami Loss

    Tennis logo

    Federer Won't Play in French Open After Miami Loss

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report