Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerNovak Djokovic (SRB)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: World No. 2 Novak Djokovic survived a scare against Aussie battler Lleyton Hewitt to reach the last eight of the Olympic Tennis Event.
The Serbian had to dig deep to overcome the challenge of Hewitt and had to recover from the loss of the first set before he came through 46 75 61 in just under two hours.
In an entertaining match in which Hewitt had most of the crowd support, the Australian broke in the ninth game of the first set and it was enough for to edge him the opener in 40 minutes. Djokovic, the 2010 Wimbledon champion, broke first in the second set but Hewitt levelled and he was forced to break the Hewitt serve again to clinch the set.
Djokovic took control in the final set as Hewitt’s game started to fade, and booked his place in the quarterfinals with a sixth successive win over the 2002 Wimbledon champion.
Hewitt, wearing the green and gold of Australia, played well above his current ranking of 158 (he was awarded an ITF place to compete at London 2012) and evoked memories of his glory days at the All England Club.
“I think he plays his best tennis on grass,” said Djokovic of his 31-year-old opponent, the owner of seven grass court titles. “He's former No. 1 of the world. I have a lot of respect for him. He's a great competitor. He has shown again that he's a player that loves to play on a big stage. He loves to play big matches, especially for his country.”
“He's one of those few players that loves performing against the top players, and he always delivers his best. You can always expect him to play this well on grass. I knew that. I definitely didn't underestimate him. He was a better player throughout the first half of the match. Then I managed to play well and be aggressive when I needed to.”
An entertaining match in which Hewitt had most of the crowd support started inauspiciously as the rain came down after six minutes and the covers went over Centre Court before the second game was finished. The roof was kept open during the rain break however, and the players were back out within half an hour.
Hewitt was controlling most of the rallies from the baseline and took his chances on Djokovic’s serve in the ninth game, converting his third break point. The Serbian was trying to move to the net and take the pace off the ball but couldn’t break the Australia’s rhythm, and holding three set points Hewitt won a great exchange at the net with a forehand down the line to take the first set.
Djokovic didn’t get his first break point of the match until Hewitt was serving at 3-4 in the second set, but by now he had changed his strategy and was coming to the net more, and he clinched the break when Hewitt’s reply to a fizzing cross court volley clipped the net and went wide.
Aussie hopes were raised in the following game when Hewitt broke back straightaway to level, but by now Djokovic was in the ascendancy and three games later, with Hewitt serving at 5-6, the Serbian took advantage and clinched the second set on a forehand winner.
Djokovic was now winning most of their rallies at the net, and as Hewitt’s level dropped the five-time Grand Slam champion broke him in the fourth and sixth games of the final set. There were flashes of Hewitt form the first set, but they were too few to stop the world No. 2 running out a 46 75 61 winner.
“I just needed to step in a bit. That's what I did,” Djokovic said about his change of tactics. “I changed the momentum in the middle of the second set when I made a break. Yes, he made a rebreak, but I felt that I got back into the match, that it's momentum that I should use.”
Djokovic’s six straight wins against Hewitt now include three victories at the All England Club, as he beat the Australian in the last 16 at Wimbledon in both 2007 and 2010. It’s questionable whether Hewitt will be back at the Championships next year, and the roar he received from the crowd as he left the court today acknowledged that.
As for Djokovic, he is still on track to better the bronze medal he won in Beijing, and will play France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.
“I remember, of course, the moment from Beijing when I was on the podium. It's my first and only Olympic medal, bronze. I was very proud to be standing there, winning the medal for my country,” said Djokovic, Serbia’s flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony.” It's one of the very rare and unique feelings that I had in my career and achievements. Hopefully I can get another one here.”
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