Lleyton Hewitt was given a huge fright by recharged American James Blake yesterday before living to fight for another day in his dream of winning his home Australian Open.
The Australian third seed triumphed 4-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-0, 6-3 in 2hr 35min on Rod Laver Arena center court.
He was up against an inspired performance from world No.94 Blake, who engaged Hewitt in two five-set battles at the US Open in 2001-2002. Hewitt now leads him 6-1 overall.
Hewitt is bidding to become the first Australian man to win his home grand slam since Mark Edmondson last achieved it in 1976 when the Open was held at Kooyong.
The former Wimbledon and US Open champion's next opponent in the third round is Argentine 25th seed Juan Ignacio Chela.
The 23-year-old former world number one has yet to get past the round of 16 at the year's first grand-slam tournament.
Blake earned the admiration of the tennis world when he emerged from a traumatic 2004, recovering from a broken neck in a collision with a net-post during practice in Rome last May and then saw his father die of cancer in July.
Harvard-educated Blake's last tournament was in mid-September in Delray Beach, Florida, although he prepared for the Open in the mixed teams' Hopman Cup in Perth, but he had foreshadowed he would produce a big effort against Hewitt and he didn't disappoint.
Blake played above himself in the first couple of sets until the momentum switched decisively early in the third set.
The American broke Hewitt's service in the ninth game of the first set when the third seed attempted an elaborate chip cross-court only to net on breakpoint. Blake served out strongly for the opening set.
It was compelling tennis as Blake had the local hope under immense pressure with deep penetrating forehands and he broke Hewitt's serve a second time in the fifth game when the world No. 3 double-faulted.
Hewitt hit back straight away, getting to 0-40 on Blake's service and taking the break when the American's forehand was long.
Blake again broke the Australian's serve in the 11th game and was serving for a two sets to love lead when Hewitt broke straight back with a sensational return that forced Blake's volley into the net.
The tiebreaker was a classic. Blake got the early mini-break on a Hewitt double-fault, but Hewitt got it back to 3-3.
Blake worked to set point 6-5 but netted a service return as fortunes fluctuated.
Hewitt held two separate set points, but Blake fought them off and made a fantastic service return to 8-8 and celebrated by mocking the Australian's trademark hand-salute to the crowd's glee.
But Hewitt got to his third set point and took the set with a tremendous rally that left Blake sprawled off-court without his racquet as he dived to keep the ball in play injuring a finger in the process.
That pumped up the Australian who advanced towards the players' box where his entourage was sitting and thumped his chest and screamed in jubilation.
Hewitt got the jump with a triple service break to reel off the third set in 31 minutes to seize control of the match.
Hewitt broke Blake again in the third game of the fourth set and fought off a break point in the sixth game to take the match.
Dementieva fights back
Russian Elena Dementieva beat compatriot Anna Chakvetadze 6-2 6-1 to reach the third round of the Australian Open yesterday and then drew a line under the drugs rumors that had affected her at the start of the tournament.