Seeded in an ATP Tour event for only the second time in his career, Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳) lived up to the billing by knocking out a big name.
Lu, seeded eighth in the 32-player draw, overcame Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 on Tuesday to advance to the second round of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in southern Florida.
The victory deprived Hewitt, who turned 28 on Tuesday, of a planned on-court birthday celebration after the match and marked Lu’s continuing run of good form that has seen him defeat Andy Murray at last August’s Beijing Olympics and world No. 11 David Nalbandian at the Australian Open last month.
Last seeded in an ATP Tour in Chennai, India, in 2005, world No. 59 Lu appeared to have been hit with an unfavorable draw this week.
Although Hewitt has fallen out of the top 100 after having hip surgery in August, he reached the semi-finals of a tournament in Memphis last week before losing to Andy Roddick in three sets and seemed on the road to recovering his place among the world’s elite players.
“I never thought I would win today,” Lu said after the match, saying he handled the wind blowing in from the nearby Atlantic Ocean better than the Australian.
After losing the tightly contested first set on a double fault, Hewitt threw Lu off by playing more defensively and relying heavily on a slice backhand in the second set.
“I was in too much of a hurry to attack, and that led to a lot of unforced errors,” Lu said.
He quickly rebounded, however, breaking Hewitt three times in the third set and running off the last three games to clinch the match.
Lu will next face 32-year-old Austrian Stefan Koubek, who won the event in 2000 when he was ranked as high as No. 20 in the world, but has since fallen out of the top 200.
With Taiwan’s next Davis Cup tie set for Friday to Sunday next week against India in Kaohsiung, Lu’s good form is well timed. Lu missed the Davis Cup tie against Kazakhstan earlier this month with a bad knee, but Wang Yeu-tzuoo (王宇佐), who was sidelined for much of last year with a wrist injury, filled in admirably, winning both of his singles matches in Taiwan’s 4-1 victory.
The pain in Wang’s wrist resurfaced after the two matches, however, and after consulting with doctors, Wang decided to have surgery today to repair ligament damage that will keep him out of action for at least five months.
Without Wang, it will be up to Lu and Chen Ti (陳迪) in singles, and probably Yang Tsung-hua (楊宗樺) and Yi Chu-huan (易楚寰) in doubles, to take on an Indian team featuring Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, both ranked in the world’s top 10 in doubles, and Somdey Dewarman and Rohan Bopanna.
A victory would put Taiwan one win away — probably against Australia and Hewitt in mid-July — from reaching the World Group playoffs for the first time in history.
Next week’s tie will be played at Kaohsiung’s Yang Ming Tennis Center, and the Taiwanese tennis association is taking the unprecedented step of charging admission. A one-day pass will cost NT$400 and a pass for all three days will be NT$1,000.
Also on Tuesday, top-seeded Mardy Fish of the US moved into the second round in Delray Beach with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Canada’s Frank Dancevic.
Marco Baghdatis of Cyprus advanced with a 7-5, 6-2 upset win over of third-seeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis, while fourth-seeded Igor Kunitsyn was defeated by Russian countryman Evgeny Korolev 6-4, 7-6 (3).