Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt survived an “awkward” all-Aussie encounter at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday, holding off Matthew Ebden 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-3.
Hewitt, who won back-to-back Indian Wells titles in 2002 and 2003, said all of his clashes with younger compatriots feel awkward now that he is something of an elder statesman in the sport, closing in on his 600th career win.
“It’s not something I look forward to at all now, playing the other Aussies,” Hewitt said. “I’m trying to help these guys out now... I hit with these guys all the time.”
In fact, Hewitt had to cancel a planned practice session with Ebden when the two were drawn to face each other in the first round.
The victory over the 26-year-old Ebden was No. 599 for Hewitt’s career. He will get a chance to reach 600 against 17th-seeded South African Kevin Anderson in the second round, but Hewitt places little stock in the milestone.
“It means I’m getting old, that’s all,” said the 33-year-old, who would become just the third active ATP player, along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, to notch at least 600 match victories. “Obviously, it means I’ve had a lot of success, but it’s not something I’m focused on at all.”
Hewitt will likely have to step it up against Anderson to get that victory.
He let a 5-1 first-set lead slip against Ebden and also served for the match at 5-1 in the third set, only to drop his serve before finally putting the match away with a love game.
“Whenever I was up in sets, I didn’t put my foot down,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt said he is still feeling the effects of the right-shoulder injury that forced him out of a second-round match against compatriot Marinko Matosevic in Delray Beach last month.
Hewitt said he had aggravated a shoulder injury the previous week in Memphis and since Delray Beach had been receiving treatment.
“It’s not 100 percent yet,” he said. “If it was a smaller tournament, I don’t think I’d be playing.”
Top seed Rafael Nadal was due to open his title defense against Radek Stepanek after the Czech overcame a poor second set to beat Denis Istomin 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round.
Stepanek, ranked 50th in the world, was broken only once and did not double fault, but needed nearly two hours to defeat the Uzbek.
The top 32 seeds receive a bye to the second round, with the leading players making their first appearance over the weekend.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is the second seed, while Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion, is the third seed.
On the women’s side, the second round started yesterday and among those in action was second seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who hits the court against qualifier Heather Watson of Britain.
Third seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was due to start her BNP Paribas Open singles campaign against Lauren Davis of the US.
Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who lost last year’s final to Maria Sharapova, was due to play Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski.
Australian Open champion Li Na is the top women’s seed and she was facing compatriot Zheng Jie in the second round. Zheng outlasted Paula Ormaechea of Argentina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) on Thursday.