Lleyton Hewitt said he was relieved to be back on his favorite grass court as the Australian ended his losing streak with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over America’s Michael Russell in the first round at Queen’s Club on Monday.
Hewitt is a four-time champion at the pre-Wimbledon warm-up event, but thoughts of a record fifth crown were some way from the former world No. 1’s thoughts as he arrived in west London.
The 32-year-old is well into the twilight of his career and his lowly 82nd position in the world rankings reflects that diminished status.
Hewitt’s first-round defeat at the French Open, when he squandered a two-set lead against Gilles Simon, was his fourth successive defeat and he had not tasted victory since the first round of the Miami Masters back in March.
However, the former Wimbledon champion put an end to that depressing sequence with a gritty win over Russell to set up a second-round clash against Bulgarian 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov.
“It’s one of my favorite events. I have always enjoyed getting off the clay anyway and onto the grass,” Hewitt said. “I have had such a good record here. Most times it’s taken pretty good players to beat me here. The first game back on grass is always tough, but in the end, I found my rhythm a little bit better.”
After producing a nervous first set, Hewitt responded well and broke twice early in the second set to level the match.
Hewitt appeared to have taken complete control with a break in the second game of the deciding set.
A double fault from the Australian gave Russell an instant break back.
However, Hewitt landed the knockout blow when a wayward forehand from the American gifted him a 5-3 lead, which he immediately capitalized on by serving out the match.
It was the kind of hard-fought battle that Hewitt has always relished and he insisted he has no immediate thoughts of retiring because he loves competing on the big stage.
“I still enjoy the big tournaments, obviously Wimbledon and the Australian Open are two of my favorite tournaments,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll play for. I’m not going to keep answering that every day.”
Hewitt will need to improve against the highly rated Dimitrov, who showed his battling qualities in front of his girlfriend Maria Sharapova.
With Sharapova watching on from the courtside just two days after her French Open final loss to Serena Williams, Dimitrov came from behind to beat Israel’s Dudi Sela 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4)
There was more success for Australia as Hewitt’s compatriot Marinko Matosevic clinched a 7-5, 6-2 win over good friend Frederik Nielsen of Denmark.
“Yeah, it is [tough playing a friend],” Matosevic said. “I know Freddie really well. He’s a great guy, one of the nice guys on the tour. It was a tough first set, but the second set was pretty good. I’m feeling good. Happy to be off the clay [courts] and on the green stuff. Grass is one of my favorite surfaces.”
World No. 65 Matosevic, beaten in the French Open first round by eventual runner-up David Ferrer, next plays Spain’s Pablo Andujar or France’s Michael Llodra.
British wild-card Daniel Evans caused a surprise as the world No. 277 thrashed Argentina’s Guido Pella, who is ranked 75th, 6-3, 6-1.
The 23-year-old then revealed he is determined to win enough matches to become a regular on the ATP Tour because he wants to escape the strict confines of the National Tennis Centre (NTC), where many of Britain’s most promising players live and train.
“At the NTC, you have to be in bed by 10:30. It’s good being 15 again,” said Evans, who plays 13th seed Jarkko Nieminen or the US’ Ryan Harrison in the second round. “There is a security guard who comes and checks. That’s God’s honest truth. They’re pretty strict there on the juniors.”
GERRY WEBER OPEN
AFP, HALLE, Germany
Roger Federer is hoping to kick-start his season on the Halle grass this week as he goes in search of a morale-boosting first tournament success this season.
The 31-year-old top seed has not won a single trophy this season, but is still the all-time most successful player in the Halle ATP tournament’s 20-year history.
Federer won it for the first of five times in 2003, the same year he landed his first Wimbledon title.
“I would like to lift my first trophy of the season in Halle ... it would give me a confidence boost,” the Swiss master said.
However, his doubles campaign came to an abrupt elimination on the tournament’s opening day when, along with partner Tommy Haas of Germany, they were defeated by 2010 Wimbledon champions Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Germany’s Philipp Petzschner 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.
“It was a real pleasure, but a shame we lost. But Jurgen and Philipp played very well and made very few mistakes,” said Federer, who was playing his first ATP doubles tournament since Indian Wells in 2011, where he linked up with his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka.
Along with Wawrinka, Federer won his only Olympic gold medal with the Swiss team at the 2008 Beijing Games. Haas, who defeated Federer during last year’s singles final, said their lack of preparation was decisive in their elimination.
“It was very special to play with Roger because we’ve known each other for such a long time, but you could see we hadn’t had much practice together,” the 35-year-old veteran said.
Federer once owned the Halle singles tournament, winning it four years in a row before he withdrew due to fatigue in 2007.
He won again in 2008, his fifth success, but his two appearances since then have seen him beaten in the final both times, by Lleyton Hewitt in 2010 and Haas, who he could potentially meet in this year’s semi-finals if all goes to plan, last year.
The world No. 3’s surprise quarter-final exit at Roland Garros last week to France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is not playing on Federer’s mind.
“Paris has little influence on the way to play in Halle or Wimbledon,” he said, before insisting that “the second half of the season will be better than the first.”
Since winning his first ATP Tour title in Milan in February 2001, Federer has never had to wait so long to break his trophy duck in any individual year.
The last time he almost went this long was in 2009, when he took until mid-May to win his first trophy, beating Rafael Nadal in the clay Madrid Masters final.
However, that year he went on to win Roland Garros for the first and only time, as well as a sixth Wimbledon crown, which he has since added to with a seventh.
Taiwan’s Jimmy Wang was defeated by Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany 6-2,6-4.
Additional reporting by staff writer