Lleyton Hewitt entered today's third-round encounter with Novak Djokovic as the 159th-ranked player in the game. Djokovic, of course, is No. 2. But what seemed like a more important fact until very late in the second set was that Hewitt has captured seven grass-court titles in his storied career, including Wimbledon, while Djokovic has only one title on turf (Wimbledon, it must be said). Hewitt, leading by a set and having just broken back to knot the second at 5-5, was on the verge of a seismic win.
Maybe this was the jolt Djokovic needed, as he proceeded to break Hewitt at 5-6 with three winners: One off his backhand wing, another off his forehand, and another yet with a crafty drop shot. The Serb then proceeded to break Hewitt's spirit and his serve—twice in the final set—securing the win, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, in just under two hours.
Hewitt, who received a wild card into the event, has had five surgeries, the last one in February when two screws were inserted and his toe knuckle was fused. But Rusty—as he likes to be called—was anything but early on today. He dictated the baseline rallies through most of the first set-and-a-half, and exposed Djokovic's grass-court weaknesses: His so-so backhand slice shot and an unsure forecourt game.
Wearing a butterscotch yellow shirt and eliciting cries of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" from the Australian fans in the packed Centre Court, Hewitt barked out his signature "C'mon" cry to his box (which included Greg Norman) when a Djokovic backhand lob sailed long, giving the underdog the break at 4-4 in the first set. When Hewitt then held serve by striking a forehand passing shot down the line, he yelled, "Vamos!" and pointed two fingers at his own steely eyes.
For a short while in the second set, a sense of something close to panic seemed to settle over Djokovic. He was still serving very strongly (he out-aced Hewitt 16-5 over the match, and won a very high 80 percent of his first-serve points), but he started to come up on some iffy approach shots. After Hewitt easily passed Djokovic with a backhand down the line as the Serb approached with a risky cross-court backhand, announcer John Lloyd said, "that looked almost like a panic shot" by Djokovic. When Hewitt held at love to even the set at 3-3, the feisty veteran looked ready to make a push toward an epic upset.
But Djokovic suddenly raised his game. He held easily and then broke Hewitt by winning two long rallies with forehands, one down the line, the other cross-court. It was Djokovic's turn to turn to his box (which included Vlade Divac) and let go a roar while he struck a Hulk Hogan, squatting, double-fist pump pose.
After breaking Hewitt to win the second set, Djokovic did so again at both 1-2 and and 1-4 in the third. As far as I can recall, Hewitt had not missed a backhand from the baseline in the entire match until the 1-2 game that opened the floodgates for Djokovic. The Serb started to drop shot Hewitt even more (apparently, Hewitt said he can move side to side fine after his foot surgeries, but running forward is difficult because he has to push off more on his fused big toe), and soon the writing was on the wall. Next up for Djokovic is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who cruised past Feliciano Lopez today.