Lleyton Hewitt beaten at Aussie Open
MELBOURNE, Australia -- David Nalbandian beat Lleyton Hewitt 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 9-7 in the early hours of Wednesday, prolonging the former No. 1-ranked Australian star's long drought at Melbourne Park.
Going into Tuesday's match, Hewitt led the series 3-2 but had not beaten Nalbandian since a controversial 2005 Australian Open quarterfinal in which the pair bumped into each other purposely on a changeover. The video clips of that altercation featured prominently on television promotions of the night match at Rod Laver Arena.
After the 2005 match, won in five sets by Hewitt, Nalbandian said he was "not a gentleman" and "nobody is friends" with the Australian. Hewitt said Nalbandian was "not the cleanest guy."
There appeared to be no such animosity Tuesday, with both players mostly on their best behavior. They shook hands and nodded at each other at the end of the 4-hour, 48-minute match.
The match capped a day in which top-seeded Rafael Nadal and No. 5 seed Andy Murray advanced in injury-shortened matches. Nadal's opponent, Marcos Daniel, was forced to retire due to knee injury trailing 6-0, 5-0. Murray was leading Karol Beck 6-3, 6-1, 4-2 when Beck retired with a shoulder injury.
Hewitt's biggest stumbling block was his inability to convert break-point chances: just seven of 30. Nalbandian was six of 12, but only two of eight in the final set.
Nalbandian, who was cramping at the end of the marathon match, saved two match points on his serve before finishing it at 1:10 a.m. local time Wednesday with a perfect lob on his first match point.
"It doesn't matter that we are tired, we keep fighting," Nalbandian said on-court of their rivalry. "I can't talk I am so tired."
Hewitt's best run in 15 Australian Opens was reaching the final in 2005. No Australian man has won the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976.
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Earlier, Daniel was on the other side of the net from Nadal, who is attempting to win his fourth major title in a row -- the "Rafa Slam." Daniel saw, ever so briefly, why the top-seeded Nadal is among the best ever in the game.
"If you see all the top five guys, they improve so much," said Daniel, who has also lost to Roger Federer. "They are one step forward, faster than the others, they hit the ball harder than the others, they can stay very focused for four hours, different than the others. Imagine Federer and Nadal, they are the same."
The No. 1-ranked Nadal went straight to the practice courts and worked on his serve, later saying it needs work to improve his chances of winning the Australian title.
Nadal's limited court time should hold him in good stead for the rest of the tournament, but he wasn't counting his blessings as the result of another player's misfortune.
"I am a professional and I try my best on every point," Nadal said, explaining why he didn't hold back in the match. "That's the best thing, to respect the opponent in that situation. If you do something and you let him win a game, it is worse."
"It's a terrible feeling, for sure. I wish him all the best for a fast recovery," Nadal said after the match. "Last year was a really difficult time when I played this tournament. I came back here playing well ... but to go out like that was hard mentally."
Daniel had a medical timeout at the end of the first set and had his left knee heavily strapped. He said he'd injured his knee earlier in the week in practice but thought it would get him through the match.
He said playing Nadal on center court made it more difficult.
"That's the hardest part. In the beginning I was feeling embarrassed a little bit," he said. "I tried to play the game; it didn't work. It looks like I'm 75 years old."
When the Brazilian had a break point in the second game of the second set, he raised both arms and received a rousing cheer from the crowd. When Nadal had a rare miss with an overhead that sailed over the baseline to give the Brazilian a second break-point chance, the crowd went wild again.
Nadal finally held after the game went to deuce five times, and as Daniel limped around, it progressively seemed only a matter of time before he would retire.
"Save energy or not, I think the way that the match came doesn't make big difference," Nadal said. "Is difficult ... to say I played really well, I played bad. I think I played right."
The fifth-seeded Murray was the only man to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament last year, the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
"You'd rather finish the match off without your opponent being hurt," Murray said, "but it does happen quite a lot. So you just have to move on and get yourself ready for the next round."
Fourth-seeded Robin Soderling had to go the distance but was rarely challenged, completing a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Potito Starace of Italy. Australian wild card Bernard Tomic advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over Jeremy Chardy of France, and could meet Nadal in the third round if both win.
"I don't want to think in the past," del Potro said. "I won a Grand Slam, but I'm working to improve my game. I don't know if I can play like two years ago or not, but I will try."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost in the final here to Novak Djokovic in 2008, came back from two sets down to beat Philipp Petzschner of Germany 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Andreas Seppi of Italy beat Arnaud Clement of France 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in another late match.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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