LONDON: Lleyton Hewitt admitted he was relieved to be back on his favourite 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 number one’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 hadn’t tasted victory since the first round of the Miami Masters back in March.
But 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.
But Hewitt landed the knockout blow when a wayward forehand from the American gifted him a 5-3 lead, which he immediately capitalised 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 favourite 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 against 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 favourite surfaces.”
World number 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 number 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 Tour because he wants to escape the strict confines of the National Tennis Centre, 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 America’s 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.”