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C’mon! Hewitt downs Karlovic in five-set thriller

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:33

Twenty years on from Michael Chang’s comeback victory for the little guys in Paris against Ivan Lendl, former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt came from two sets down to beat Ivo Karlovic 6-7(1) 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 6-4 6-3 on day one of the French Open.

The Australian had looked set to fall in the opening round for the first time since 1999 as Karlovic, typically, dominated on serve before running away with the first set tie-break, and taking the second in similar fashion.

The big-serving Croatian posted 55 aces during the match – an Open era record, beating the previous best of 51 set by Joachim Johansson at the Australian Open in 2005.

But like Johnasson, Karlovic, who has failed to advance beyond the first round in four of his six appearances in Paris, conspired to lose the match. The No.26 seed began to wilt amid soaring temperatures, prompting Hewitt to launch a sensational fightback.

“My first thought when I saw the draw was that loss at Wimbledon, and a chance to turn the tables” – Hewitt

By the time the Australian had leveled at two sets apiece, Karlovic needed treatment for dehydration. Hewitt, a two-time quarter-finalist in Paris, pressed home his advantage, sealing the decisive break in game three of the deciding set, and wrapping up victory when Karlovic, by now barely walking, put a dreadful overhead volley long.

Hewitt – overturning a two-set lead for the fifth time in his career – admitted he had revenge in mind after losing to Karlovic in the first round of Wimbledon as defending champion in 2003.

“My first thought when I saw the draw was that loss at Wimbledon and that it was a chance to turn the tables,” said Hewitt, still just 28 years old, afterwards. “To play him on any surface is hard especially when his ace count is up in the 50s. After losing the tie-breakers it’s more of a mental battle. You have to hang in there and go the distance.

“There’s a lot of pressure there and he’s improved a lot in the last five years. He’s a better player from the baseline and his low volleys are a lot better.”

Hewitt now faces Andrey Golubev in round two after the Kazakhstani beat Denis Gremelmayr, with the victor likely to meet world No.1 Rafael Nadal in round three.

Elsewhere, fellow former world No.1 Marat Safin beat Frenchman Alexandre Sidorenko, and No.8 seed Fernando Verdasco cruised past Florent Serra.

Safin, playing at Roland Garros for the last time before retiring at the end of the year, overcame wildcard Sidorenko in straight sets 6-4 6-4 6-4, and will face either France’s Josselin Ouanna or Marcel Granollers of Spain for a place in round three.

The No.20 seed eased through the first two sets before Sidorenko hit back in third. The 21-year-old, yet to win a singles match on the ATP Tour, shot out to a 4-1 lead, but Safin found another gear, winning five games on the bounce and converting on his first match point.

Number 14 seed David Ferrer sauntered into round two with a 6-2 6-4 6-4 triumph over unseeded Portuguese Frederico Gil. Next up for the Spaniard is either Ilia Bozoljac or Nicolas Kiefer.

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