Hewitt wins a thriller in round one

Larsson, aged 32 and a qualifier ranked 152 places behind the Hewitt, gave world No 1 an intense workout on Tuesday before succumbing in a pulsating five-setter

updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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When Lleyton Hewitt finally put away brave Swedish veteran Magnus Larsson he turned to his family and girlfriend Kim Clijsters and rapped the skin above his heart with a clenched fist. Larsson, aged 32 and a qualifier ranked 152 places behind the Hewitt, gave world No 1 an intense workout on Tuesday before succumbing in a pulsating five-setter, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-2. Hewitt's ticker, his never surrender attitude, had gotten him through again, and he knew it. Larsson did too, suggesting Hewitt's one true great attribute is his fighting spirit. Hewitt, who has often been accused of poor on-court demeanor in the past, appears to be channeling his rage in the right direction now too. Apart from disputing a few line calls, he was respectful on court, twice stopping to applaud Larsson's winners in the final set, and he told the crowd "Magnus was one of my idols when I was growing up''. Perhaps the ultimate compliment was the way Hewitt lifted his intensity in the deciding set to kill off the challenge of a man 11 years his senior and whose best ranking of 10 was achieved eight years ago. 'Never say die' "There's always ways to try and get out of tough situations and I've been in enough now that I've got confidence,'' Hewitt said. "I don't hit the panic button as much as I probably would have a few years ago and that just comes with experience and being out there playing the big matches. It's something I think I've handled well, the five-setters I've played.'' Hewitt has achieved much in the past two seasons, winning Wimbledon and the US Open and joining an elite club of Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras to spend every week of a season at No 1. But there is no doubt he was embarking on a special assignment on Tuesday. Last year he arrived in Melbourne as the new No 1, having taken over in November 2001. But he exited in the first round, beaten by the aftereffects of chickenpox. "It's a lot of relief after last year, losing in the first round, obviously feeling shocked,'' Hewitt said Tuesday. "I felt there's a sour taste left in my mouth after last year and it was good to come out and get rid of it. I'm just going to get better and better from now on.'' Larsson believes Hewitt's desire is the key to his future at the summit. "But everyone is so good in today's game,'' Larsson warned. "The guys with the big weapons are going to be very difficult.'' "You always get a chance to hit the ball against Lleyton but he is very fast. He is a great fighter and deserves to be No 1 in the world. It is a great effort to be No 1 without a big weapon. Pete Sampras could serve and play on one leg to the quarters or semifinals, it was much easier for him," said Larsson. Larsson is mistaken. Hewitt's weapon is worth more than a big serve or a ferocious ground-stroke, it's buried in his chest. (AP)