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Tennis-Hewitt keeps title dream alive with epic victory

Tennis-Hewitt keeps title dream alive with epic victory

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Lleyton Hewitt's dream of a breakthrough grand slam title on home soil survived a blue-and-yellow assault on Tuesday as he edged past Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman 7-5 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-2 in his first round match at the Australian Open.

Hewitt makes little secret of the fact he covets an Australian Open crown the most among the four grand slams.

His campaign looked to be heading for a premature end against the accomplished Bjorkman before he rallied from two sets to one down to win a marathon encounter.

The 19-year-old Adelaide scrapper, winner of the Sydney International tournament last week and a huge favourite with Australian fans, needed all his fighting qualities as he defied a hamstring strain to win in three hours and 42 minutes on centre court.

Exhorting himself to "c'mon" on almost every point, seventh seed Hewitt seemed on the ropes when he dropped the second and third sets after needing treatment on his right leg.

But the world number seven fought back, fending off three break points in the sixth game of the fourth set and breaking Bjorkman twice in that set and then twice more in the decider.

Hewitt completed victory in the best tussle of the tournament so far on his third match point before sinking to his knees as the crowd screamed themselves hoarse.

"The adrenalin is still pumping," said Hewitt after what he labelled one of the best wins of his career. "I was really hurting out there.

TREATMENT

"I twinged my hamstring in practice a couple of days ago and that's why I had to have treatment. I hung in there and thank God it was enough."

Hewitt, a semifinalist at last year's US Open, earned a second-round clash with German Tommy Haas, who beat him in the quarter-finals in Adelaide earlier this month.

Haas went on to win that tournament while Hewitt regrouped to successfully defend his Sydney International crown last week.

He defeated world number four Magnus Norman of Sweden in the final to become the first man since Pete Sampras in 1993-94 to win back-to-back titles in Sydney.

But it is the Australian Open that he thirsts for most, and for a while it looked as if he and the crowd were going to be disappointed.

In the middle stages of the match it was Bjorkman who was making the running and the chanting of the blue and yellow-clad band of Swedish fans, complete with viking-style hats and helmets, rang out loudly.

Swedish supporters have been a feature of the Australian Open since the glory days of Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander in Melbourne during the 1980s and on Tuesday they sang in unison throughout the changes of ends.

PRESSURE

But at the finish it was the Australian fans who were left to celebrate. Hewitt, far from feeling the pressure of expectation, thrives on playing in front of a home crowd and it showed.

"It was a tough fight out there," said Hewitt. "To come here in a grand slam it (the home support) is a huge advantage...they really lifted me."

Hewitt admitted his hamstring strain was a concern ahead of his clash with Haas but said he would have treatment in the next two days and was confident of being fit.

"Davis Cups and grand slams are all you live for as a tennis player," said Hewitt. "I'm going to go out there and try and give it everything I've got."

Bjorkman, who also received courtside treatment on the big toe of his right foot, rued some missed opportunites.

"In the fourth (set) I was probably one point away from game, set and match," the Swede said.

"He was lucky to escape this time, hopefully next time it will be a different story. But all credit to him for fighting back at the end."


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