Nalbandian Edges Hewitt in Classic at Melbourne

by John on January 19, 2011

It was billed as a match with epic potential. It ended up all of that and more. Argentine David Nalbandian outlasted native son Lleyton Hewitt 3-6, 6-4, 3-6. 7-6 (1), 9-7 in a first-round marathon stretching into the wee hours Wednesday morning at the Australian Open. When Nalbandian’s topspin lob looped over Hewitt’s head and landed inside the baseline at 1:07 a.m. local time, the former world No. 3 Argentine raised his arms skyward in relief. It was over after four hours and 48 minutes of riveting play. The marquee matchup Tuesday night at Rod Laver Arena had generated all kinds of buzz in Melbourne ever since the draw was posted. There is a testy bit of history between the 29-year-old veterans, stemming from a brush of shoulders at a change-over in the second set of a quarterfinal match at Melbourne Park six years ago. Nalbandian lost that battle, and the two exchanged words on the court and insults afterward. Tempers were calmer this time. Roger Federer had predicted a four-set duel, but hoped to see it go the full five-set distance. He got his wish. The first game of the match was a precursor of what would unfold over the next five sets. Hewitt came out with gusto to gain four break points on Nalbandian’s serve. Each time, Nalbandian staved off the break with well-placed serves and superlative all-court play to eventually hold serve. The pattern continued throughout the see-saw affair. Back and forth, ebb and flow, momentum shifts galore. In total, there were 13 breaks of serve. Nalbandian won six of 12 break points, while Hewitt converted just seven of 30 break-point opportunities. Squandering 23 break points ultimately had to wear on the Aussie’s confidence. But it was also a testimony to Nalbandian’s resilience and competitive resolve. “It was a very tough first round, we both know it,” Nalbandian said. “He played unbelievable. It’s amazing playing with him in a full stadium, here in Australia. We both had a lot of chances. I was serving for the match, it was the kind of match nobody can forget.” Nalbandian was in dire straits at 1-3 and love-40 on his serve in the fourth set, but managed to escape and eventually force a tiebreaker, which he won handily. Hewitt had the Argentine on the ropes again in the final set, holding two match points on Nalbandian’s serve at 6-7. Nalbandian saved both with bold play at the net. Remarkably, at the end of the match each player had won 193 points. “It’s disappointing to come so close and fight for so long and not able to quite get the win tonight,” Hewitt said. Nalbandian improved to 3-3 against the former world No. 1 Aussie.

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