Tennis: Teenager Hewitt knocks out Pioline

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The Independent Online
THE ADELAIDE schoolboy Lleyton Hewitt beat the Frenchman Cedric Pioline 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, writes Philippe Naughton.

The 17-year-old Australian, ranked 101 in the world, had his work cut out after giving Pioline, the world No 15, two break points at 2-3 in the opening set. But he produced two incredible retrieving shots to save the game and went for every ball from then on. Pioline won only two more games in the match.

Hewett, a wild card entry, said: "I'm playing like I've got nothing to lose." His skateboarder shorts and reversed cap showed a typically modern approach to the dress rules of tennis, but Hewitt is already building a useful collection of scalps, including Pat Rafter and Andre Agassi.

Last January, Hewitt became the youngest player in the men's game since Michael Chang to win a professional tournament when he took the hardcourt title in his home town. The victory started Hewitt on an unprecedented climb up the rankings - 609 positions to a year-end 113. In Adelaide two weeks ago, he reached the final and then earned more ranking points when he beat Rafter, the world No 3, in an Australian Open warm-up event in Sydney.

Hewitt said yesterday's victory was by far the most important, and the sweetest, of his short career. He said: "To beat Cedric three, one and one on Centre Court at night is something special. I think it's the best match I've ever played."

Pioline, the former Wimbledon and US Open runner-up, was clearly upset by his defeat and not in the mood to pay compliments. He said: "He played a good match. But I'm not disappointed because he's 17 or 16 or 8, or 42. I just play tennis."

With Spain's Carlos Moya already out, Hewitt has a seed-free path through to the quarter-finals. His second round opponent tomorrow will be the German Tommy Haas, ranked 33. Hewitt added: "I don't think anyone wants to be beaten by a 17-year-old wild card in a Grand Slam so maybe there's a little bit more pressure on them."