If a patchy performance and a narrow escape in the early rounds are a pre-requisite for a successful Wimbledon, put your money on Lleyton Hewitt now. The Australian arrived here as second favourite behind Roger Federer to win the men's title but hardly had the look of a potential champion as he laboured to a five-set victory over Lee Hyung Taik.
Hewitt should have been enjoying a rest day before meeting Belgium's Olivier Rochus in today's third round but had failed to finish off Lee on Thursday night, when he had served for the match. Play was suspended for bad light after the 30-year-old South Korean won the tie-break at the end of an hour-long fourth set before Hewitt eventually completed a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 victory when the match resumed yesterday afternoon.
Although Hewitt has had a difficult time with injuries in the last 18 months, victory in the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's - his first title since he won in Sydney in January 2005 - seemed to have put the 2002 Wimbledon champion in good shape for his eighth consecutive campaign at the All England Club.
Hewitt dropped just five games in brushing aside Filippo Volandri in the opening round but soon ran into trouble against Lee, who has lost more matches than he has won in 12 years as a professional. The world No 102 has been playing mostly on the Challenger tour this year, though he came here having won four matches in the current grass-court season. A speedy mover around the court, the South Korean was not afraid to attack the net.
Although Hewitt had little trouble getting into winning positions, he kept failing to build on them, converting only six out of 20 break points. Yesterday's second game was typical as he got to 0-40 on Lee's serve but then failed to capitalise.
When Hewitt served at 4-4 it seemed that he might pay for such missed opportunities as Lee hit forehand and backhand winners down the line to lead 30-15. The world No 9 kept his composure, however, and recovered to win the game with two aces.
Having fought so hard, Lee surrendered tamely in the next game, three forehand errors handing Hewitt victory.
"It was survival out there," Hewitt said. "It was a strange sort of match yesterday and it continued today. I had so many break points out there but I just wasn't able to take them.
He added: "I didn't feel I played great yesterday, but he's a hell of a shot-maker. I made it tough on myself, that's for sure."
Hewitt has been tipped as a potential finalist, but he said, "There's a long way to go to Sunday week."Reuse content