Hewitt raids magic box to defeat Gimelstob in battle of the crocks

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The Independent Online

Lleyton Hewitt and Justin Gimelstob must have compared scars in the locker-room before they traded blows on the Centre Court yesterday. Infirmaries around the globe are on stand-by whenever they are in the vicinity.

As anticipated, the trainer earned his fee during the third-round encounter, but the only lasting damage was statistical, as Hewitt cruised through 7-6, 6-4, 7-5.

By dint of thoughtful planning, the SW19 executive had interposed another match between this game and the women's singles that was to occur on Centre later in the day. That avoided an embarrassing coming together between Hewitt and Kim Clijsters, love's young thing at the tournament 12 months ago but now on their separate ways.

It should have been that Clijsters was Mrs Hewitt by now. Their February wedding came so close to fruition that a wedding dress was purchased. Lleyton never got the thought of matrimony in 2005 out of his mind though, and, next month, he will marry his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca Cartwright, an actress in Home And Away. This is a soap opera, as is the programme in which Ms Cartwright appears.

Hewitt, the 2002 champion, was initially peeved when he was allotted just the No 3 seeding this year. As it is, he could not have enjoyed an easier passage thus far. Gimelstob was a third opponent surrounded by garnish and served on a platter following Christophe Rochus and Jan Hernych.

But then the Australian needs a little easing in. In late March, he had a cyst removed from his right foot. Shortly afterwards, the 24-year-old cracked two ribs when slipping down the stairs at his Sydney home.

There was, however, little sign of malfunction in the world No 2 during the early exchanges. Hewitt was dominated physically, a phenomenon he is well used to, this little harbour tug boat of a man among the supertankers at the top of world tennis. Yet no one gets on top of him mentally. As usual, he was pumped and he let us know.

Depending on your point of view, Hewitt is either a paradigm of Antipodean pluck, a celebration of the combative spark which lies dormant in most human beings, or a complete pillock. He was twitching around like a garden robin yesterday, regularly correcting the strings on his racket, hitching the shirt on the shoulder and exhorting "come on" at critical moments. There were not too many of those, however, so robin did not have to beat his breast during this encounter.

Hewitt is the sort of man who could take six bullets and still nut you on the way down. The bad times - such as yesterday's first-set tie-break - bring out the best in him. The common quality of the élite is that they find their peak in the nastiest moments.

So it was as Gimelstob gained a mini-break and threatened to take command of the match. Hewitt dipped into the magic box and produced first a pass and then a winning lob. It was the difference in the set, a difference maintained throughout the match.

Gimelstob, which may be a word from Call My Bluff, has a substantial medical log of his own. Seven months of his career have been lost to a broken foot and he was able to play here thanks only to a cortisone injection in his weakened back.

The American's doctor must have been rendered apoplectic as Gimelstob spent the entire match diving, for volleys, with varying degrees of difficulty. We had not seen anything like it since Boris Becker used to disturb the turf in SW19. "He spent more time on the ground than standing up," Hewitt said. "I've never seen anyone dive more."

The man from New Jersey had arrived at the championships as the lowest form of competitive life, a lucky loser. He retired from the qualifiers at Roehampton, where his back played up, but recovered to claim the place vacated by Andre Agassi.

Despite this unprepossessing journey, Gimelstob's presence made for a match dotted with enjoyable cameos, the American's aerobatics apart. Justin does monologue and dialogue and was not above kissing the net cord when a fluke went his way. He has, unfortunately, become a rather threadbare old teddy and hurt himself once more when straining his right arm in trying to save a first set point. From then on he was rotating the limb, apparently Mick Channon after scoring, as the trainer popped on and off court.

It almost certainly made no difference. Hewitt produced his final golden moment at 5-5 in the third set with a cross-court backhand pass which set up break point. The worms braced themselves once again as Gimelstob took off meatily, but his racket swatted nothing but air. Next up, Hewitt will have to deal with the rather slimmer and faster model of Taylor Dent.

"I have got nothing but respect for Lleyton," Gimelstob said. "He is undersized and undermanned when he is up against all those great athletes at the top of the game."