Hewitt survives Dent's barrage

Australian No 5 seed withstands 144mph serves in thunderous five-set confrontation with determined American qualifier
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Another night, another five-set show-court thriller. Twenty-four hours after Pete Sampras had eventually seen off the challenge of the British whipper-snapper Barry Cowan on Court No 1, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt had a titanic battle on Centre Court – where he lost last year and in 1999 – before overcoming Taylor Dent, a 20-year-old qualifier from Newport Beach, California.

Dent left the scene a loser, but with a Wimbledon record in the bag – he thundered the fastest serve ever seen at the All England Club: 144mph. This not only bettered Greg Rusedski's previous Wimbledon mark of 139mph, set on Monday (for the record, the Briton still holds the world record, with 149mph, set at Indian Wells in 1998), but also two of Dent's own specials – recorded at 141mph and 142mph – that had flashed by Hewitt earlier.

The Australian fifth seed's response was to advance to the third round, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, having prolonged the issue by failing to secure victory in the fourth set.

It seemed then that Dent, having levelled the match, might have unravelled Hewitt completely. But the concluding 34 minutes were controlled by the tenacious Aussie's swift anticipation and punishing groundstrokes. He is now unbeaten in 14 consecutive matches, all on grass, following back-to-back titles at Queen's and in Rosmalen. To say that Younis El Aynaoui of Morocco, his opponent in the third round, is facing a man in form would be something of an understatement.

"Taylor came out and he was on fire," Hewitt said. "I played a bit negative at the start but I then got on a bit of a roll. I was disappointed, I got tight towards the end of the fourth but I came back as well as I've ever done." With regard to Dent's "bombs", he added: "A lot of people think if you've got a big serve, you're almost there. I draw confidence from players like Michael Chang in the past and Andre Agassi. I look it as a contest of my strength against my opponent's strength. I know I'm a good enough returner to get an opportunity."

Yesterday's match was delayed at one point by a rain break, a factor that Dent admitted had affected him after he had taken the first set 6-1 and not been able to continue the momentum. But he also conceded he "lost the urgency to win every point" later in the match. It did not show.

Hewitt's success completed a good day for Australia, following a win for Pat Rafter, the No 3 seed, earlier. He beat Slava Dosedel of the Czech Republic, in four sets, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. "I wasn't quite sure how he was going to play," Rafter said. "That sort of tightened me up a little bit because I didn't know what he was going to do, what his weaknesses were, what his strengths were. I was really trying just to study him in the first couple of sets. I was very tight and just freed up in the last few games."

Asked to explain afterwards why he had a small white circle visible on top of his head, he confirmed that it was neither the work of an errant pigeon nor some last hoorah of a fashion statement. "Don't worry, it's not a vanity thing," said the amiable Australian, who lost to Pete Sampras in the final last year and could well be playing his last Wimbledon. "It's a bit of grey hair."

If it expanded during his match it probably had more to do with what the 28-year-old will do when his playing days are over than any problems he faced on court. Or then again, he may have had a premonition of what would face his young compatriot later in the day.