Lleyton Hewitt is only six months older than Roger Federer, but when they met on Centre Court yesterday it felt like a meeting of the generations. Hewitt was the last player to win the Wimbledon title before the London Borough of Merton was turned into a Swiss canton, but his 2002 victory felt a lifetime away as Federer won 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 to become the first man through to the quarter-finals.
This was the world No 1's 63rd consecutive win on grass and his 12th successive victory over Hewitt. The five-times champion has yet to drop a set at this year's tournament and now faces Mario Ancic, the last player to beat him on these courts, in Hewitt's championship year. Poor Lleyton.
There is no grittier competitor who hates losing more than the 27-year-old Australian, but by the end of this one hour 49-minute contest he was offering as much threat to Federer as a koala bear with a hangover. Hewitt has been plagued by injuries over the last three years and the latest, a hip problem, might leave him wondering how much longer he has left in the game. From the start of the third set Hewitt was clearly in discomfort.
The pity of it was that for 12 games Hewitt, moving freely, had matched Federer shot for shot in a classy demonstration of grass-court tennis. Some of the rallies were a delight, with both players striving to gain an advantage through the variety of their shots before going to the net for the kill.
However, Hewitt never got the measure of Federer's serve. Because he does not bludgeon the ball with the power of a Roddick, the world No 1's serve can be under-rated, but what he lacks in brute force he more than makes up for with disguise, artistry and precision. Federer hit 21 aces. His length was impeccable and Hewitt rarely got to grips with his kick serves, which he often had to play at shoulder height. Hewitt had eight break points but failed to convert any of them.
If most of the first set was a feast, the tie-break was a dog's dinner. Federer won it 9-7 but only by dint of making fewer errors.
The Swiss immediately drove home his advantage, winning the first four games of the second set and going on to take the third with another early break. "I felt like I served well, especially when I had to," Federer said afterwards. Hewitt did not sound optimistic about the future. He is a player who needs to build his momentum through playing plenty of matches, but he said the hip injury had not been getting better and he had given little thought to the Olympics or US Open.
As for future Wimbledons, all Hewitt could offer was the "hope" that he would be back next year. By then there will be a further reason why he might consider his future. His wife, Bec Cartwright, the soap actress , who was watching from the sidelines, is expecting their second child.