Updated June 24, 2011 09:19:00 OK. Lleyton Hewitt. This is the match Australian tennis fans have been waiting for since the draw was made nearly a week ago here at the All England Club. The 2002 champion against the number five seed. And of course it's on Centre Court.
Now Hewitt is on an awful run both on and off the court. Injuries have nearly crippled the former world number one, but he keeps battling on despite a ranking that is in freefall. His record here is amazingly consistent. He's reached the third round or better for the last eight years, ever since that stunning first-round loss to Ivo Karlevic as defending champion in 2003. That said, he's only once got past the quarter-finals other than in 2002, and that was six years ago when he lost to eventual winner Roger Federer in the semi-finals.
The tightest of first sets goes the way of Hewitt in a tie-break, with the Australian in good form, although neither player faced or gained a break point, so there's little in it.
While this is all happening on Centre, women's defending champion Serena Williams has continued her topsy-turvy week with a come-from-behind win over Romanian Simon Halep. German Julia Goerges has also won, which I only mention because she is a very good young player, and an outside chance to challenge for the title. She's also very pretty which gets her plenty of attention too, but it's her tennis that's really getting her noticed by most. Anyway, back to Centre Court.
Hewitt's really warming to this. At 3-2 up on serve, he forces two break points, the first of the match, which Soderling saves, one with an ace. But Hewitt is dictating terms with his greater court nous and he's moving the Swede around the court and out of his comfort zone. Then comes the moment of the match and the shot of the tournament so far. On his third break-point at 4-3, Hewitt makes a great return which just drops in. Soderling then thumps his backhand for what he thinks is a certain winner across the court but somehow a scampering Hewitt gets a racquet on the ball and falling over he hits a stunning winner from outside the tramlines. This is vintage stuff. Serving for the set, he makes no mistake, and against all the odds leads by two sets.
The third set continues much as the first two, with very little in it, but Hewitt just in control, physically and tactically. As the match continues, Novak Djokovic is through on Court One, but nobody is looking in any other direction than at Centre. Can Hewitt do it?
Not yet. Serving behind at 5-6 proves too much of a strain and the first sloppy service game of the afternoon hands Soderling his first break points and two set points. He only needs one and we're going to four under the roof.
In the press room, Serena is bleating about her scheduling on Court Two, which she does most times when she's put there. Pretty tiresome really, although of course, she's right - they'd never put Federer or Nadal there. But commercial realities can be harsh. Sharapova v Robson clearly has great interest in the UK and is on Court One, and the French Open champion and third seed Li Na has every right to be put on Centre. So is it about her or about women? There's the facts, you decide. Truly, you would have thought she would have learned there are more important things in life. Anyway.
All is as it has been on Centre. Two breaks of serve all afternoon, and none yet in the fourth . But the pressure of serving from behind again gets to Hewitt, who's lost the momentum in the match and some of the control as Soderling works his way back into it. The Swede levels it with his second set point after a 40 minute set and we're going the distance. The veteran Australian must find a way back into the match, and he'll be serving second which has hurt him in the last two sets. He's produced three of the best shots you'd want to see, but he could be on his way out.
And that's exactly what happens. Hewitt manages the break, but then makes the cardinal error of handing it straight back and when the crunch moment comes to serve to stay in the match at 4-5, his service crumples and he's broken to love. The match goes the way of the Swede, just.
Serving first in the deciding three sets helped him, no doubt, but probably more so is just the fact that that Hewitt couldn't maintain the standard of the first two sets and Soderling gets some free points with his thumping serve and booming forehand.
So, we're down to two Australians in the singles and it's only Thursday. Jarmila Gajdosova is a set up in her match and Tomic is yet to go on court as the heavens open again and for the umpteenth time this week, play is suspended.
When the players come back onto court, I have to tell you it is FREEZING! This cannot be summer, although I did grow up here so you'd think I'd be ready for this sort of climate, but after the last two years of 25 degrees every day, this is a rude shock.
Anyway, Gajdosova is through now. She did it easily in the end as you may have expected she would. It's third round time for Jarka now, the last 32 players, so she's reached the point where she was supposed to. It's Caroline Wozniacki next. Probably. The top seed didn't get on court today against France's Virginie Razzano but when she does tomorrow she should beat her and set up a Saturday match with our girl.
Well, she is ours now isn't she?
So, Hewitt out. Not up, not down, but out. He still remains positive about his future, and you have to respect him for that. He's talking Davis Cup in China, and then the American hard court swing leading up to the US Open. Let's hope that foot heals well.
Bernard Tomic is now on court and after not too long finds himself two sets down against Russian Igor Andreev. A man who for many years dated Maria Kirilenko; a fact that he was almost better known for than his tennis. Anyway, he's playing pretty well, against my predictions, and Bernie doesn't look like he's enjoying the weather much at all.
But from somewhere he finds the will to fight his way back into the match and grabs the third set to keep his Wimbledon campaign going just as the sun is setting in London. Not that we have really seen it all day, or we would all be a lot warmer than we are.
So, back tomorrow for Tomic and Andreev to decide who will meet Robin Soderling in the third round.
Surprise of the day goes to Sabine Lisicki for knocking out Li Na, the third seed and French Open champion. Li had two match points and twice served for the match, but the German managed to win. Now that is a serious boost for the injury-prone 21-year-old, and a serious reality check for Li after two consecutive major finals.
And comeback of the day has to go to Soderling. To be two sets down against Hewitt takes a big effort to come back and win. That's a big upside for the Swede, who may yet still be given the task of ending Australia's involvement in the men's singles here for 2011. On today's performance it's an opportunity he'd clearly relish.Tags: sport, tennis