There was a lot of hype leading up to the first round encounter between David Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt after their frosty history, which, according to Jim Courier, involves the two men not speaking to each other at all.
Hewitt came out firing and had three break point chances in the opening service game. Nalbandian’s big backhand temporarily kept him out of trouble. The Argentine lost some skin on his right hand he was broken by the Australian on his fourth chance to take a 3-2 lead which he then consolidated with a love service game, eventually taking the set 6-3.
Some terrific points took place as the tension increased, umpire Pascal Maria was told by Nalbandian that “this is tennis. Your feeling doesn’t matter,” when a point was contested. Hewitt then complained that the device that detects lets wasn’t working.
Nalbandian started pummeling his shots from the baseline, dictating play and controlling the momentum. After Nalbandian took the second set 6-4 he then broke Hewitt in the first game of the third set. Commentator Roger Rasheed said he saw Hewitt stretch his hip a few times as it became clear that Hewitt wasn’t moving as well as he had been.
Suddenly things changed.
Nalbandian, who was ahead 2-0, started hitting more errors as Hewitt accused Pascal Maria of being one of the worst umpires ever and got fired up. A huge cry of “C’mon!” rebounded around the stadium as Hewitt not only broke back and consolidated with a love service game, but then broke again for a 4-2 lead. Again Hewitt serve to hold to love.
Nalbandian looked deflated, exhausted and like a completely different player as the crowd booed after he flung his racquet into the ground and continued to play with it despite it being cracked. He defended two break points with a cracked racquet.
After winning six of the last seven games Hewitt took the third set 6-3.
Nalbandian continued to play flat tennis as Hewitt broke him again in the first game of the fourth set. Hewitt had more break points to go up 3-0 before he hurled more abuse at Pascal Maria over another dubious call after a challenge. The Argentine dodged a bullet an hung on, still behind at 1-2.
After defending a ridiculous number of break points over two games he then converted his first chance and got things back on serve at 3-3. The Argentine again converted on his next opportunity as he started to strike the ball again, and contribute to the match again rather than watching it being taken from him. After securing the double break, David served some tight balls and was broken, forcing Lleyton to keep the set alive for 5-5.
In the tie break some errors from Hewitt and some free hitting from the Argentine saw him race to a 6-0 lead.
Hewitt worked hard to defend some break points in the first game of the final set before Nalbandian started repeatedly flexing his right knee as the quality of the match once again dropped. Despite his apparent ailment Nalbandian managed to break Hewitt after he took some sort of tablet given to him by his coach which seemed to help him out as he moved to a 3-1 advantage.
At 4-3 Hewitt was clenching his fist telling himself “believe, believe,” as he tried to push Nalbandian to feel some pressure, instead pulling up once looking like he was in a little bit of pain. Hewitt then stepped up to serve at 5-3 to stay in the match as the clocked ticked just past four hours of play. Nalbandian had a crack at Hewitt’s first two serves and sent the ball into the net before an error off Hewitt’s racquet had his wife Bec looking worried.
Nalbandian again tightened as Hewitt tried to lift, desperate to get a chance.
The crowd went wild as Hewitt broke on the first of two break points chance. Nalbandian re-focused and found himself again with two break point chances. Lleyton’s serves became predictable but he did was he does best and defended and took the 6-5 lead. The crowd went wild.
Nalbandian struggled to find first serves as Lleyton waited patiently, even as David saved the first match point with a serve and volley play with a beautiful drop shot. Hewitt pushed and Nalbandian came up with some incredible points and showed his cajones to Hewitt as he held serve for a 6-6 scoreline.
Nalbandian was frustrating by his returning leg problems which appeared to be cramps as well as a series of bad line calls that interrupted points he should have won. A slice backhand down the line passing shot gave him three break point chances and a double fault from Lleyton gave David the break. David had another magic tablet before he stepped up to serve for the match again.
Nalbandian won 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6, 9-7 striking the latest punch in their rivalry after defending two match points.