Aussie veteram Hewitt tops Raonic in 4 sets
Lleyton Hewitt reached the Round of 16 in his 16th Australian Open after beating No. 23-seeded Milos Raonic 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a Saturday night victory that couldn't have been much sweeter.
The former No. 1-ranked Hewitt, who hasn't won a major since Wimbledon in 2002, entered the tournament on a wild card after slumping to a ranking in the 180s during an injury-marred 2011.
Despite his experience - he has played 50 previous Grand Slam tournaments and this Australian Open campaign beats the record of 15 held jointly by Jack Crawford and Harry Hopman - Hewitt had difficulty closing out against the 21-year-old Canadian.
He needed three match points to serve it out, and had to save two breakpoints in the process as Raonic went for everything to stay in the match.
''Absolutely. It's tough serving out any match. A couple of months ago I would have done anything to be in this position, serving to go into the second week at the Australian Open,'' said Hewitt, who will be 31 next month. ''It's just a game, but it's a big bloody game.''
Hewitt fended off Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in the first round and was leading Andy Roddick by two sets to one when the American retired with a hamstring injury in their second-round match. He's still trying to break a drought for Australian men at their home major that dates back to 1976 - Hewitt's best run was to the final in 2005.
But his next opponent will be his toughest yet: defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic won the Australian title last year during a 41-match winning streak at the start of the season. The 24-year-old Serb won three of the four majors and finished the year at No. 1, surpassing both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
''Obviously, he's the best player in world at moment, he's there for a reason,'' Hewitt said. ''What he did last year was amazing. I'm going to have to come out here, take it to him, see what happens.''
Raonic is one of the emerging players on the tour after rising 125 places last year. He reached the fourth round at Melbourne Park in his last outing and started 2012 by winning the Chennai title without dropping a service game.
He is making his way back after hip surgery curtailed last season after a fall at Wimbledon.
And his serve and forehand are impressive. In his first tournament of the year at Chennai, he became the first player to win a tour-level title without dropping serve since Roger Federer won at Halle in 2008.
''He's a tough player, you don't get many opportunities to break his serve,'' said Hewitt, a tenacious counterpuncher. ''I had to stay hungry and confident and keep holding serve.''
Hewitt dropped serve twice but fended off two break-point chances in the last game. He broke Raonic's booming serve three times.
''It's not the best feeling but you just hang in there and keep fighting,'' Hewitt said of facing Raonic's serve. ''He played some better tennis when he was behind.
''In the end I was a little bit lucky. He missed a high forehand volley he'd make probably 99 times out of 100.''
Raonic said he could barely believe he missed the overhead in the tiebreaker, a shot he would make ''365 days a year.''
Hewitt struggled to overcome injuries and foot surgery last year and was restricted to only 20 matches - winning nine of them - in his least active season since 1998.
''I was just hoping the body would hold up for one match. I didn't look past the first round,'' Hewitt said of his expectations for Melbourne Park.
Raonic said Hewitt's experience was the biggest factor.
''He was more steady. He was more constant the whole match,'' he said. ''I was more up and down. It's going to win the race that way.
''I guess it's unfortunate in a way because I felt like I had the ability to win, but I just didn't do it.''