NEW YORK (AP) — Lleyton Hewitt displayed the same shots and grit that earned him a U.S. Open trophy and the No. 1 ranking a dozen years ago.
Now 32, and ranked 66th, Hewitt came back to surprise 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 Friday night in the second round at Flushing Meadows.
"I don't know how many years I've got left in me. I keep getting asked the question," Hewitt said in an on-court interview. "I'm just pumped to get out on this court and try to put on a great show."
The 4-hour, 3-minute match was the ninth time in the past 10 years that two past U.S. Open title winners faced each other in New York. Hewitt was involved four times, losing the other three.
He won the U.S. Open in 2001 by beating Pete Sampras in the final, and then added a Wimbledon title the following year. But he has been troubled by a series of injuries more recently and lost in the first round at four of his last six Grand Slam tournaments.
"A couple years ago, when I had a couple foot surgeries, I didn't know if I was going to play tennis again," Hewitt said.
"For me to be out here competing, it's a ... lot of fun. I cherish every match I get out there. This is why I still play, to have moments like this," he continued. "Sometimes playing the smaller tournaments, it's hard to get up for. It's not hard to get up for here, that's for sure."
Against the sixth-seeded del Potro, who is 24, the Australian repeatedly scrambled along the baseline to stretch for terrific groundstrokes.
"He's a great champion, a great fighter, and for the second round, he's a very difficult player to play," del Potro said.
While the men hit about the same number of winners — Hewitt had 42, del Potro 41 — the biggest difference was in the unforced error department. Looking sluggish at times, and particularly ineffective off his generally weaker backhand side, del Potro finished with a whopping 70 errors, 27 more than Hewitt.