Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt said he still had something to offer the game of tennis despite suffering his earliest-ever exit at the US Open on Monday.
The Australian, champion at Flushing Meadows in 2001, was edged out 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 by Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round, ground down after 3 hours and 39 minutes in front of an enthralled crowd inside Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The 29-year-old reached at least the quarterfinals at the US Open every year between 2000 and 2006, but after fighting back from two sets down he was blown away in the final set by former world No. 12 Mathieu, now ranked 109.
“I still believe I can improve as a player,” 32nd-seed Hewitt told reporters. “When I play my best tennis, like in Halle [in June, when he beat Roger Federer and won the title], I still feel like I can match it with anyone.”
Hewitt said a calf injury had hampered his preparations for the year’s final Grand-Slam event.
“I didn’t really have a whole heap of expectations coming in because I didn’t feel like I had the time on court or hit the number of balls I’d like,” he said.
Hewitt, who had a second bout of hip surgery in January, looked down and out when Mathieu won the first two sets with a sparkling array of winners.
But Hewitt began to battle back and took the next two sets.
The crowd packed into the Louis Armstrong Stadium sensed a perfect comeback.
But against the odds, Mathieu steadied himself at the crucial time and broke twice to lead 4-0 before clinching victory.
“At the start of the fifth set, he hit some incredible winners,” Hewitt said. “I didn’t feel like I served that badly but he had a purple patch and that was it.”