Lleyton Hewitt has admitted he played through the pain barrier to complete a famous Wimbledon fightback as the Australian came from two sets down to reach the quarter-finals with a 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Czech 23rd seed Radek Stepanek.
Hewitt suffered a thigh strain in the first set and was completely out-played for the first two sets, but the 2002 Wimbledon champion showed tremendous reserves of stamina and steel to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time in three years.
Just a month after overhauling a two-set deficit to defeat Ivo Karlovic at the French Open, Hewitt once again found a way to come back from the dead and will face either Andy Roddick or Tomas Berdych for a place in the semi-finals.
“I had a bit of a strain midway through the first set. It caused me a couple of issues and I wasn’t able to move as well as I would have liked,” Hewitt said.
“I got some treatment and managed to put it out of my mind but I still had a bit of pain. I had a bit more treatment during the rain delay. I just wanted to give myself a chance to compete.
“I hope it will be OK for the next match. Hopefully I didn’t do anymore damage to it.”
The unseeded 28-year-old is currently ranked below the top 50 after a lengthy spell out of action following hip surgery. But the All England Club’s grass courts have always been perfectly suited to his game.
“I’ve always been fit and hungry enough to keep fighting with that never-say-die attitude,” he said.
“It was tough because I was trying to get the third set under my belt rather than look at the big picture of winning in five sets.
“Even though I lost the first two sets I felt I was getting a quite a few looks at his serve. I felt if I could get a few returns I would get back in the match and that’s what happened.”
After his surprise win over fifth seed Juan Martin Del Petro in the second round, his confidence has gone through the roof and he hadn’t dropped a set en route to the last 16.
However, Stepanek got the crucial break to take the first set and then pushed home his advantage after Hewitt called for an injury timeout at 2-4 down in the second set to deal with the thigh problem.
Hewitt was able to resume after treatment but immediately dropped his serve again as Stepanek eased into a two-set lead.
But there has never been any doubting Hewitt’s tenacity and refused to surrender. Roared on by a large gathering of Australian fans on Court Two, he broke twice early in the third set before rain halted play.
The momentum was still firmly in Hewitt’s favour after the delay. He closed out the set and then broke again at the start of the fourth set.
Hewitt was unleashing winners from all over the court. In contrast, Stepanek, previously so dominant, was lost in a fog of unforced errors.
A blistering service return gave Hewitt another break that effectively wrapped up the set. The defiant “come on” that accompanied it underlined his determination to go the distance.
There were no signs of fatigue from Hewitt but Stepanek needed treatment on his back before the start of the final set.
By now Hewitt was reading Stepanek’s serve perfectly and a pair of sublime returns set up a break in the first game.
Stepanek’s morale was crushed and one more beautifully judged Hewitt return sealed a second break and, with it, one of his most memorable Wimbledon wins.