Lleyton Hewitt of Australia celebrates after defeating Gilles Muller of Luxembourg at the US Open (Reuters)
Socks filled with blood and body scarred by countless operations, Lleyton Hewitt simply refuses to quit.
The Australian is a contemporary of Andy Roddick but a day after the American announced his impending retirement, Hewitt was still raging against dying of the light.
The 31-year-old scratched and clawed his way to a 3-6 7-6 6-7 7-5 6-4 win over Gilles Muller in four hours and 35 minutes of sporting warfare at the US Open.
Hewitt, the former world number one and champion at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, has undergone major hip and toe surgery in recent years.
His ranking has plummeted to 125 but he said he would play as long as possible because he still revelled in the heat of battle.
Hewitt called for the trainer against Muller and saw red when he removed his shoes.
"Don't know if I'd call it an injury - it was more just the toenails were giving me some issues out there," Hewitt said.
"Yeah, just filling the sock up with a bit of blood. Just needed to get them taped and a little bit of padding to relieve it a little bit. Got it sorted out."
Hewitt played on Court 11 at Flushing Meadows, far removed from the headiness of Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he beat Pete Sampras to win the 2001 US Open.
He trailed Muller by two sets to one but is no stranger to the five-setter and survived another battle of the fittest and mentally toughest.
"The drama of a fifth set - that's why you still play the game," he said. "It all happens pretty quick when you're actually out there playing.
"Sometimes you wish you had a few more seconds to just sort of soak it up and enjoy the moment a little bit more.
"It's all happening so fast out there. You've got so many things going through your mind at different stages of the match. Even the change of ends feels like it goes pretty quick."
Luxembourgeois Muller paid tribute to Hewitt's tenacity.
"The match was exactly what I knew it was going to be - a fight with only a few points in it," Muller said.
"I have a lot of respect for the guy. I'm disappointed because I had a lot of opportunities but that's what Lleyton does to you.
"He makes you earn it. If you don't deserve to beat him, you don't. He just plays every single point like the whole match depends on it. The injuries he's had, most guys never come back from that."
Hewitt faces another exhausting day in round three when he meets Spain's fourth seed David Ferrer.
"My body felt good today - lasted four hours, 35 minutes, so I felt in control," he said. "I possibly moved better in the fifth set than I did in the first set. But now it's a big step up in class.
"He's not going to be hitting aces, but he's not going to be missing any balls, either. He's a quality player. Over five sets he's extremely tough. I'll go out there and I'll have a crack."
Hewitt said he had no thoughts of retirement and paid tribute to Roger Federer, who reclaimed the number one ranking from Novak Djokovic this year at the age of 31.
"It's an incredible effort," Hewitt said. "The way he played at Wimbledon this year, he wasn't far off beating Novak last year when Novak was playing so well here in New York.
"He really should have won that match, he was the better player. Roger's Roger. He's the greatest player of all time."
Federer has been saddened by the departure of players from his generation and expects more retirements sooner rather than later.
"It's tough in some ways," Federer said after the 30-year-old Roddick announced he was retiring.
"I already was pretty sad about the moments when Sampras, (Andre) Agassi, (Carlos) Moya, all the great Spanish players in the game, (Tim) Henman, you name it, all those guys I used to watch on TV, left the game. It was sad. All of a sudden the guys from TV, they're gone.
"Now you're only playing guys from your age. It's fun, but it's not the same. It's never going to be the same as playing your heroes and idols.
"Then I started to obviously enjoy my generation. That one was an extremely strong one - there are still a ton around but maybe not all those grand slam champions.
"(Marat) Safin obviously retired, Andy (Roddick) is on the way out, (David) Ferrer has had some tough times, Lleyton (Hewitt) the same. It's getting tough again - the next couple of years now, they're probably going to drop like flies."
- Sports & Recreation
- Lleyton Hewitt