NEW YORK • Lleyton Hewitt waved goodbye to his final US Open on Thursday, the tenacious Australian metaphorically dragged kicking and screaming to the Flushing Meadows exit by countryman Bernard Tomic.
Famous for a relentless fighting spirit, Hewitt went down swinging until the very end, falling 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7.
"I left it all out there again," said the man who won the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002. "A great atmosphere, it was nice to be able to turn it into a decent match."
Set to retire after next year's Australian Open, Hewitt, 34, may have lost a step and his groundstrokes are not as ferocious as they once were. But he showed he has lost none of his combativeness during a second-round slugfest that lasted 3hr 27min.
Hewitt gave Tomic, and the other young Australian players who have made headlines for the wrong reasons in recent weeks, a demonstration of what it takes to be a fighter, battling back from two sets down to give his fans one final thrill.
US Open (2nd rd, selected)
Men: Stan Wawrinka (Sui) bt Hyeon Chung (Kor) 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (8-6), Andy Murray (Gbr) bt Adrian Mannarino (Fra) 5-7 4-6 6-1 6-3 6-1, Tomas Berdych (Cze) bt Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 6-3, Bernard Tomic (Aus) bt Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 6-3 6-2 3-6 5-7 7-5, Richard Gasquet (Fra) bt Robin Haase (Ned) 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-4, Roger Federer (Sui) bt Steve Darcis (Bel) 6-1 6-2 6-1.
Women: Petra Kvitova (Cze) bt Nicole Gibbs (USA) 6-3 6-4, Johanna Konta (Gbr) bt Garbine Muguruza (Esp) 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (4-7) 6-2, Samantha Stosur (Aus) bt Evgeniya Rodina (Rus) 6-1 6-1, Petra Cetkovska (Cze) bt Caroline Wozniacki (Den) 6-4 5-7 7-6 (7-1), Victoria Azarenka (Blr) bt Yanina Wickmayer (Bel) 7-5 6-4, Angelique Kerber (Ger) bt Karin Knapp (Ita) 7-5 6-2, Simona Halep (Rom) bt Kateryna Bondarenko (Ukr) 6-3 6-4.
"I'm just very competitive. I pride myself on getting the most out of myself," said the former world No. 1, who will take over as his country's Davis Cup captain and has already taken on a mentoring role for some of Australia's young players.
"I was able to somehow find a way. That's what I've been renowned for in my career."
Playing on the grandstand court in the shadow of the Arthur Ashe Stadium where he won the 2001 final against Pete Sampras, Hewitt was unable to convert two match points when leading 5-3 in the fifth to seal what would have been a fairytale victory.
"I knew from the point when he was coming back, it was not going to be easy because I kept thinking about watching his matches in the past, how he got out of them," said Tomic, who moves on to meet 12th-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
"It is so difficult playing him. I was very, very nervous when he led 5-3 in the fifth. He is a huge legend to me. I always looked up to him.
"I am sure a lot of people think he is a great legend, not just myself, so for me it was a privilege."