NEWPORT, United States (AFP) - Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt defeated second seed Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/3) on Sunday to win the US$474,000 (S$588,039) ATP Hall of Fame Championships.
After runner-up finishes the past two years, Hewitt finally captured the Hall of Fame title, although it took a 2 1/2-hour battle after the Australian faltered while serving for the match in the second set and squandered two match points on Karlovic's serve.
Third seed Hewitt took the US$81,500 top prize in windy conditions for his 30th career ATP title, his second of the season after a January crown at Brisbane, and an eighth career ATP grass-court championship.
It was a breakthough triumph for Hewitt after falling to US star John Isner in the 2012 Newport final and to Frenchman Nicolas Mahut last year.
"It was obviously very tough the last couple of years," Hewitt said. "Last year I served for it as well. That just makes it more gratifying." Hewitt has undergone five surgeries in five years to continue his career.
"We've had some tough times with surgeries the last few years," Hewitt said. "But it's nice to know that all that hard work has paid off." Karlovic, 35, and Hewitt, 33, met in the oldest ATP final showdown so far this season and the oldest since the event was first staged in 1976.
In the third set, Hewitt never managed a break point but denied Karlovic three times on break points to force a tie-breaker that ended with the Aussie taking five of the final six points, the last when Karlovic send a forehand long.
"Just had to focus on what I needed to do," Hewitt said. "I was just focusing on trying to hold serve in the third set. It was a tough match. I was really happy to get through." Karlovic made his comeback from viral meningitis at this event a year ago after being in a coma and saw the runner-up effort as an achievement.
"Last year when I was in the hospital I didn't know if I would be able to do this again," Karlovic said. "To be here and do this now it's an unbelievable feeling." Hewitt, the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion, won for the second time in six meetings with Karlovic.
Hewitt, ranked 12 spots below his rival at 43rd in the world, broke the Croatian in the ninth game to claim the first set in just 33 minutes.
In the second set, Hewitt smashed a crosscourt backhand winner in front of Karlovic to break for a 5-3 lead.
But serving for the match, Hewitt stumbled as he had the year before, double faulting two points from the title and then missing a backhand to surrender a break.
Hewitt managed two match points on Karlovic's serve in the 12th game, but they were saved with a service winner and an ace, setting up the tie-breaker in which Karlovic won the last three points to force a third set.
It was Karlovic's third final of the year, having also lost to Japan's Kei Nishikori at Memphis in February and German Philipp Kohlschreiber in May at Dusseldorf.
Karlovic has not won an ATP title since claiming the fifth of his career last July in Colombia.