Australian Lleyton Hewitt pushed David Ferrer all the way in an epic five-set battle on Lenglen on Saturday but could not quite pull off an upset agianst the No5 seed.
Considered by many as an outside favourite for the tournament, Ferrer had an excellent preparation for Roland Garros, winning his home tournament in Valencia, reaching the final in Barcelona and the quarter-final in Monte Carlo before losing both times to eventual winner and clay-court master, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, 26, was expected to make light work of Hewitt who has been sidelined from the game since April with a hip injury.
Ferrer got off to a great start, holding comfortably in the opener and breaking Hewitt in his first service game when the Australian double-faulted on break point. Hewitt got his name on the board winning a confident service game to love at 3-1 but Ferrer continued to dominate the set and broke Hewitt again to take it 6-2.
In a repeat of the first set, Ferrer went on to break Hewitt in the second game and held to lead 3-0 but the former world No1 fought back and took Ferrer’s serve, which was the cue for the first trademark “Come on!” of the match. With the crowd behind him, a pumped-up Hewitt broke again to lead 4-3 as an increasingly frustrated Ferrer picked up a warning for shouting a string of obscenities. Showing no signs of being bothered by his hip, Hewitt broke Ferrer for the third time in the set to level the match.
Ferrer seemed to be back on track at the start of the third, breaking and holding to love and seemingly re-gaining control of the match but Hewitt continued to press on the Ferrer serve. He failed to capitalise on break points at 1-3, saved break points on his own serve and eventually broke back at 3-3 with a beautiful lob that left Ferrer stranded at the net. As the frustration seemed to creep back into the Spaniard's game, he was broken again and Hewitt served out to take the set 6-3.
Hewitt, seeded No25 which is his lowest ranking in a Grand Slam since the 2000 Australian Open where he was unseeded, let his concentration slip at 3-1 in the fourth game of the fourth set. An unforced error gifted Ferrer the break and this time the Spaniard made no mistake, holding to win the set 6-3 and take the match into a decider.
Hewitt saved break points at 4-3 but played a careless game to allow Ferrer to level at four all before losing his serve in the next game after being foot-faulted for the second time (though to his credit, he kept his cool throughout the match) and then tamely netting a backhand on break point. Ferrer finally took the match in just over three and a half hours when a Hewitt backhand just missed the line.
Ferrer now plays Radek Stepanek in the next round, the Czech player having made light work of No12 seed Tommy Robredo 6-3 6-2 6-1. Hewitt meanwhile will now head for Wimbledon at least with his confidence intact and having gained the respect of the crowd for his sporting behaviour throughout the match, at one point even awarding a point to Ferrer after the line judge had given the Australian the benefit of the doubt. His newfound maturity will certainly stand him in good stead with the crowds.