Djokovic tames Hewitt in four-set thriller
Novak Djokovic squeezed past former champion Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 7-6 4-6 7-6 to reach the quarter-finals of Wimbledon for the first time on Thursday.
A month after reaching the Roland Garros semis, fourth seed Djokovic proved his grasscourt credentials to set up a showdown with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
In a tussle lasting more than four hours and full of gruelling rallies, lunging reaches and tossed rackets, Djokovic eventually broke the dogged resilience of Hewitt.
As the 2002 champion was left to digest his earliest defeat here since 2003, a hyper Djokovic celebrated by falling to his knees with his arms aloft. Once back on his feet, the Serbian pulled off his shirt before hurling it high into the stands.
"I have a lot of emotions right now. I expected a difficult match and knew I had to be 100 percent to beat Lleyton on his favourite surface. This victory means a lot to me," he said.
Their only previous meeting at last year's US Open had been a forgettable affair with Djokovic pinching only six games.
Fast forward 10 months and the duo lit up a damp and gloomy Wimbledon with an electrifying encounter.
With break points in short supply in a tight first set, the pair headed into a tiebreak.
Trading thundering strokes from the baseline, Hewitt sneaked ahead 5-4 with a mini break after punching away a crosscourt winner to end a 40-stroke rally.
But the Australian 16th seed went on to squander three set points and lost the tiebreak 10-8 when he overshot a forehand.
Following a quick exchange of breaks in the second set, Hewitt again stretched the Serbian fourth seed into a shootout.
This time, the man tipped to break the Federer-Nadal stranglehold barely put a foot wrong and ran away with it 7-2.
A 10-minute shower at the start of the third set allowed Hewitt to rethink his strategy and he took the upper hand, breaking for a 4-3 lead which he held on to.
Fearing that the momentum could be swinging away from him, Djokovic called for an injury time out at the end of the set and had his back massaged to relieve some tension.
"I felt a tightness in my lower back," said the 20-year-old.
"I felt it sore and it was getting tighter and tighter so I decided to call the medical timeout. My intention was not to interrupt his game but just to help myself and play better."
The break obviously helped and he won the match on this third match point in the tiebreak.
Asked if Djokovic's decision to take the injury break was tactical: Hewitt replied: "It's within the rules, you can definitely exploit it."
Hewitt's exit means that world number one Roger Federer is the only former champion left in the men's draw and that for the first time since 1995, there would be no Australian man in the last eight at Wimbledon.
"I lost three tiebreaks, won more games out there, broke serve more times. I just didn't have a lot of luck out there today. That happens," said the 26-year-old.