Hewitt out but not down after earliest Open loss

Tue Aug 31, 2010 9:13am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt said he still has something to offer the game of tennis despite suffering his earliest ever exit at the U.S. Open on Monday.

The Australian, champion at Flushing Meadows in 2001, was edged out 6-3 6-4 5-7 4-6 6-1 by Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round, ground down after three hours 39 minutes in front of an enthralled crowd inside Louis Armstrong Stadium.

The 29-year-old reached at least the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open every year between 2000 and 2006, but after fighting back from two sets down he was blown away in the final set by former world number 12 Mathieu, now ranked 109.

"I still believe I can improve as a player," 32nd seed Hewitt told reporters. "When I play my best tennis, like in Halle (in June, when he beat Roger Federer and won the title), I still feel like I can match it with anyone."

Hewitt said a calf injury had hampered his preparations for the year's final grand-slam event.

"I didn't really have a whole heap of expectations coming in because I didn't feel like I had the time on court or hit the number of balls I'd like," he said.

"I hung in there and gave it 100 percent but I didn't feel like my ball-striking was really good enough to match it with the top players."

Hewitt, who had a second bout of hip surgery in January, looked down and out when Mathieu won the first two sets with a sparkling array of winners.

But the Frenchman has a history of throwing away winning situations - in 2002 he lost the deciding rubber in the Davis Cup final from two sets ahead - and Hewitt began to battle back.   Continued...

<p>Lleyton Hewitt of Australia makes a return against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz</p>