LONDON (Reuters) - With their cricket team in disarray and rugby side playing catch-up, Mr. Reliable Lleyton Hewitt gave Australia’s suffering sports fans something to smile about as he upset 11th seed Stanislas Wawrinka at Wimbledon on Monday.
Hewitt, who has dropped to 70 in the world, did not have to delve too deeply into his famed reserves of fighting spirit to oust the Swiss ranked 60 places above him.
The 32-year-old baseline terrier no longer has the ferocious energy of his heyday but he showed that when he slips on his grasscourt shoes and strides onto the lawns of the All England Club, the 2002 champion remains a force to be reckoned with.
He wrapped up a 6-4 7-5 6-3 win in the evening gloom on Court One in two hours 12 minutes, dropping to his knees in celebration at claiming a significant scalp.
Perched in the stands were a group of vocal supporters known as the “Fanatics”, clad in green and gold, cheering what has become a rare success for a country used to feasting at sport’s top table, but currently feeding on scraps.
On the day the cricket team sacked their coach with the Ashes series against England looming and hot on the heels of an opening rugby test defeat by the touring British and Irish Lions, Hewitt’s win was cheered to the rafters.
“I know a few of the Fanatic boys in the crowd,” Hewitt told reporters. “They enjoy the win as much as I do.
“It’s good that I can put on some sort of show that they can get pretty pumped up out there as well.”
Hewitt does not have a game that stands out as particularly lethal on grass, but his clever courtcraft means he can still move opponents out of their comfort zone on the slick green grass of SW19.
Wawrinka had won their last two meetings but struggled to make an impression against the feisty Hewitt who, despite owning two grand slam titles, ranked this among his best victories.
“It’s definitely up there,” he added. “It was a tough draw coming into one of my favorite tournaments. “To get through it in straight sets is a pretty good effort.”
Hewitt’s grand slam winning days are more than a decade in the past, but the 32-year-old scrapper is not entertaining any thoughts of walking away from the fight.
“I know that I can still play the game,” he said. “I compete against the best guys. I play well in the big tournaments, I think. That’s why I’m still playing.”
Next up for Hewitt is Germany’s Dustin Brown on Wednesday.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris