| Lleyton Hewitt in his Adelaide Crows football jersey after he and doubles partner Todd Woodbridge defeated Leander Paes and Vishal Uppal in Adelaide on Saturday. (Reuters)
Adelaide, Sept. 21 (Reuters): A pumped-up world number one Lleyton Hewitt combined with Todd Woodbridge to give Australia a winning 3-0 lead over India in their Davis Cup qualifier on Saturday.
The doubles victory means last year’s Davis Cup runners-up have avoided failing to qualify for next year’s 16-nation World Group and have relegated India to the second tier.
Hewitt and Woodbridge beat Indian veteran Leander Paes and newcomer Vishal Uppal 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 at Memorial Drive as the home team finished strongly after a tight second set.
Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs won the opening singles matches on Friday. The reverse singles in the now dead rubber will be played on Sunday.
“I felt like we raised our game at the right time. The second set could have gone either way,” Hewitt said in an on-court interview after the doubles match.
Down 4-5 and 0-30 on serve, the 21-year-old showed his fighting qualities.
“Yeah it was tight. I made four tough first serves so I was able to get out of that game pretty well,” Hewitt said.
Woodbridge, the Wimbledon doubles champion, and Hewitt, the Wimbledon singles champion, breezed through the first set in 29 minutes.
The Indians forced a tie-break in the second before a clearly nervous Uppal, ranked 703, double-faulted to give the Australians the set in 44 minutes.
Uppal, playing in his second Davis Cup tie, dropped serve twice in the third set before Hewitt served it out in just 21 minutes.
India’s US Open doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi had pulled out of the tie with a shoulder injury while Australia were without former US Open singles finalist Mark Philippoussis, who has a knee problem.
Hewitt, the US Open singles champion last year, said he was keen to continue playing Davis Cup doubles.
“Obviously playing singles throughout the year, it makes it extremely tough for me to play a lot of doubles matches on the tour,” he said. “But I love playing the big doubles matches.”
Australia’s non-playing captain John Fitzgerald said complacency was always going to be the home team’s biggest danger against their lowly-ranked opponents.
“It’s a relief today to get over this Indian team. I just can’t be more thrilled,” he said, highlighting Hewitt’s decision to make himself available for the tie.
Fitzgerald shouldered much of the blame for Australia’s Davis Cup final loss to France in Melbourne last year.
Hewitt ready for soccer
Meanwhile, Hewitt is prepared to risk injury and play in a charity football match Sunday with Australia already wrapping up the tie.
“If he doesn’t get hurt, I’m happy, one way or the other, I don’t want him to get hurt,” Fitzgerald said.
While a serious injury could wipe months from Hewitt’s tennis career and perhaps cost him the No.1 ranking, Hewitt said that possibility did not concern him.
“Not really, I’ll sit in the forward pocket (playing position), I won’t go that hard, I’ll be down talking to the people on the boundary fence,” he said.
While Hewitt is scheduled to play a reverse singles match Sunday, Fitzgerald could replace him with Scott Draper for the dead rubber.
“I don’t know, I’ll have to speak to the boys and see if they let me,” Hewitt said of his chances of skipping the tennis.
“Hopefully, I’ll go out there and have a bit of a kick, I can’t promise any good things but we’ll see what happens.
“I haven’t played a game of footy since I was 14 so it could be pretty ugly, but I’m sure there’s good enough players to make me look good.”