| World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt with the ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai on Sunday. Hewitt beat Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 7-5, 7-5, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4. (Reuters)
Shanghai: Lleyton Hewitt’s fighting spirit left Juan Carlos Ferrero a smouldering wreck on Sunday, the Australian fighting like a tiger to retain his Masters Cup in a four-hour, five-set battle.
Once again Hewitt refused to waver, once again he threw his 68 kg frame around every millimetre of the blue Masters court and once again his opponent found him as unmoveable as the Great Wall of China.
Ferrero ran and ran until he dropped. He threw everything at the world number one but in the end could not topple Hewitt who eked out a 7-5, 7-5, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4 win.
The victory gave Hewitt a cool $1.4 million for six days’ work but more importantly it added immensely to his reputation.
Three days ago he was crowned year-end world number one and on Sunday he capped off a year in which he won his maiden Wimbledon crown with yet another performance of resilience and true lion-hearted desire to retain his year-end title.
The manner of the victory was typical. Hewitt chased down every ball, gave every shot 100 per cent and simply refused to roll over. Throughout, Hewitt repeatedly found angles so sharp that Ferrero was left frustrated time and again.
With its $3.7 million prize-pot, the Tennis Masters Cup is the biggest professional sporting event ever to have been staged in China and the 9,000 fans in the New Expo Centre were served up a feast.
Rifling forehands around the court, Hewitt bounced back from an early break to rack up the opening set 7-5 with some brave hitting and inspired shot selection.
He wrapped it up after 50 minutes of spectacular rallying and surged ahead in the second set, taking a 3-0 lead.
Ferrero hit back with a break in the fifth game and the pair traded heavy blows from the baseline as the score veered to and fro in the indoor arena.
As the tension mounted, Ferrero wobbled, double-faulting to hand Hewitt a set-point. The Australian moved into a two-set lead when Ferrero netted a backhand.
Hewitt pumped his fist and urged himself to “C’mon” as he made his way back to his courtside seat; Ferrero’s shoulders sagged. His eyes on the ground in front of him, the Spaniard slowly walked back to his seat before dropping his racket limply at his feet.
Hewitt could only guess what was going through Ferrero’s mind at that changeover. Perhaps painful memories of a semi-final defeat at last year’s Masters Cup, perhaps thoughts of a desperately disappointing French Open final in June when, despite being a strong favourite, he let compatriot Albert Costa walk away with the spoils.
However, Ferrero resumed as a different player — focussed, feisty and resolute. It was as though Hewitt had a mirror held up to himself, only Ferrero’s groundstrokes carried more zip, his serve a little more power.
Swinging his racket like a run-hungry New York Yankee, Ferrero ripped backhands past the scampering Hewitt, notched up two breaks of serve and stunned the champion 6-2 to gain a foothold.
He tore through the third set by the same margin, skipping around his backhand and unleashing scorching forehands for good measure.
Hewitt was buffeted by the Spanish storm and when he was broken in the final game of the decider it looked all over for the 21-year-old Australian.
But, as he has shown so often in the past, Hewitt is never more dangerous than when he is down, exhausted or counted out.
Some phenomenal retrieving and aggressive returning culminated in a forehand drive volley, a breakback and an icy stare at his opponent. Ferrero was not fazed, though, and broke back immediately before serving out for a 3-1 lead.
Hewitt held and then rocked the Spaniard with a break to get back on level terms.
He never looked back, nosing ahead on his serve and Ferrero faltered while trailing 4-5. Hewitt racked up two match-points on the Spaniard’s serve. He missed the first but on the second he rolled a topspin lob over Ferrero for victory.