Former world No. 1 and two-time grand slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia erased two match points to edge past No. 12 seed Robin Soderling of Sweden, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes on Tuesday afternoon to advance to the second round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
Soderling, a finalist at this year’s French Open, got off to a quick start in the opening set winning 16 of 19 first serve points and breaking Hewitt’s serve in the fourth game to take control. The Swede also smashed six aces compared to just one by the 28-year-old Australian.
Deep into the second set tiebreak, Hewitt found himself down 5-6 before smashing an ace to even things. Then down 7-8, Soderling smashed a forehand long to level the tiebreak at 8-8. Hewitt never looked back, winning the next two points and taking the match to a deciding set.
“Second set tiebreak could have gone either way,” said Hewitt, a Sydney resident who has reached the Cincinnati final in 2002 and 2004.
The momentum stayed with Hewitt, as he broke serve to open the final set and never looked back. Winning 76 percent of first serve points and 70 percent of second serve points en route to victory.
“I played a good game the first game of the third set to break serve, and served well for the rest of that set,” said Hewitt, who improves to 3-0 lifetime against Soderling.
Hewitt will next face German Benjamin Becker on Wednesday night. The match will mark the first meeting between the pair.
In other matches, Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez held off countryman Fernando Verdasco, seeded 11th, in two tiebreak sets, winning 7-6(4), 7-6(4), in one hour and 45 minutes. The loss marked Verdasco’s fourth first round loss in Cincinnati.
Both players served exceptionally well and in the 125-130 M.P.H. range from start to finish. Verdasco smashed 11 aces and just two double faults compared to five aces and three double faults by Garcia-Lopez. Both players won 82 percent of first serve points and were able to earn one service break.
With the loss Verdasco, a finalist at Brisbane and semifinalist at the Australian Open, fell to 34-16 on the season. Garcia-Lopez , meanwhile improved to 22-18 on the season, a year that has included reaching a career-best ranking of No. 42 in June. Garcia-Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 53, is slated to face Russian qualifier Mikhail Youzhny for a place in the third round. The Spaniard leads the Russian 3-0 in series meetings, winning most recently on clay in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
In a battle of talented left-handers, Austrian Jurgen Melzer edged past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-6(7), in two hours and 47 minutes. A combined 26 aces were hit in the contest—16 by Lopez and 10 by Melzer—but it was the consistency in the later stages of the third set tiebreak by Melzer that earned him a spot in the second round.
Melzer, who improved to 3-1 against Lopez, won 70 of 91 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points. Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 37, just one spot behind Melzer at No. 36, won 56 of 67 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points throughout the match.
Melzer, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 26 in May, next faces lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France on Wednesday afternoon. Benneteau leads the head-to-head against Melzer, 3-1, with all his victories coming on hard courts.
Other winners on Tuesday in Cincinnati
Tomas Berdych def. No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, 6-4 ret. injury
Igor Kunitsyn def. James Blake, 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4
Mikhail Youzhny def. Victor Hanescu, 7-5, 6-2
Andreas Seppi def. Jan Hernych, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Chris Guccione def. Philip Kohlschreiber, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3
Philip Petzschner def. Simone Bolelli, 7-6(6), 6-3
John Isner def. Tommy Haas, 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(3)
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. Igor Andreev, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-1
David Ferrer def. No. 14 Marin Cilic, 7-6(4), 6-2