Bernard Tomic has saved two match points to end Lleyton Hewitt’s US Open career in an epic all-Australian second-round encounter at Flushing Meadows.
Tomic, seeded 24th, had to pull out all stops to deny Hewitt the 33rd five-set victory of his grand career with a sapping 6-3 6-2 3-6 5-7 7-5 victory on another punishing day in New York.
Hewitt, who will retire after the Australian Open in January, overcame a hip injury to rally back from two sets and a service break down to serve for the match at 5-4 in the fifth.
But Tomic, 12 years his junior, gallantly battled back to deny his Davis Cup teammate and mentor after three hours and 27 minutes to reach the third round for the first time.
Putting friendship ahead of their rivalry, Hewitt the master and Tomic his apprentice practised together on Wednesday in preparation for the match and the victor was full of praise for his mentor.
“It is so difficult playing him. I was very, very nervous (and) it could have gone both ways,” Tomic said after setting up a showdown with French 12th seed Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
“He is a huge legend to me. I always looked up to him. It was very emotional and it was tough to prepare before the match, this one.
“I am sure a lot of people think he is a great legend, not just myself, so for me it was a privilege.”
An against-the-odds 33rd five-set win of his career would have been a symbolic milestone and matched the legendary Pete Sampras’ record in matches that have gone the distance.
Hewitt had conquered the American in the final at Flushing Meadows back in 2001 to land his maiden grand slam crown.
Alas, he was unable to convert either of his match points on Tomic’s serve deep in the fifth set.
The South Australian had been troubled by a hip injury early on, but roared to life after receiving treatment while trailing by two sets and a break.
He broke Tomic immediately after the medical time-out and then again four games later to snatch the third set.
After blowing an early break in the fourth to enable Tomic to serve for the match at 5-4, Hewitt’s comeback hopes seemed dashed.
Foolish to write him off, Hewitt – a part-time campaigner ranked 355th these days – dug in to peel off three successive games to force the decider set as Tomic began to tire in the sweltering heat.
The young gun, though, dug deep to produce his own valiant fightback to finally prevail.