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Hewitt sweeps to Wimbledon title

| Monday, July 8, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Lleyton Hewitt made certain this Wimbledon of upsets wouldn't end with one. The No. 1-ranked player kept his temper in check, his strokes on the lines — and he wasn't fazed by rain delays or a streaker's show.

Hewitt won his second Grand Slam title with a command performance, defeating greener-than-grass David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday in a baseliners' duel that produced the most lopsided Wimbledon final since 1984.

At 21, the Australian is the tournament's youngest champion since Boris Becker won it a second time in 1986 at 18.

"I kept looking at the scoreboard to see if it was real," Hewitt said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. I always dreamed that some day I would be playing for this trophy."

Nalbandian's nerves showed on the match's very first point — a double fault. He had every right to be a bit shaken: Before this fortnight, the 20-year-old Argentine had never played in a tour-level grass-court event, had never been past the third round in three majors and owned exactly one career title.

His first shot on Centre Court came the morning of the final, when he practiced with coach Gabriel Markus for 30 minutes.

"I didn't care about the conditions, the stadium, the situation," the 28th-seeded Nalbandian said. "It was difficult because Lleyton is playing very good."

Also yesterday, a day after Serena Williams defeated sister Venus, they teamed up to defeat French Open champions Paola Suarez and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2, 7-5 to take the women's doubles title.

Despite dictating play and going for corners or lines repeatedly, Hewitt had more winners (30-12) and fewer unforced errors (25-41) than Nalbandian.

Ripping returns off both wings, Hewitt broke Nalbandian's serve eight times.

Nalbandian was a big beneficiary of a topsy-turvy tournament in which Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Marat Safin all lost in the second round. Nalbandian would have had to face Sampras in the third round, Safin in the quarterfinals, and Agassi in the semis.

Instead, he got to play George Bastl, Nicolas Lapentti and Xavier Malisse.

Before yesterday, there had been four straight first-time major winners, and eight men had won the previous eight Grand Slam events.

In a wide-open era of men's tennis, Hewitt is as close to dominant as anyone right now, and it's been a quick trip to the top.

In 1997, at 15 years and 11 months, he became the youngest qualifier for the Australian Open. He turned pro the next year and upset Agassi en route to a hard-court title in his hometown of Adelaide while ranked 550th — the lowest for a tournament winner in ATP Tour history.

When Hewitt defeated Sampras in September for his first major title, he was the U.S. Open's youngest champ since Sampras in 1990.

He finished 2001 as the youngest year-end No. 1.

Hewitt, however, hasn't always been adored by his sports-wild countrymen because of his brash style.

While playing James Blake at the U.S. Open, he made a comment interpreted by some as racist during a tirade.

He's been fined for using foul language on court and for calling a chair umpire at the 2001 French Open "spastic." He angered fans in Adelaide by calling them "stupid" for cheering for his opponent during a match in 2000.

A more mature Hewitt was on display at Wimbledon.

He did nothing to rile up the partisan crowd during a straight-set semifinal victory over Britain's Tim Henman and was never rattled during yesterday's match, which was suspended twice for a total of 49 minutes because of rain.

Just as the players came out of the locker room after the first delay, a male streaker hopped out of the stands, dropped his clothes and shoes on court and pranced around for two minutes. He danced, somersaulted over the net and bowed to a laughing crowd while being chased by guards brandishing red sheets like matadors.

It might just have been the most excitement on court.

Not only was Nalbandian never in the match (he trailed 4-0 after just 16 minutes), but both players were content to stay anchored to the baseline for double-digit-stroke rallies.

When the match was over, Hewitt fell on his back, got up and swatted a ball out of the stadium. After putting his racket down, he climbed through the stands to the players' guest box, where he greeted his coach, parents and girlfriend, Kim Clijsters, with hugs and kisses.

It was the same kind of celebration used by the last Australian champion at the All England Club, Pat Cash in 1987.

"I can remember being at my grandparents' house when I was 6, not watching the whole Pat Cash match, because I was just starting to get into tennis then," Hewitt said. "He was one of my favorite players when I was growing up — the way that he showed fire out there on the court."

After playing seven rounds each in singles and six in doubles, the Williams' Wimbledon ledger reads 19 wins, 1 loss. The defeat belonged to Venus in the Sister Slam final, but someone had to lose. And at least they kept it in the family.

"I'm going to eat candy, rest, get off the practice court and just relax, relax, relax," Venus said.

Venus and Serena broke Pascual and Suarez five times in nine opportunities, including three times in the opening set when there were five breaks of serve.

Venus held in the opening game and the sisters broke in the next game to go up 2-0. Pascual and Suarez broke back, then held for 2-2.

In the fourth game, Venus, hitting from behind the baseline, plopped Suarez in the stomach near the net with a forehand blast that appeared to temporarily stun the Argentine player.

The Williams' held, broke and held again for 5-2. They won the first set on their second set point when Venus' drop shot was backhanded into the crowd by Suarez.

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