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Lleyton Hewitt Takes 6-1, 6-3 Lead

July 7, 2002

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Lleyton Hewitt took a 6-1, 6-3 lead in the Wimbledon men’s singles final against David Nalbandian on Sunday in a match that featured two rain delays and a streaker’s Centre Court jig.

In the first set, a relentless Hewitt broke Wimbledon rookie Nalbandian’s service in two of the first three games.

Nalbandian, who had not played on Centre Court during the tournament but was given a chance to practice there Sunday morning, started off nervously, double-faulting to open the match.

Three points later _ after a backhand wide and backhand volley at the net that also went wide _ Hewitt had two break points. Nalbandian saved one with a service winner, but another Nalbandian backhander wide gave Hewitt the early break.

Hewitt then held his first service to lead 2-0.

Nalbandian faced four break points on his next service before Hewitt broke again on a backhand crosscourt passing shot, going up 3-0. Hewitt then held at love, including an ace on game point, to go up 4-0.

In the fifth game, Nalbandian again faced two break points before holding after three deuces with a looping forehand. After five games, Nalbandian had just two winners and had made 12 unforced errors.

Nalbandian finally made some headway into Hewitt’s serve in the sixth game, holding two break points. But a strong Hewitt serve on both occasions enabled the Australian to save those and hold to take a 5-1 lead.

Hewitt frustrated Nalbandian again in the next game, holding three set points on Nalbandian’s serve before taking the set when Nalbandian double-faulted. The first set, which took 33 minutes, featured 16 unforced errors by Nalbandian and just six by Hewitt.

Hewitt faced two break points in opening game of the second set but held as a light drizzle began to fall. At the end of the game, the covers were brought on to Centre Court and play was suspended for about 15 minutes.

Before play resumed, a streaker took his clothes off at Centre Court and did a brief nude dance before security officials, who seemed slow to react, wrapped him in a red sheet and escorted him off the court.

Hewitt went up 2-0 in the first game back after the rain delay, breaking Nalbandian after the Argentine had saved three break points.

Nalbandian finally broke Hewitt’s service in the third game of the second set, tossing a backhand lob over Hewitt’s head at the net, then held in the next game to level the set at 2-2.

Each held service to go to 3-3 and at 30-30 in the seventh game, rain again suspended play. When the players returned after a 35-minute delay, Hewitt held to go up 4-3.

Hewitt won the first two points of the next game on Nalbandian’s service, but the Argentine came back with an ace, just his second of the match. But a forehand winner by Hewitt set up two break points, and the Australian broke on the next point on a forehand error by Nalbandian to take a 5-3 lead.

Serving for the second set, Hewitt fell behind 0-30 but fought back to take the next four points, including an ace on set point. The set took 43 minutes, not including the 50 minutes of rain delay.

Nalbandian was the first man to reach the final in his Wimbledon debut in the Open era (since 1968). No other Argentine has been this far at the tournament. And Nalbandian never had played a tour-level event on grass.

It is the youngest Wimbledon final in Open era history. The combined ages of the 21-year-old Hewitt and 20-year-old Nalbandian is one year lower than those of the 1992 finalists: Andre Agassi (22) and Goran Ivanisevic (20).

Hewitt has had his problems at this year’s other majors. Coming off a bout with chicken pox, he lost in the first round at the Australian Open and lost in the fourth round at the French Open.

Wimbledon is Nalbandian’s fourth Grand Slam event. He reached the fourth round of last year’s U.S Open as a qualifier, the second round of the Australian Open, and the third at the French Open. Before Wimbledon, he was rated at 200-1 by British bookmakers to win the title, but he went off at 5-1 Sunday while Hewitt was 1-9 favorite.

While Hewitt beat fourth-seeded Tim Henman in straight sets to make the final, Nalbandian’s 7-6 (2), 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 6-2 victory over No. 27 Xavier Malisse was interrupted by rain and halted because of darkness after four sets Friday. They finished Saturday.

It is the first Wimbledon final to feature two baseliners since Bjorn Borg beat Jimmy Connors in 1977 and 1978. The last baseliner to win the title was Andre Agassi in 1992.

Hewitt and Nalbandian have played just once before, with Hewitt winning 6-2, 6-4 on clay in Barcelona in April.

Nalbandian had a strong junior career, winning the boys’ titles at the 1998 U.S. Open and 1999 French Open.

He also reached the boys’ semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 _ but was defaulted for turning up late.

The winner will take home $798,000 and the runner-up $399,000.

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