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Hewitt survives 144 mph serve

American qualifier Taylor Dent sets a Wimbledon record with serves and takes Lleyton Hewitt to five sets.

By Times wiresa

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 29, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Taylor Dent could hear his heart beating louder and louder and see his shots edging closer and closer to the white lines at Wimbledon on Thursday night, but the young American qualifier couldn't, wouldn't, stop. His racket was dripping with adrenaline, his arm was tingling with power, and as he rattled off one thundering serve after another, only one thought rattled through his brain: More.

First 139 mph. Then 142. Then 144, the fastest serve recorded at the All England Club.

The blasts carried him through a fourth-set tiebreak, and for a moment he appeared ready to swallow the fifth set whole as well. It was at that precise moment, however, that Australian Lleyton Hewitt swooped back in from the other side of the net.

Hewitt gobbled up an early break and for the next half-hour the two 20-year-olds clashed with stirring displays of bravado and aggression. Hewitt finally prevailed 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3.

"I was just trying to stay out there, keep the match going," said Dent, who had 21 aces with serves that averaged 128 miles per hour. Asked if he considered playing more conservatively, he laughed. "Yes, most definitely, but it's not my style of game," he said. "I just don't play well if I back off shots."

Dent double faulted 18 times and repeatedly sailed shots long -- or into the seats.

"It's like he can't help himself," three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said.

As veterans Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport and Pat Rafter ambled smoothly through their second-round matches Thursday, several younger players practically sprinted across the crisp green grass, some handling the blazing pace better than others.

Kim Clijsters, the No. 7 seed and Hewitt's girlfriend, breezed past Maureen Drake 6-3, 6-1.

Venus Williams talked herself through an uneven 6-3, 6-2 win over Daniela Hantuchova, later saying she calmed herself after realizing she was "just kind of rushing."

A few courts over, Alexandra Stevenson struggled through a 6-3, 6-2 loss after reinjuring her back when she reached for too much on a forehand.

Dent -- swaddled in expectation since birth by father Phil Dent, a 1974 Australian Open finalist, and mother Betty Ann Stuart, a former top-20 player -- raised hopes and eyebrows by growing to a bulky 6 fet 2, 190 pounds and developing one of the hardest serves in the game.

Agents swarmed, sponsorships dangled, but before Dent could distinguish himself from the gaggle of young Americans scrapping their way through the men's tour, 18-year-old Andy Roddick skipped by him in the rankings, hopping to No. 33 while Dent was left at No. 143. Dent said Thursday he's happy for Roddick, although "hopefully I can get my butt in gear and start doing well."

"For me, it's just finding that consistency to perform well each match," he said. "I've had great wins, and I've had pretty bad losses."

Dent's problem certainly isn't fear. Taking Centre Court on Thursday against the fifth-seeded Hewitt, he barreled out to a 5-0 lead with little regard for the Australian's 11-match winning streak. Dent looked so invincible that only a rain delay early in the second set could mire his momentum, although even after Hewitt took control of the second and third sets, Dent refused to stop thrashing through each point.

He foiled Hewitt's first two attempts to close the match in the fourth set and pounced when Hewitt stumbled on two double faults to set up a tiebreak. Spitting out serves so fast they almost took the speed gun by surprise, Dent kept pushing, and though Hewitt eventually collected his game in the fifth set, it took him four attempts to close out the match.

"I watched Patrick Rafter play Albert Costa once in the Australian Open, and he was just fighting like a dog," Dent said. "I hope that's the impression I give out there, that I'm fighting like a dog -- win, lose, whatever."

Said Hewitt, who is about 4 inches shorter than Dent: "A lot of people start to think if you have a big serve, you're just about home. I draw confidence from guys like Michael Chang a few years ago and now Andre Agassi. He's won Grand Slams on all surfaces. That's the kind of guy I look to.

"The way I bounced back, it's as good as I've ever done."

Still alive after the second round were 12 of the 16 highest-seeded men and 14 of the 16 highest-seeded women, with No. 1 Martina Hingis losing on the first day.

Agassi, who beat Briton Jamie Delgado 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, said his win wasn't as routine as it looked.

"I have an incredible ability to stress myself out against anybody," the 1992 champion said. "I'm not comfortable until I'm home watching the rest of the day's tennis."

Davenport, playing her second tournament after sitting out three months with a knee injury, beat Alicia Molik 6-4, 6-2.

The layoff "hasn't hurt me yet," Davenport said. "I'm really feeling good out there, very excited to be playing."

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