Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt survived an "awkward" all-Aussie encounter at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday, holding off Matthew Ebden 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-3. Hewitt, who won back-to-back Indian Wells titles in 2002 and 2003, said all of his clashes with younger compatriots feel awkward now that he's something of an elder statesman in the sport, closing in on his 600th career match win.
"It's not something I look forward to at all now, playing the other Aussies," Hewitt said. "I'm trying to help these guys out now ... I hit with these guys all the time."
In fact, Hewitt had to cancel a planned practice session with Ebden when the two were drawn to face each other in the first round.
The victory over the 26-year-old Ebden was number 599 for Hewitt's career. He'll get a chance to reach number 600 against 17th-seeded South African Kevin Anderson in the second round, but Hewitt places little stock in the milestone. "It means I'm getting old, that's all," said the 33-year-old, who would become just the third active ATP player, along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, to notch at least 600 match victories.
"Obviously, it means I've had a lot of success, but it's not something I'm focused on at all," he said.
Hewitt will likely have to step it up against Anderson to get that victory here. He let a 5-1 first-set lead slip against Ebden, and also served for the match at 5-1 in the third only to drop his serve before finally putting the match away with a love game. "Whenever I was up in sets I didn't put my foot down," Hewitt said.
Hewitt said he's still feeling the effects of the right shoulder injury that forced him out of a second-round match against compatriot Marinko Matosevic in Delray Beach in February after one set. Hewitt said he had aggravated a shoulder injury the previous week in Memphis, and since Delray Beach had been receiving treatment. "It's not 100 percent yet," he said. "If it was a smaller tournament, I don't think I'd be playing."