Aussie anguish as Chela ends home boy Hewitt’s hopes

JUAN Ignacio Chela revelled in his sweet win. A year ago the lanky Argentine was beaten by fierce rival Lleyton Hewitt in a spiteful third-round match at the Australian Open.

Yesterday, it was Chela’s turn to celebrate.

No sooner had Chela’s big forehand pass sealed a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (8-10), 6-2 victory in front of a capacity centre-court crowd willing the local hero on, than Chela was doing his own little victory dance at the baseline.

“It’s the biggest win of my career,” Chela said of his victory over the third-seeded Hewitt. “He’s a good fighter and in Australia in front of all the public, it was very special. He’s a great player.”

The atmosphere between Hewitt and Argentina’s leading men’s players has been cool after several confrontations last year.

There was little indication things had warmed after yesterday’s match, despite it being a relatively subdued affair.

The pair shook hands in a desultory fashion at the net afterwards. While Chela then raised his arms in triumph, Hewitt headed for the exit, bag over his shoulder and head down, without acknowledging his home crowd.

“We don’t talk, but we didn’t talk before and don’t really now,” Chela said, when asked about his relationship with Hewitt.

Hewitt, a finalist in Melbourne last year, said Chela played well.

But he was less complimentary on his chances in the tournament. “I don’t think he’s a contender,” Hewitt said.

Men’s world No 1 Roger Federer strolled through to the next stage, hammering German Florian Mayer 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 in 72 minutes, and the tournament is now seemingly at his mercy.

“I can’t see anyone beating him,” Hewitt added. “His scorelines are pretty convincing and when he’s playing with that much confidence it’s a huge boost to have on your side.”

Federer has won five of the last eight grand slams.

Fifth-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko is now Federer’s main worry on his side of the draw. American Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian of Argentina are both in the other half, meaning he will not have to face either before the final.

Meanwhile former champion Mary Pierce crashed out of the women’s Australian Open second round in straight sets to Czech Iveta Benesova.

The tournament’s fifth seed was expected to romp home but she struggled from the outset and Benesova prevailed 6-3, 7-5.

Hewitt and Pierce joined Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Gisela Dulko, Marion Bartoli, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Olivier Rochus and Fernando Verdasco on the seeded casualty list.

World No 2 Kim Clijsters was lucky not to join them after a painful hip injury in her 6-4, 6-2 win over Chinese qualifier Yuan Meng.

The US Open champion appeared to be on the verge of quitting when she called for a break as the pain became unbearable.

“I’m happy with the win but my body doesn’t feel too good at the moment,” the Belgian said. “As long as it doesn’t get worse, I’ll fight until I’m done.”

There was more drama off the court when reports surfaced from Serbia that Damir Dokic was threatening to kidnap estranged daughter Jelena as revenge for her decision to return to Australia. He later denied the reports, although Jelena released a statement saying he had threatened her before.

“I have spent my life recovering from events such as this,” she said.

The women’s draw is starting to open up nicely for Martina Hingis, the former world No 1 who is playing her first grand slam event since retiring in 2002. With Pierce’s exit, she has no more seeds between her and the quarter-finals.

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