At the Net: Hewitt turns back the clock

The best story on the men's side to this point at the 2013 U.S. Open has been the success of former world No. 1 star Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt has reached the fourth round at the Open for the eighth time in his Hall-of-Fame-type career and for the first time in seven years, or since 2006.

"Rusty" pulled off one of the bigger upsets in the men's draw last Friday night by stunning fellow former Open champ Juan Martin del Potro in an unexpected five-setter at Ashe Stadium.

The 4-hour, 3-minute battle marked the ninth time in 10 years that two past U.S. Open champions faced each other in New York. Hewitt has been involved four times, losing the other three.

Del Potro was seeded sixth and expected to go deep into the draw at the National Tennis Center, where he was a quarterfinalist a year ago.

But no one told Hewitt, who followed up the Delpo stunner by beating 102nd- ranked Russian Evgeny Donskoy in four sets.

"I don't know how many years I've got left in me. I keep getting asked the question," said Hewitt. "I'm just pumped to get out on this court and try to put on a great show."

The fiery 32-year-old Aussie was at the height of his powers in the early part of the previous decade, highlighted by his 2001 U.S. Open title when he beat American great Pete Sampras in the final, as well as a Wimbledon championship in 2002. He's also been at runner-up at the U.S. Open (2004 lost to fellow former No. 1 Roger Federer) and the Aussie Open (2005 lost to fellow former top-ranked star Marat Safin).

But Hewitt hasn't been to a Grand Slam semifinal since the 2005 U.S. Open, or eight long years ago. He hasn't reached a quarterfinal in the Big Apple since 2006 and missed two of the previous five Opens, as injuries have dominated his career over the last several years.

He'll attempt to reach his first major quarterfinal in over four years (Wimbledon 2009) on Tuesday, this after falling in the first round in four of his previous six Slams.

Note: In 2005, Hewitt reached at least the semifinals in all three of the majors he appeared in that year, including the final at the Aussie.

To reach the semis at the latest Open, the non-seed would have to stay some kinda hot. He's got 21st-seeded Russian hot head Mikhail Youzhny in his next outing in the round of 16, and if Hewitt can get past the two-time U.S. Open semifinalist Youzhny, current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic could be looming in the quarterfinals. And, of course, that's a big if. Not Djokovic getting past Spaniard Marcel Granollers, but Rusty dispatching his fellow thirty-something Youzhny.

Win or lose from here on out, it's been a memorable Open for Hewitt, who appeared left for dead before his recent upswing during the grass-court season when he reached a semifinal at a Wimbledon tune-up at The Queen's Club in London and a final at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport.

Prior to that grass-court success, Hewitt had been wallowing through a disappointing 2013 season, going 6-9 overall, including four straight match losses at one point. He was a first-round loser at the Aussie Open and at the French, and wound up a second-round loser at Wimbledon.

But since the Wimbledon setback against German/Jamaican Dustin Brown, Hewitt has gone 10-3 (at the time of this article), including the run into the final in Newport; a spot in a semifinal in Atlanta; and his current trek in Flushing.

Hewitt obviously has a chance to defeat Youzhny, but shocking Djokovic in the quarters would be another story altogether.

The tennis warrior from Adelaide hasn't titled on tour since 2010 when he stunned the legendary Federer in a final in Halle, Germany. Since then, he's appeared in pair of finals in Newport, losing both -- last year and this year.

In his latest comeback from injury, which was fusion surgery on a left toe last year, the gritty Hewitt has rebounded from 233rd in the world to No. 66. It's still a far cry from the Top 10 ... but he's trying.

"For me to be out here competing, it's a ... lot of fun. I cherish every match I get out there," he said.

Every major sporting event needs that underdog, and right now, it's Hewitt at the final Grand Slam of the year.

I never tire of him yelling that customary, "C'mon!"