WIMBLEDON, England -- Taylor Dent eagerly moved forward for the easy forehand putaway, took a big swing -- as always -- and sliced his shot into the sixth row of seats opposite the chair umpire.
The 20-year-old American qualifier is still struggling to harness his impressive power. And despite bursts of brilliance, including the fastest serve recorded at Wimbledon, he lost to fifth-seeded Lleyton Hewitt in the second round Thursday, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3.
Like 18-year-old compatriot Andy Roddick a day earlier, Dent had Centre Court spectators gasping in awe of his talent. But while Roddick won with a remarkably poised performance, the unpolished Dent was undone by his mistakes.
Pounding serves that peaked at 144 mph, a tournament best and just 5 mph shy of Greg Rusedski's record for the men's tour, Dent slammed 21 aces against one of the game's best returners. That's 21 more than Roddick managed in a loss to Hewitt earlier this month at the French Open.
But Dent also 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.
Dent, the son of 1977 quarterfinalist Phil Dent, grinned when asked about trying to rein in his aggressive game.
''It's not my style,'' he said. ''I actually play less consistently doing that. I back off my shots a little bit. I just got into the mode of being aggressive again recently, so it's been really good.''
Hewitt, also 20 but much more experienced than Dent, is considered a potential title contender and won for the first time on Centre Court, where he had been 0-2.
''I know Lleyton is not a big fan of Centre Court yet,'' fellow Australian Patrick Rafter said. ''But he's going to have to get over that if he wants to win this tournament.''
Hewitt's close call was the biggest surprise of the day. Even the weather went by the book for Wimbledon, with the tournament's first two rain delays.
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 a casualty on the first day. A new seeding system was adopted this year to reduce the number of early upsets.
Among the men advancing Thursday were Rafter, Andre Agassi and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Women winning included defending champion Venus Williams, French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo and Jelena Dokic.
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 just 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.''
Dent has a ranking of 143rd and divided national loyalties. He was born and raised in Newport Beach, Calif., but his father is Australian, and young Taylor became accustomed to being around many top Aussie players.
''It was just another guy in the house,'' he said with a smile. ''I'm definitely very Australian, but America is where I grew up.''
U.S. tennis claimed Dent as he rose through the junior ranks, part of the most promising group of young American players since Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.
But with a career record of just 7-18, Dent has been overtaken by the younger Roddick, who has risen to 33rd in the rankings and plays three-time Wimbledon runner-up Goran Ivanisevic on Friday.
''We all have our own timelines when we do well,'' Dent said. ''I'm glad Andy is doing well now. Hopefully I can get my butt in gear and do well.''
Against Hewitt, Dent appeared on his way to a breakthrough victory when he won seven of the first eight games. Hewitt's girlfriend, Clijsters, expressed concern as Dent belted a series of aces and service winners.
''Lleyton is a good returner,'' she said, ''but that's like probably a little bit too fast for him.''
Then came a one-hour rain delay, which cooled off Dent.
''I maybe relaxed a little bit,'' he said. ''I lost the urgency I had when I first went out there.''
Playing serve-and-volley, a rarity for his generation, Dent remained aggressive when the second set resumed. His serve was no longer quite so lethal, however, and his net play was both acrobatic and erratic.
He double-faulted three times in one game but held serve. Then he double-faulted again on set point to even the match.
Stocky and strong but not always under control, Dent kept charging. Hewitt kept lining returns at his shoetops, and the match gradually turned the Aussie's way.
Dent erased two match points in the fourth set and summoned his fastest serves in the tiebreaker. He hit a 142 mph winner, then another clocked at 144 mph.
''Impossible,'' McEnroe marveled.
Dent closed out the tiebreaker with an ace to again even the match, but quickly fell behind 3-0 in the final set. Hewitt slammed a service winner on the fourth match point, then slid onto his back in jubilation.
He had withstood the onslaught.
''The way I bounced back,'' Hewitt said, ''it's as good as I've ever done.''
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us