NEW YORK – Playing as a qualifier at the U.S. Open, former Kentucky All-American Jesse Witten turned heads for the second straight match with his defeat of No. 76 Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 Thursday afternoon in his second-round match on the hard courts in Flushing Meadows.
Witten’s second win in a Grand Slam main draw advances him to the round of 32. The Naples, Fla., native could face fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia in a third-round match Saturday. Djokovic battles No. 155 Carsten Ball of Australia in his second-round match Thursday evening.
The 2005 UK graduate is the second American man to advance to the third round, joining No. 22 Sam Querrey. Witten was one of just eight U.S.-born players to advance to the second round after defeating No. 29 Igor Andreev of Russia in straight sets 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 on Tuesday.
In the first set both Witten and Gonzalez held serve through 10 games to extend the set at 5-5. In game 11, Gonzalez earned the first break of the match to go up 6-5 but Witten broke back in the next game to force a tiebreaker. Witten took an early 2-1 lead in the breaker before Gonzalez rattled off three points to take a 4-2 advantage at the changeover. Witten cut the margin to 4-3 after changing sides but Gonzalez won three consecutive points to take the set at 7-6.
The Wildcat notched the first break of the second set to take a 2-1 lead. Gonzalez broke back immediately and then held to go back on serve, leading 3-2. Witten broke the Gonzalez serve again in game seven to take a 4-3 lead and then held in his final two service games to take the second set 6-4 and even the match at one set apiece.
Gonzalez had Witten on the ropes in the third set, serving set point at 5-3 but could not hold on. Witten saved the set point and later broke the Argentine in a game that tallied eight deuces. The UK grad then turned the tables on Gonzalez by serving a set point of his own at 6-5 which he secured for a 7-5 set victory and to go up 2-1 in the match.
Witten started off the fourth set by taking the first pair of games, completing a sting of six consecutive game wins. The pride of the Blue and White never looked back in the fourth set, taking four of the next six games to secure the win.
Although unforced errors were fairly even in the match, 71 for Gonzalez against 67 for Witten, the UK alum dominated in winners. He aced Gonzalez 11 times without surrendering one and posted 53 winners - 25 more than his opponent.
Before his wins over Andreev and Gonzalez, the highest-ranked foe that Witten defeated on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour was No. 81 Danai Udomchoke of Thailand, 6-2, 6-0, in February 2007.
Currently ranked No. 276 in the ATP rankings, Witten beat three opponents ranked inside the top 300 in the qualifying tournament last week to advance to the main draw. He has only dropped two sets during his run through the American Grand Slam. By advancing to the round of 32, Witten has earned 90 ATP points, positioning himself to break into the top 200 in the world.
The 2005 UK graduate has been busy building his post-collegiate tennis career over the past few years. In 2008, Witten rose as high as 217 in the world. He started off 2007 with his highest career ranking of 171 in January. Witten followed that up in July of that year when he was named the World Team Tennis (WTT) Male Rookie of the Year during the league's championship weekend. In 2006, Witten qualified for his first U.S. Open main draw but fell in five sets to fellow American Paul Goldstein in the first round.
At Kentucky, Witten earned All-America honors five times and was named the 2005 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. As a freshman in 2002, Witten advanced to the finals of the NCAA Singles Championships. The following season Witten reigned as the nation's top player for four months.
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