By Steve Keating
MIAMI, March 23 (Reuters) - If there was ever a tennis match that was going to be a fight to death it would probably be between fiery Spaniard Rafa Nadal and the battling Australian Lleyton Hewitt.
Perhaps more than any other players on the ATP Tour, Hewitt and Nadal have constructed careers around the relentless fighting spirit that has come to characterises their game and on Saturday the two warriors stared across the net at each other in a second round clash at the Sony Open.
If the two had come together in their primes, the 27-year old Spaniard and the 33-year old Australian might have produced a rivalry as electric as Nadal and Roger Federer.
But on Saturday it was Nadal, a champion at his peak pounding his way to a one-sided 6-1 6-3 win over a fearless brawler whose best fights are in the past.
While Nadal has won 62 titles, including 13 grand slams and 26 Masters series events, a victory on the Miami hardcourts is not among them and while he was happy to offer Hewitt plenty of respect he was not about to show the former-world number one any mercy.
"No I cannot feel that way (sorry) for him," said Nadal, a three time Miami finalist. "I am here to try my best I know how dangerous Lleyton is and I admire him so much.
"He's a great example for me, he keeps playing with passion and love for the game and that is a great example for the kids to.
"All the respect to."
With his opening round victory on Thursday, Hewitt joined Nadal and Federer as the only active players with 600 or more career wins.
Following that milestone win, Hewitt said the reason he continued to play was for moments just like Saturday when he had the opportunity to play the game's best.
After the rout, the Aussie said he felt the same way.
"I hung in there did everything I could but he was too good," said Hewitt, whose 29 career titles include two grand slam wins. "He was just too good.
"Even when I felt like I was able to push him around he found away to get back into the point.
"He hit the ball really clean right from the start. I hung in there did everything I could but he was too good."
Nadal landed the first blow breaking Hewitt to open the match and then immediately landed another shot breaking him and before the match was 15 minutes old the Australian was pinned on the ropes in a 4-0 hole.
Hewitt, dressed mostly in black, a black baseball cap turned backwards on his head, finally stopped the slide holding serve at 4-1.
But Nadal would hit back with another break to finish off the first set and take a 1-0 lead.
Hewitt dug in and tried to make a match of it in the second but it was Nadal delivering the knockout punch with a break for 5-3 and holding serve to complete the win in just over an hour.
"I played the right way," said Nadal. "Lleyton played much better in the second set, played more aggressive, some good rallies. I was very happy with the way with way I played at the end of the first set.
"When I had the long rallies I did. I think I did what I had to do today." (Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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- Lleyton Hewitt
- Rafa Nadal