Lely High graduate Jesse Witten is going to the third round of the U.S. Open.
Witten was almost down two sets to one to Maximo Gonzalez during his second-round match Thursday, but he survived and pulled out the third set, then rolled past Gonzalez 6-2 in the fourth.
The 26-year-old Witten, who will play No. 4 Novak Djokovic in the third round, won 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. Djokovic, meanwhile, cruised to a straight-set victory over qualifier Carsten Ball of Australia on Thursday.
Witten, ranked 276th in the world, became only the second player since 1995 ranked lower than No. 250 to reach the third round of the U.S. Open.
“I’m trying to prove to people that I can play a little bit,” Witten said. “It’s been a long time and a lot of guys have doubted me, so it’s nice.”
Witten upset No. 29 Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 on Tuesday for his first-ever ATP win. The former All-American at Kentucky made it all the way through qualifying to get in his second Open in four years.
Witten had a small fan base at the start that included Dennis Emery, his coach at Kentucky, his mother and his sister, Sarah. As the match went on, more fans came to Court 11.
“I had a good crowd, and they pulled me through it because I think they were really getting the other guy down and really got in his head a little bit,” Witten said. “It gave me more energy, because it was hot out there, and a long match. I definitely used that, and to my benefit.”
Witten broke Gonzalez to take a 5-2 lead in the fourth set and take control of the match.
In the third set, Witten stayed alive in a game that featured eight deuces to get back on serve, then held serve at love for 5-5. Witten broke Gonzalez at love to lead 6-5 and held serve at love to win the set 7-5.
“Fortunately, I was able to get a few more balls in and use the crowd and try to spur it along a little bit. I think I tired him out a little bit, and got it going, and the crowd helped out.”
Gonzalez broke Witten when Witten double-faulted to take a 5-3 lead and had a number of opportunities to win the set on his serve. But Witten pulled it out — with fans chanting “J-Dub,” his nickname.
Both players held serve to open the third set, and were tied 1-1, but Witten broke Gonzalez and held a 2-1 lead. Witten couldn’t hold his serve — or his temper — though. After being broken on his serve, Witten broke his racket on the court.
“I think I was just grumpy,” Witten said. “It was hot, it was long and I was getting a little tired. I’ve played a lot of matches just to get to this point, where it’s the beginning of the tournament for most guys. ... I felt I should have been playing better, and that actually puts more pressure on myself. I didn’t play as on clean, and he took advantage of it.”
Witten hit a leaning, cross-court winner past Gonzalez to win the second set 6-4.