<
>

Hewitt survives five-set battle

1/26/2005


MELBOURNE, Australia -- They had something to celebrate Down Under for Australia Day as Aussie Lleyton Hewitt survived a 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 10-8 quarterfinal against No. 9 David Nalbandian on Wednesday.

Hewitt is trying to become the first Australian man since 1976 to win the Australian Open title. In the semifinals, he plays Andy Roddick, who cruised ahead when Nikolay Davydenko retired from the quarterfinal match because of breathing problems after falling behind 6-3, 7-5, 4-1.

The other semifinal pairs defending champion Roger Federer and Marat Safin in a rematch of last year's final.

With No. 1 Federer, No. 2 Roddick, No. 3 Hewitt and No. 4 Safin still around, it's the first time since Wimbledon in 1995 that the four top-seeded men all reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam.

Hewitt gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about in his gritty
victory, with Australia Day fireworks going off near the arena in
the third set.

"I just kept hanging in there," Hewitt said. "I had
opportunities to break. I said 'Give it everything you've got.' In
the end, it paid off once again."

"I'm definitely giving the crowds their money's worth," he said. "I'm
doing all the right things for the tournament."

The Hewitt-Nalbandian match lasted 4 hours, 5 minutes, while Roddick's matches have been averaging 1½ hours.

"That could end up being a good thing, Roddick said. "I don't have many miles on me so far."

Asked how he felt after the marathon match, Hewitt joked: "I
might go for a 10k run tomorrow."
The aggressive, intense Hewitt angered an opponent for the third
time in four matches, brushing shoulders with Nalbandian as they
passed during the crossover after Hewitt broke for a 3-2 lead in
the second set. Nalbandian stared at Hewitt, who ran off the next
three games.

"I think he brought it on himself a little bit," Hewitt
said. "He sort of propped and waited for a bit of a shoulder."

Juan Ignacio Chela was fined for spitting in Hewitt's direction
after the Australian cursed at him during their third-round match.
A round earlier, James Blake, clearly upset at Hewitt's antics to
fire up himself and the crowd, mocked Hewitt's trademark shout of
"Come on!" while pointing his fingers at his forehead.
Nalbandian came back to win the third set, yielding only four
points in Hewitt's three service games, then leveled the match with
a paid of breaks in the fourth set.

It turned into a contentious battle of survival as both men,
disputing a number of line calls, received treatment before the
fifth set. Hewitt, already nursing a sore right thigh, had a
massage on the left one this time. Facing his 22nd set in five
matches, spread over 17 hours, Nalbandian had a blister on his left
foot.
Nalbandian had Hewitt constantly on the run with side-to-side
groundstrokes and drop volleys that had him dashing to the net. But
Hewitt again showed he deserves his reputation as an "Aussie
battler," feeding off the cheering, clapping, flag-waving fans.
Nalbandian, with his own fists pumps and shouts of "Vamos!" -- Let's go! -- saved three break points while serving at 1-1 and
another at 5-5. Hewitt finally broke through with a backhand
half-volley down the line to pull ahead 9-8, then held for the
match at love on a forehand winner. The final set alone took 1:41.

"In the fifth set, anything can happen," Nalbandian said. "We both had chances, but I think maybe he was maybe a little bit more lucky than me."

"In the end, I just played some of the bigger points a little
bit better" is how Hewitt put it.

Hewitt said that although he was physically tired in the
fifth set, he was still able to draw on all his reserves of
stamina and courage to wear down the Argentine.

"I think I'm as mentally tough as anyone out there, and I
think I've won a lot of matches in the past because of that. ... " Hewitt said. "If I lose and I know I've given a hundred percent, there's not a whole heap I can do about it. I can at least walk off with my head held high. Even if I
went down tonight, I gave everything I had out there."

Roddick, 22, got this far in the 2003 Australian Open, losing to
Rainer Schuettler after clinching a draining quarterfinal win over
Younes El Aynaoui 21-19 in the fifth set -- the longest fifth set in
Grand Slam history.
"It's been smooth sailing so far," Roddick said. "I don't
have many miles on me so far in this tournament -- that could end up
being a good thing. The only other time I got to this stage at the
Australian Open, I felt like I was going to fall over walking out
for my semifinal match."

Roddick targeted Davydenko's backhand, his weakest shot. Serving
at 3-4 in the first set, Davydenko hit three consecutive backhands
into the net to set up triple break point. He saved one before
sending a forehand crosscourt just wide.
Roddick held to finish off the set, losing only one point on a
mis-hit that he nearly missed completely, saying "Oh, wow."
Roddick went ahead 3-2 in the second set by breaking Davydenko
at love. The Russian took a medical timeout, then broke back in the
next game as Roddick committed his first two double-faults.
Roddick saved one set point while serving at 4-5, then broke in
the next game. Roddick had a pair of aces in the following game,
then took the set as Davydenko sent a backhand wide.
It was another hot day, but a shadow crawled across the court as
the match went on.
"I didn't want them to close the roof," Roddick said. "I
figure Florida and Texas are a lot hotter than Russia."
Davydenko walked to the net after he'd had his serve broken for
the second time in the third set and told Roddick he couldn't
continue, pointing to his chest.

"I cannot breathe," Davydenko said in broken English. "For me,
today was really hot. It's no breathe, then I cannot run. I
cannot control my ball, everything. Just I am missing
everything."

"Obviously, it was pretty toasty out there," Roddick said.
"When he called the trainer, I figured he had to be struggling,
especially when I saw him with the inhaler. It looked serious."
Roddick has dropped only one set in five matches and spent an
average of 90 minutes on court against each rival.

Information from The Associated Press, Reuters and SportsTicker was used in this report.