Hewitt's title hopes soar

Updated: January 28, 2005, 12:57 PM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Lleyton Hewitt was at his aggressive, fist-pumping best Friday, withstanding 31 aces by Andy Roddick in a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory to reach the Australian Open final.

Last home champions
Last native or naturalized citizens to win their nation's Grand Slam championship:
Major Athlete
Australian Open Mark Edmondson, 1976; Chris O'Neil, 1978
French Open Yannick Noah, 1983; Mary Pierce, 2000
Wimbledon Fred Perry, 1936; Virginia Wade, 1977
U.S. Open Andy Roddick, 2003; Serena Williams, 2002

Hewitt, who has angered three opponents with his shouts to pump himself up, fired up the crowd. But one man was too vocal for Roddick's tastes -- he complained about a fan shouting during his service motion in the seventh game of the third set.

Hewitt will face fourth-seeded Marat Safin on Sunday evening (ESPN2, 3:30 a.m. ET) in a matchup of former top-ranked players, the first men's Grand Slam final scheduled for the night. Safin ended top-ranked Roger Federer's 26-match winning streak in the other semifinal. Hewitt is trying to become the first Australian man to win this major since Mark Edmondson in 1976. Pat Cash lost the 1987 and 1988 finals.

Hewitt dropped to his knees once his victory was secure, kissing the court and hitting a ball high into the air as the crowd roared.

"Always said I'd do anything to have chance to play in the first night final here in history, and I've got my chance," Hewitt said. "It's awesome. It's a little bit hard to believe at the moment. I love this place."

The women's final pits top-ranked Lindsay Davenport against seventh-seeded Serena Williams on Saturday (ESPN2, Fri., 9:30 p.m.).

In the women's doubles final, U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and Australia's Alicia Molik defeated Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu 6-3, 6-4. Davenport and Morariu lost to Serena Williams and Venus Williams in the 2001 doubles final in Australia. In between, Morariu underwent chemotherapy for leukemia and has had two shoulder operations.

Hewitt has won major titles at Wimbledon in 2002 and the U.S. Open in 2001. Safin won the 2000 U.S. Open and has lost two previous Australian finals, including last year against Federer.

"Marat's beaten the best player going around," Hewitt said. "He's playing extremely well. I'm going to have to raise my level yet again and see what happens."

Roddick said the tiebreakers were the difference.

"I'm usually pretty money in those," Roddick said. "Either one of those would have given me a distinct advantage. I'm mad. I felt I was in there with a shot. He put himself in position to win big points. I donated a little more than I would have wanted."

Roddick came out hot, jumping ahead 2-0. The second-seeded American converted his fourth break-point opportunity when Hewitt hit a forehand that was called good but TV replays indicated was just long.

As he has done so often, Roddick relied on his blistering serve to get out of early trouble. He had six aces as he served at 5-3, using them to fend off four of Hewitt's five break points in the game. He then finished off the set with another two.

Roddick made it seven aces in a row with four in the next game. But Hewitt had only three unforced errors in the second set, which marked the first appearance of his trademark "Come on!" while pointing his fingers at his forehead in the 16th game -- much later than usual.

The third-seeded Aussie still needed a tiebreaker -- Roddick had won all three that they had played despite's the Australian's 4-1 record in head-to-head meetings -- to even the match. Hewitt had the only ace to pull ahead 6-3, and Roddick netted a backhand on the next point.

After cracking 23 aces in the first two sets, Roddick had only eight in the last two.

"It's never routine, especially playing a guy like Andy," Hewitt said. "He's got so much firepower, and I had to weather the storm."

Roddick went ahead in the third set when Hewitt double-faulted at break point. But serving at 4-2, 30-30, Roddick -- clearly trying to put a little extra on his second serve -- double-faulted twice to return the favor. He had only six double-faults in the previous five matches but had nine against Hewitt.

At the changeover, Roddick complained to chair umpire Andreas Egli about a fan calling out during his service motion. When Egli indicated he couldn't control everyone in the crowd, Roddick responded: "You're telling me I can have someone shout during every one of his serves and you can't do anything about it?"

He complained again in the next game after someone shouted as he served at 40-0 after his 27th ace.

Later, Roddick said the crowd overall was "very respectful."

Another tiebreaker, and Hewitt peaked at the right time again. From 4-4, he ran off the last three points, the last a backhand cross-court pass. Hewitt leaned low and pumped his fist three times with another "Come on!"

Roddick took a break to change his clothes and said a tournament official hassled him for taking too long.

"I asked him if he could tie one shoe for me and I could tie the other to save time," Roddick said. "I wasn't too fond of it."

Roddick came out flat for the fourth set but denied the encounter with the official hurt his play,

Hewitt, who has been nursing sore thighs, had spent 14½ hours on court -- twice as long as Roddick -- over of his previous five matches, including a four-hour, five-setter in the quarterfinals. But he still looked strong at the end, breaking an increasingly downcast Roddick for the first time while jumping ahead 3-0 in the fourth set. Another break followed to make it 5-1, and Hewitt held for the match when Roddick sent a service return long.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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