Settle in for the Hewitt-Baghdatis sequel
MELBOURNE, Australia -- You want atmosphere? Then you're in for a treat Saturday. Day 6 at the Australian Open pits the home hope against a former finalist oozing with charisma -- and talent.
Lleyton Hewitt (22) versus Marcos Baghdatis: Baghdatis can't stay away from those epic five-set matches. There was one against Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open and another versus Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.
His battle with Hewitt here two years ago was in a class unto itself, however. Another loss, too.
Baghdatis and Hewitt began close to midnight, courtesy of an extended women's encounter and Roger Federer's longer-than-expected victory over a stubborn Janko Tipsarevic. Almost five hours later, Hewitt won 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
At 4:34 a.m., it was the latest finish in Grand Slam history.
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"You talk about greatest matches of the Australian Open, and that's one of them," said Wayne Arthurs, a retired Aussie pro.
Hewitt, backed fervently by the home crowd, and Baghdatis, himself a crowd favorite cheered on by vocal Cypriots, engaged in tennis that inspired and surprised in equal measure.
Normally mentally tough, Hewitt blew a 5-1 lead and match point in the fourth. The momentum entirely with Baghdatis, Hewitt somehow pulled out the fifth. The two exchanged a hug at the net, which did little to comfort the loser.
Baghdatis downed Hewitt just last week in the quarterfinals of the Sydney International and Thursday claimed he "forgot" about the 2008 tilt.
"Marcos has to be thinking about that match," Hewitt's coach, Nathan Healey, said. "He walked off the court crying, so there will be a few leftover parts that might be wandering through his mind."
Healey is trying, like Tony Roche before him, to get Hewitt to become more aggressive -- come to the net more and stick with the plan rather than settle on the baseline. He'll need to up his game after appearing nervous in a three-set win over U.S. qualifier Donald Young in the second round. Some of that probably had to do with Hewitt's suffering from a mild stomach ailment.
Baghdatis, surprise, surprise, played a five-setter in the second round against workmanlike Spaniard David Ferrer, escaping from a two-set hole. Under the guidance of Argentine Eduardo Infantino, who used to work with Juan Martin del Potro, Baghdatis' ranking has risen from outside the top 150 to 31st. The winner likely gets the reward of Federer in the fourth round.
"Everybody is going to watch the match," Infantino said. "It will be a nice match for the tournament, and it will be a very important win for the winner. I think the winner will be in good shape to play Federer, hopefully, next week."
Prediction: Hewitt in four.
That's a good thing. The German isn't content with playing a few matches and picking up a fat check. Haas, rattled by raucous Serbian supporters, was given a point penalty for tossing a ball near a lines person -- that wasn't so good -- in a grueling five-set win over the Serbian Tipsarevic on Thursday.
The 31-year-old Haas had a solid 2009, though he was beaten by the cream of the crop at majors -- Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer (twice) and Fernando Verdasco. Haas is also a two-time semifinalist in Melbourne. Tsonga excels in Melbourne, too, backing up his sprint to the final two years ago with a quarterfinal showing in 2009. He's looked extremely focused on court, no clowning around, in disposing of Taylor Dent and Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Prediction: Tsonga in four.
Venus Williams (6) versus Casey Dellacqua: Aussie fans must be feeling pretty darn good. Not only is Hewitt still around, but Samantha Stosur and Dellacqua remain in the women's draw. Both were question marks heading into the event. Dellacqua captivated a nation in 2008. The lefty outlasted seeds Patty Schnyder and Amelie Mauresmo before exiting in the fourth round, her charismatic grandma leading the cheers.
Dellacqua endured a horrible 2009, though, missing 10 months with a shoulder injury. Her ranking thus sits at 980th, and a wild card was needed just to join this year's party.
As high as the top 40 in July 2008, Dellacqua doesn't intend to roll over against Williams.
"I go into any match believing I can win, otherwise there's no real point walking on the court," the 24-year-old told reporters. "I'll take it to Venus and see what happens."
Williams faces a third straight left-hander, an anomaly, after topping Lucie Safarova and Sybille Bammer. Ominously for Dellacqua, her seven-time Grand Slam winning opponent didn't drop a set against the dangerous duo. Prediction: Williams in two.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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2010 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Roger Federer, Switzerland
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Cara Black/Leander Paes
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