In the end, it was much like the beginning of their rivalry – not much of one. For the fourth time in five matches, Lleyton Hewitt made Andy Roddick look downright ordinary in the clutch, brilliantly seizing two tiebreakers from the world’s fastest server en route to 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory Friday and advancing to the Australian Open final.
Roddick appeared to have the match solidly in his control up until the second set tiebreaker, bombing ace after ace, adeptly moving his backhand around and making some sound decisions as to when to rush the net. But Hewitt seriously stepped up his level in the second set breaker and beyond, crushing big first serves, hammering his once weaker forehand and daring Roddick to go for too much on the big points.
The supremely focused Hewitt now will attempt to become the first Australian man to win here since Mark Edmondson in 1976, when he confronts Russian Marat Safin. “Obviously, Marat’s beaten the best player going around. He’s playing extremely well. I’m going to have to raise my level yet again and see what happens,” Hewitt said.
Even though he had the tour’s best tiebreak record amongst elite players last year, Roddick appears to have lost his touch when sudden death rolls along. In the Davis Cup final, he dropped critical breakers to both Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya and against Hewitt, he inexplicably lost his focus. In the third set, Roddick let go of a 4-2 lead when he double faulted twice to 4-4. In the breaker, Hewitt crushed a backhand return of serve that the on-rushing couldn’t scoop up to grab a 5-4 lead. Then Roddick then missed a negotiable return and saw Hewitt whip a backhand passing shot by him to grab the set.
The American completely collapsed in the fourth set and it is now clear that despite what the rankings say, Roddick;s the world’s No. 4 behind Roger Federer, Hewitt and Marat Safin.