Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hewitt Erupts Late To Edge Nieminen

Australian third seeded Lleyton Hewitt usually plays with a lot of fire during his matches. In a quarterfinal against unranked Finn Jarkko Nieminen at Arthur Ashe Stadium, he was more subdued until the fifth set when he took control to come from behind to beat Nieminen 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. It was his second comeback from a set down in three matches. Two rounds earlier, he beat Taylor Dent.

The lefty Nieminen gave Hewitt fits in the first set with deceptive but accurate groundstrokes that included a lethal two-handed backhand which produced several winners. After Nieminen saved five break points in his first two service games, he took advantage of a flat Hewitt to get the first break of the match at 3-2. Surprisingly, Nieminen took the last five games to claim the set. Hewitt made an uncharacteristic 16 unforced errors to boost his opponent's confidence.

But in the second set, Hewitt stabilized from the baseline (9 unforced errors) breaking Nieminen to go up 2-0 and took control of the set with another break for 4-0, cruising to level the match.

After an off set, Nieminen steadied, especially on his first serve where he won all 17 points in the third set. In one particular game, he served three of his eight aces. After Nieminen held for 4-3, Hewitt tightened up in the eighth game, making a couple of his 45 unforced errors which included a netted forehand and misfiring long on a forehand volley to suddenly setup break point. On it, Nieminen benefited from a line call when his backhand winner was ruled good. Replays showed it a foot out. Hewitt didn't complain. Nieminen closed out the set to pull within one of the upset.

However, in the fourth set, Hewitt got the early jump with a break in the second game and made it stand up. Though Nieminen made a push to get back on serve 3-5 down, Hewitt held him off to force a final set. Shockingly, at this point of the match, Hewitt had not uttered his trademark, "Come on." But he did give a slight fist pump when a Nieminen shot went long to conclude the fourth.

That's when suddenly Hewitt came to life in the opening game of the fifth set. Applying pressure on Nieminen's serve, Hewitt was able to break him with one of his 54 winners. After setting up break point, he converted when he hit a running forehand down the line past an outstretched Nieminen at the net. Finally after getting the crucial game, he screamed, "Come on," pumping his fist and talking to his corner.

It was the beginning of the end for Nieminen as Hewitt continued to hit winners and dictated play, even converting 41 of 55 points at the net. The more aggressive Hewitt also drew several of the Finn's 39 unforced errors. When Hewitt ripped a backhand return for a winner yelling another, "Come on," he had a second break for 3-0. After pulling within two games of his third slam semifinal this year, Hewitt tried to finish off Nieminen in a long fifth game. But after a battle that included nine deuces, Nieminen finally held.

Hewitt's opponent wouldn't go away easily, even forcing him to save a break point in the next game. But once he held for 5-1, the writing was on the wall. When Hewitt finally recorded his sixth break in 18 chances with a forehand volley putaway on match point, he shouted one last, "Come on."

So what could await Hewitt after all that hard work? Another possible showdown with his nemesis top seed Roger Federer, whose only beaten him eight straight times including the last three times they met at majors (Wimbledon Semi-'05, U.S. Open Final-'04, Wimbledon Qtr-'04). Federer will face Argentine David Nalbandian (11) later tonight.

Hewitt has now advanced to at least the semifinals in the last four grand slam events he's entered- '04 U.S. Open Final (Lost to Federer), '05 Australian Open Final (Lost to Safin), '05 Wimbledon Semifinal (Lost to Federer), '05 U.S. Open Semi (Result ???).

Will he finally change his recent luck and capture his third career slam? Find out on Super Saturday.


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