Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hewitt Outlasts Dent In Five Set Epic

In arguably the best match so far at this year's Open, Aussie Lleyton Hewitt (3) fought off another upset try by American Taylor Dent, edging him in a drama filled five set three hour 22 minute marathon, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 7-5 at Arthur Ashe Stadium Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the first week, six of the top 10 men's seeds had fallen by the wayside including Andy Roddick and most recently Rafael Nadal. The burly Dent made a strong charge to make Hewitt number seven but the gritty 2001 Open winner with the never-say-die attitude wouldn't give in.

Due to a quick start and a very sluggish one by his opponent, Hewitt jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set. Finally, Dent showed some signs of life holding twice and getting a break back to force Hewitt to serve out the set, finally claiming it on a service winner.

With Dent finally serving well, the rest of the classic serve-and-volleyer's game raised immensely in the second set. Suddenly having no problem holding, he attacked Hewitt's serve more aggressively and finally applied enough pressure to earn an early break. He didn't run into trouble until he served for the set at 5-3 where Hewitt made Dent repeatedly work for it. In a desperate attempt to get back on serve, Hewitt kept repelling Dent set points with winners and hustle. Dent finally won the lengthy battle on Set Point number seven when he forced Hewitt into an error to even the match. That was just a hint of what was ahead.

With the pro-American crowd urging Dent on, a very strange 54 minute third set ensued with both players exchanging breaks. In the sixth game, Hewitt played well to earn a break and lead 4-2 but donated it right back with an awful service game that included one of an uncharacteristic eight double faults on break point. Serving to force a tiebreak, Dent saved two set points swinging the momentum. At one point, he won seven straight points spanning the Deuce game to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak. Forcing a Hewitt miss, Dent was one set away from conquering demons of having never beaten a top 10 player at a slam. He entered the match 0-7.

True to the match's form, just when it looked like Dent had taken command, Hewitt regained momentum in the fourth set breaking Dent twice in an easy 6-2 frame sending it to a deciding set. It setup for an exciting finish.

In an emotional rollercoaster, the final set swung back and forth with both guys dictating play on the other's serve. Dent fought off early break points but serving to stay ahead in the seventh game, Hewitt dug in and broke him at love, punctuating it with a backhand pass down the line. Just two games away from victory, the fiesty Aussie yelled his trademark, "Come on." With the match looking all but over the unthinkable happened. With Hewitt a point from 5-3, he stunningly dropped the next four points. Two double faults and two of his 36 unforced errors including a long forehand helped square the match at four all, sending the Davis Cup-like crowd into a frenzy.

Interestingly, in the five games Dent broke, Hewitt double faulted. When Dent held for 5-4, he was a game away from improving his record to 2-4 versus Hewitt. But Hewitt solidly held to again shift the pressure on Dent's shoulders. In the 11th game, Dent's serve and volley game went off at a crucial time. He tossed in one of 10 double faults and missed two volleys just over the baseline. With a 16th opportunity to break, the scrambly Hewitt cashed in on number eight with a backhand pass that eluded Dent provoking another, "Come on."

The conclusion of the match was even more stunning. In a classic battle, Dent fought off three match points. On one, he stretched out on a Hewitt lob putting an overhead right on the baseline. On another, he aggressively approached the net and put away a clutch forehand volley. For the match, Dent came in 157 times winning 89 of the points (57 percent). He even got one chance to force a tiebreak but Hewitt was up to the challenge attacking the net for a put away volley. He again used the surprise tactic to setup a fourth match point. He won 76 percent at the net (35 of 46). When Hewitt finally served his eighth ace down the tee, the hard earned victory was his.

After it was over with fans paying homage to both players for their efforts, Hewitt handled a tough post match question with class from CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson. She speculated that he lost confidence and Dent exposed weaknesses asking if he was concerned. Before he could respond, the Ashe Stadium crowd booed loudly telling Wolfson what they thought of her question. Afterwards, an unshaken Hewitt politely responded, "I still was confident. I just had to hit my shots."

Hewitt plays Dominik Hrbaty (15) next in the Round of 16. Hrbaty eliminated David Ferrer (17) in four sets 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, 7-5 in another three-plus hour third round match.

In other action, German Nicolas Kiefer advanced to a possible meeting with Roger Federer, posting a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 win over Frenchman Arnaud Clement. Spaniard Fernando Verdasco defeated Serbia and Montenegro's Novak Djokovic 6-1, 4-6, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4. He'll next face Finn Jarkko Nieminen, who upset Belarus' Max Mirnyi (30) 6-3, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3.

Three other matches were still going on including top seed Federer against Olivier Rochus (27).


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