Hewitt turns on power to muscle way past Roddick

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The Independent Online

Lleyton Hewitt has a new girlfriend, a new muscle-bound body and, as of last night, a new challenge: to become the first Australian in 29 years to win the home Grand Slam.

Lleyton Hewitt has a new girlfriend, a new muscle-bound body and, as of last night, a new challenge: to become the first Australian in 29 years to win the home Grand Slam.

With the tournament celebrating its centenary, Hewitt will meet Marat Safin, the slayer of Roger Federer, in the inaugural night men's final. The Australian No 3 seed recovered from one set down to beat Andy Roddick 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena.

Whether he wins or loses tomorrow, Hewitt has already made history. The last native son to contest an Australian Open final was Pat Cash, defeated by Mats Wilander in 1988. It was in 1976, when the championship was still held on grass in suburban Kooyong, that Mark Edmondson raised the trophy.

Hewitt won the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002, but had never advanced beyond the fourth round at Melbourne Park until this week. He exudes confidence, but so does Safin, fresh from conquering the mighty Federer, the world No 1, in an epic five-set semi-final.

Roddick served up 31 aces during their two-hour, 54-minute encounter. Hewitt, now the world No 2, said: "It's awesome. He has so much firepower, so I had to weather the storm and try to wear him down."

The 23-year-old had an excellent season last year but endured turmoil in his personal life, with his long-term partner, Kim Clijsters, ending the relationship a few months before their projected wedding. He is now with an Australian soap opera star, Bec Cartwright, who has been present in the players' box during the tournament.

He worked hard in the off-season, following a regime of cross-training with a close friend, Andrew McLeod, who plays for a leading Australian Rules football team, the Adelaide Crows. The result is a strikingly muscular physique, which Hewitt has been showing off by wearing sleeveless shirts.

Men's finals at Melbourne Park have been anti-climactic in recent years, but tomorrow could prove the exception. Much will hang on whether Safin, the No 4 seed, can keep his psychological demons at bay. He was the runner-up last year and in 2002, on both occasions losing after a disappointing performance.

After his celebrated victory over Federer on Thursday, the 25-year-old Russian said he was unnerved by the memory of those two matches on Rod Laver Arena.

"I had two bad experiences in the final, so I will be really careful, and really take it seriously, and try to be prepared as much as I can," he said.

Hewitt said: "Marat has beaten the best player in the world, so he is obviously playing extremely well. I'll have to raise the level of my game again, go out and give everything I've got and see what happens."

Last night Roddick's legendary serve proved an inadequate weapon against his opponent's superior groundstrokes and court coverage.

He began the match strongly, winning an early break in the second game and slamming six aces past Hewitt to take the first set. But in the second set the momentum shifted to the Australian, who won the tie-break 7-3 on a backhand error by Roddick.

Hewitt gave the No 2 seed an early opportunity in the third set, serving up three double faults to hand him a break and a 4-1 lead. But he broke back in the seventh game and then dominated the tie-break, sealing it 7-4 with a backhand winner. A dispirited Roddick dropped serve twice in the fourth set, and produced a total of nine double faults.

"I'm mad," he said afterwards. "I felt like I was in there with a shot, and to lose two tie-breaks, either of which would have given me a distinct advantage, is disappointing."

The American, who made 50 unforced errors compared with Hewitt's 21, said: "I played a little bit of a loose game. I think I tried to force a little too much."

Results

Men's Singles

Semi-Final: L HEWITT (Aus) bt A RODDICK (US) 3-6 7-6 7-6 6-1.

Women'S Doubles

Final: S KUZNETSOVA (Rus) and A MOLIK (Aus) bt L DAVENPORT and C MORARIU (US) 6-3 6-4.

Mixed Doubles

Quarter-Final: M MIRNYI (Bela) and M NAVRATILOVA (US) bt W BLACK and C BLACK (Zim) 7-5 6-4.

Semi-Final: S Draper and S Stosur (Aus) bt A Ram (Isr) and C Martinez (Sp) 7-5 6-3.

seeded players in CAPITALS

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