Lethal Hewitt goes straight into the final
Giant Swede has no answers as in-form Aussie marches on without dropping a set
Sunday 12 September 2004
Lleyton Hewitt advanced to the US Open men's singles final yesterday without dropping a set in his six matches. The Australian fourth seed was too experienced and accomplished for his semi-final opponent, Joachim Johansson, defeating the 6ft 6in Swede, 6-4 7-5 6-3.
Hewitt worked patiently through the match, absorbing his opponent's big serve, anticipating the aggressive forehand and using his nifty footwork to stay out of trouble.
Hewitt put pressure on Johansson's serve in the second game, the Swede having to save a break point at 30-40 after hitting a forehand long. Johansson rescued himself with a service winner. Hewitt made errors from 40-0 in the fifth game, and, at deuce, Johansson drove a forehand down the line to create an opportunity to take the lead. This time Hewitt's serve came to the rescue.
Johansson was taken to deuce in the sixth game, but neither player prospered until the Swede served to stay in the set at 4-5. Hewitt took the opening three points of the game by virtue of the sharpness of his returns. The Australian netted a backhand on the first set-point. Johansson hit a smash wide on the second.
The second set went with serve until Johansson, serving at 5-6 to try and force a tie-break, was unsettled by a Hewitt volley, at 15-15, and was unable to make a steady response, missing a forehand at 15-40. Hewitt, fairly restrained until that point, let out a roar of "Come on!" and pumped an arm. His sister, Jaslyn, who is Johansson's girlfriend, contrived an air of circumspection as she watched from a neutral guest box.
The third set followed a similar pattern, Hewitt winning the concluding eight points. He broke to love for 5-3, and served out to love after an hour and 59 minutes.
After letting out another yell, Hewitt shook hands with his friend Johansson, whose 17 aces were not enough to turn the contest, and then left the court to be greeted by his fiancée, Kim Clijsters, whose injured wrist prevented her from entering the women's singles. "It was definitely a bit awkward, with my parents in one box and Jaslyn in another," Hewitt said. "I just put a professional cap on and went out there and played."
Jennifer Capriati, who was born in New York, would be entitled to take issue with the Sinatra line that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. The redemption of Capriati's troubled career came in Melbourne and Paris. As for New York, zilch.
Capriati's fourth semi-final appearance at the US Open since 1991, when she was 15, ended in yet another disappointment on Friday. She was nudged out of the championships by Elena Dementieva, who last night was due to contest an all-Russian final with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
America's last hope in the singles - a limping Lindsay Davenport was earlier defeated by Kuznetsova - Capriati was unable to carry the flag, Dementieva prevailing, 6-0 2-6 7-5, after two hours and 15 minutes. So the host nation was left without a representative in either the men's or women's singles finals for the first time since 1988. While the lack of home interest threatened the CBS television ratings on "Super Saturday", the hearts of tennis followers went out to the disappointed Capriati.
A year ago, she was denied a place in the final by the gutsy Belgian Justin Henin-Hardenne, after serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set and 5-3 in the final set and coming within two points of victory nine times. Friday's match against Dementieva was in a different category. The excitement was fuelled by errors, and spectators found great amusement in Dementieva's round-arm service action and plopping second deliveries - until the Russian won the third-set tie-break, 7-5.
Dementieva made 53 errors to Capriati's 33, although the Russian's eight double-faults almost counted as a step in the right direction compared with her usual quota. Asked why her serve did not match her impressive groundstroke game, Dementieva said: "It's not my favourite shot." But is she not embarrassed when spectators laugh? "It's doesn't bother me at all. I keep winning. They can say whatever they want to say."
Windy conditions contributed to the number of shots that went astray, and nerves added to the drama in the final set, with four breaks of serve on each side. The eighth break hurt Capriati most. The American double-faulted on break point when serving for the match at 6-5. "I didn't tense up," Capriati said. "On that side, against the wind, it was impossible."
It was suggested that she may have imagined that destiny was on her side, given the way the tournament had unfolded. "Maybe there's no such thing," she replied, flatly.
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