Roddick holds nerve to cut down brave Hewitt

Sharp-shooter prevails over scrapper in five-set battle to set up Murray test
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The Independent Online

Andy Roddick's reward for his win in a quarter-final five-set thriller here last night over Lleyton Hewitt is a match tomorrow with the poster boy of British tennis. The American reckons he will be able to count the number of people supporting him on one hand, but insists he is still looking forward to an "electric" atmosphere. "And I'm going to pretend when the crowd are yelling 'C'mon, Andy' that they mean me," he said.

In beating Hewitt 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 on Court One in a match that lasted three hours and 50 minutes and concluded at 8.01pm, Roddick kept America's hopes alive in the men's singles, while eliminating the only Australian in the draw.

"It was tough because Lleyton wasn't going away ... the fifth was a dogfight," the 26-year-old said. Of his post-match emotions he added: "It's a mixture of happiness, relief. You're trying to stay the course for four hours and your mind's racing."

The hard facts of past meetings indicate that Roddick is facing a far from easy ride against Murray, even if Roddick's game, built around big serves that earned him 43 aces yesterday, is in good shape. He trails Murray 2-6 in head-to-head meetings and was famously on the losing side here in 2006 when the pair met in Murray's second senior Wimbledon.

But on the evidence of yesterday, when Roddick stared down one of the game's toughest battlers, Murray can take nothing for granted. Roddick prevailed last night against an opponent who, but for a few key points – notably a one-sided tie-break in the third bet – could feasibly have beaten him. Hewitt, 28, was honest enough to surmise: "I couldn't take my chances when I needed to."

Roddick was quick to capitalise on a nervy start from Hewitt, who had two double-faults in a row in his first service game, gifting Roddick an early break on the way to taking the first set 6-3.

Hewitt hit back at the start of the second set, creating his first break point in the fourth game and converting with volley to take a 3-1 lead, which became 4-1 before Roddick broke. The set ended in a tie-breaker, which Hewitt trailed 2-5 but got back into. At 10-10, Hewitt, serving, wrong-footed Roddick with a backhand winner then Roddick, serving, hit long to cede the set.

This match was a big deal for America and Australia. For all the bleating in Britain about the lack of top talent, the US and Australia are both negotiating their own doldrums in the men's game. Hewitt was the only Australian starting in the main draw here, the lowest Australian representation in the Open era. Roddick is the only American man to have reached the fourth round or better in the past four years.

Australia has 22 million people, 16 men's Slam singles titles in the Open era, yet none since Hewitt triumphed in 2002. The US has 307 million people, 50 men's Slam singles titles in the Open era, yet none since Roddick won the US Open in 2003.

Hewitt's pre-match record of 93 wins and 22 defeats on grass beats even Roger Federer's total of 86-12. He has won 27 titles, six on the surface, four at Queen's. Roddick, too, has won 27 titles, four at Queen's, and both are former world No 1s and Slam tournament winners.

The third set also went to a tie-breaker with Hewitt in the ascendancy and playing some sublime shots like the curled cross-court forehand in response to a low, deep Roddick shot that lesser players would have flapped at. Hewitt shouted his first loud "C'mooooooon" of the match and thrust one finger in the air, pointing to the heavens.

That was in the eighth game but the invention of the shot and passion after execution was conspicuous by its absence in the tie-break, which Roddick romped 7-1. Hewitt's downfall was more double-faults and unforced errors.

It got worse. He was broken in the first game of the fourth set, by which time he seemed to be struggling because of a problem with his left leg, but he broke back for 2-2. While he struggled to hold for 4-4, he did hold, then broke in game 10 for the set.

So to a fifth, and decisive set. Hewitt's five-set record before yesterday was 29 wins and 13 defeats, far superior to Roddick's 10-12 record over the full distance. Hewitt took 12 minutes to hold his first service game in the decider and Roddick about a minute to make it 1-1. The key break came at 4-4, in favour of Roddick, who served out. Andy v Andy is imminent.