Super saturday for tennis addicts is upon us at the United States Open: a hefty package of the men's singles semi-finals and the women's singles final, scheduled for the "prime time" of 8pm here. It is possible that Sunday will see another innovation – the first men's singles final between two Russians in Grand Slam history.
For that to happen, Marat Safin, the defending champion from Moscow, will have to repeat his stunning victory against Pete Sampras in last year's final, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, will have to prevent Lleyton Hewitt, of Australia, from advancing to his first Grand Slam final.
There are no prizes for guessing how the New York "scalpers" will feel if their ticket-touting depends on two racket-toting Russians. The public's heart is with Sampras, particularly after the 30-year-old Californian's epic against the 31-year-old Andre Agassi in the quarter-finals and Andy Roddick's departure with a Donald Duck vertical take-off on Thursday night.
The 19-year-old from Florida was close to edging past the 20-year-old Hewitt and into the semi-finals as the Australian served in the fifth set at 4-4, 15-40. Hewitt saved the break points, held for 5-4, and then watched his opponent unravel in a rage.
Roddick believed he had won the opening point of the 10th game with a forehand drive, only for the umpire, Jorge Dias, of Portugal, to overrule a line judge and call the ball out. The fact that the decision was made on the sideline furthest from the umpire's chair caused Roddick to "go ballistic" and call Dias "an absolute moron", for which he was cautioned.
Hewitt, taking a welcome break from controversy of his own making, waited for Roddick's tirade to subside and then won the next five points to win the contest, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, after three hours and 40 minutes.
"I'm not going to take back what I said," Roddick said afterwards. "I meant it at the time. I'm not against over-rules, but that was an absolutely pathetic call. You're fighting your opponent, one of the best fighters in the world, then the guy over-rules on a far sideline on a ball that was in at 4-5 in the fifth. You just feel like someone reaches inside you and takes something."
Roddick did regret allowing the incident to blow him off course. "I don't really remember anything after that [call]," he said. "That's the worst I've ever lost my temper on a tennis court. Who is to say I would have won anyway? But when you start off a game 0-15 it puts that much pressure on you. I really needed to push it out of my mind, and it wasn't gone all the way. I'm disappointed in myself for letting it do that to me."
Hewitt said: "You can't say someone can't over-rule because of what stage the match is in. It's up to the umpire. He can't be biased and say, 'It's a tight match, I can't call this one, I have to go with the line call'. The way he sees it, from the first point to the last point, he's got to go with his instincts. He obviously thought the ball was out."
Your correspondent cannot remember a more contentious over-rule since Richard Krajicek was denied an ace on a far line when trying to save a match point against Michael Stich in the final of the 1993 Eurocard Open in Stuttgart. Krajicek lost the point.
Hewitt has won four of his five previous matches against Kafelnikov, but this will be their first meeting in a Grand Slam championship. When Hewitt reached the semi-finals here last year, he was defeated by Sampras, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6. "I had a set point in the first set," Hewitt recalled, adding that he had been nervous being part of Super Saturday. "It will be a totally different style of game playing Yevgeny. This is a great opportunity to go out there and really see what I'm made of."
A local journalist, neglecting to take one match at a time, asked Kafelnikov straight out if a match between two Russians could possibly generate as much excitement as Sampras versus Agassi. "For the fans back in our country, yes," Kafelnikov replied, smiling.
* The exhibition match between Boris Becker and John McEnroe scheduled for tonight has been cancelled after Becker was forced to withdraw with a foot injury. The made-for-television match between the two former champions was intended to have followed the women's singles final.Reuse content