Roddick can't doom Hewitt's destiny bid

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MELBOURNE, Australia - Eventually, Andy Roddick became just like all the other victims pulled into the swirling vortex of Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open.

These were the symptoms: confusion, irritation and loss of skills.

First went the lead, then the composure and then the blinding serve. Out of options, Roddick was soon out of the Australian Open yesterday, giving way to the will of Hewitt and his fervent Aussie supporters packing Rod Laver Arena.

The third-seeded Hewitt defeated No. 2 Roddick, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1, in 2 hours, 54 minutes in the semifinals, and next plays No. 4 Marat Safin of Russia, who will be in his third Australian Open final. Safin and Hewitt are 5-5 in their series, and split their two meetings last year.

Hewitt, 23, became the first Australian man to reach this final since 1988, the year the tournament was moved to Melbourne Park. That year, Pat Cash lost to Mats Wilander of Sweden in five sets.

He will be trying to end the long Aussie drought. This isn't quite like the 1936 specter of Fred Perry, hovering over British men at Wimbledon. But almost every story about the tournament here seems to have this line: Hewitt will be trying to become the first Australian man to win the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

How's this for destiny? The final between Hewitt and Safin will be played at night in Melbourne (3:30 a.m. today EST), the first prime-time men's Grand Slam final, and the tournament has been one marathon tennis festival this fortnight, a celebration of the event's centennial.

"I always said I'd do anything to play in the first night final in Australian Open men's history and I've got my chance," Hewitt said.

This destiny thing has had a weird effect on his opponents. Though Hewitt had been on the court about twice as long as Roddick before their semifinal - needing five sets in the fourth round and the quarterfinals - Roddick was the weary-looking one in the final stages.

"I'm [ticked] off," said Roddick, who squandered an early service break in the third. "I'm mad. I felt like I was in there with a shot. To lose two [tiebreakers]. I'm normally pretty money in those."

Hewitt won the final set in 34 minutes, practically a jog for the marathon man, and reached his first Australian Open final when Roddick hit a return out. Hewitt dropped to the court, giving it a kiss for punctuation.

"It's awesome," said Hewitt, who will be trying to add to his Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. "It's a little hard to believe at the moment. ... I would have given anything to be in this position, to have an opportunity to play one match for the title here in Melbourne. Now, part of that dream's come true."

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