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Lleyton Hewitt's epic run at the Australian Open continued on Friday as he beat Andy Roddick 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 in an emotional semi-final.
The pugnacious Australian, winner of two previous grand slam events, will play Marat Safin in the final on Sunday in a match that promises to captivate the Australian public.
The previous home winner of the Australian Open was Mark Edmondson in 1975, and no Australian player has been to the final since Pat Cash, who lost to Stefan Edberg in 1987 and Mats Wilander in 1988.
Hewitt's previously tough matches didn't seem to affect him, and Roddick was the player who faded in the fourth set. The match was decided by the two tie-breaks, as Roddick seemed unable to raise his game at the required moment.
Hewitt was typically effusive after the win, saying "It's awesome…I think everyone knows how much I love playing here in Melbourne."
The tournament directors might raise an eyebrow, given the way Hewitt earlier criticised them for laying too slow a surface, which he claimed would damage his chances of winning the title. Equally, Hewitt has had a stormy relationship with the press and the fans in Australia, being heavily criticised in 2002 after a first round loss in Melbourne and booed by fans in Sydney.
Hewitt has also incurred the wrath of some players at this year's Open. Juan Ignacio Chela spat at him during their third-round encounter, and David Nalbandian criticised Hewitt's on court truimphalism before their quarter final, saying "If he won a point that's fine but when you do a mistake or something like that, that's the worst thing." The two players exchanged words during the match and bumped shoulders at the change of ends.
Roddick was less angry at Hewitt than himself after another close loss in the final stages of a major, saying: "I'm pissed off. You know, I'm mad. I felt like I was in there with a shot."
Since his US Open title of 2003, Roddick next best showing was runner up at Wimbledon. His change of coach from Brad Gilbert to Dean Goldfine has yet to show any advances in his game. Refusing to blame Hewitt or the noisy crowd will win Roddick more fans in Australia, where his marathon match with Younes El Aynaoui is fondly remembered, but he is no nearer adding to his list of major titles.
The match itself was comparatively short for Hewitt at just under three hours. His previous two rounds had both been played over five-sets, lasting about four hours. With only one day off before the final, Hewitt is in danger of suffering the same fate as Marat Safin last year, who was exhausted and lost in three sets to Roger Federer in the final.
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