U.S. Open men: Mikhail Youzhny holds off Lleyton Hewitt in battle of thirtysomethings

September 3, 2013

Few audiences love a comeback more than a New York sports crowd.

At the U.S. Open on Tuesday, the raucous crowd of 10,000 that jammed into Louis Armstrong Stadium was primed to celebrate the latest in a line of memorable turn-back-the-clock triumphs.

A dozen years removed from his 2001 U.S. Open championship, 32-year-oldLleyton Hewitt was two points from securing a spot in the quarterfinals of the season’s final major — a feat he last achieved in 2006.

But after nearly four hours of slugging away against an equally determined thirtysomething, Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, Hewitt let the opportunity slip away with ill-timed errors while leading 5-2 in the fifth set and again when serving for the match at 5-3.

“I left it all out there,” Hewitt said of the 3-hour 58-minute clash, which Youzhny won, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 7-5. “There’s not a whole heap more I could have done.”

A prickly personality at the height of his powers, Hewitt grated on fellow competitors and spectators alike with his frequent howls of “C’mon!” after every big point. Just 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, he battled with a prize fighter’s swagger and pit bull’s snarl.

Marriage, fatherhood and a tumble from his world No. 1 ranking tempered his outbursts over the years. But they did nothing to diminish his love of the game or compulsion to push himself to his limit.

As a young pro, Hewitt’s rivals were Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

At 32, it is time.

And Hewitt’s refusal to bow to it — or heed the advice of five doctors to retire rather than undergo painful reconstructive surgery on his left toe to extend his career — has finally endeared him to U.S. Open fans, who chanted “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” in a fervent effort to pull him through.

It made for an electric atmosphere that suited Hewitt’s brash style perfectly.

Youzhny, 31, didn’t stew over the rampant partisanship. Instead, he just channeled the energy to his own cause. “I say, ‘Yes! Please give me some power!’ ” Youzhny said, recounting his thought process as fans cheered Hewitt.

The Russian’s reward is a quarterfinal date with top-seeded Novak Djokovic, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, who needed just 79 minutes to dispatch Marcel Granollers of Spain, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0.

Later in the men’s draw, defending champion Andy Murray labored for more than three hours to turn back 65th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan after losing the opening-set tiebreak on a flurry of unforced errors.

From the outset, Murray appeared to be ailing with a sore back, babying his serve across the net. And he played as if aggravated all night, whether physically or emotionally. But he produced great defense at key moments to wear down Istomin, who had never beaten a top-10 player in a major, and prevail, 6-7 (7-5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

Murray next faces ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who upset No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2.

On the women’s side, No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka weathered an aggressive challenge from No. 13 seed Ana Ivanovic in a fourth-round match originally scheduled for Monday.

A finalist last year, Azarenka got off to a shaky start, while Ivanovic pummeled her with 17 winners in the first set alone.

The second set was an oddity on both sides of the net, opening with five successive breaks of serve. Ivanovic double-faulted on break point in two of her first three service games. Once her serve deserted her, her confidence followed.

Azarenka won the battle of former No. 1 players, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, but is now one round behind and must play again Wednesday to catch up.

Serena Williams stormed into the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-0 throttling of 18th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain that took just 52 minutes. Williams won 88 percent of the points on her first serve, hit 20 winners to Suarez Navarro’s three and allowed the Spaniard just 18 points in the entire match.

Williams, who is bidding for her fifth U.S. Open title, has conceded only 13 games through five matches and has yet to lose serve. She next faces fifth-seeded Li Na, who overcame nerves and eight double faults to advance to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Ekaterina Makarova. Li, 31, is the first Chinese athlete to reach the U.S. Open semifinals.

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, she has also covered five Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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