Like wooden rackets and white tennis balls, Taylor Dent's approach to tennis is an homage to the game's past. Admirers consider it classic; critics might call it outdated.
Sunday at the National Tennis Center, Dent never wavered in his commitment to serve-and-volley tennis, attacking his opponent, third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, throughout their five-set ordeal at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In the end, Hewitt prevailed, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 7-5, to advance to the U.S. Open's fourth round.
The outcome turned on Dent's famously erratic serve, which can be brilliant for stretches only to disappear inexplicably.
"My serve just really let me down today," said Dent, who landed only 54 percent of his first serves and delivered 19 aces, offset by 10 double faults. "It's a bit of a bummer, but you just have to take it on the chin and keep working on it."
Dent was bidding to become the fourth American to advance to the round of 16 in the men's draw. On Saturday seventh-seeded Andre Agassi advanced, as did wild card James Blake. Shortly after midnight Robby Ginepri joined their ranks, defeating Tommy Haas of Germany, 7-5, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. Only a smattering of fans remained for the finish of the 3-hour 20-minute match, which rounded out a feel-good day for American tennis hopes after the disappointment of Andy Roddick's stunning first-round defeat.
Sunday's match between Dent and Hewitt, which lasted 3:21, was the most riveting on-court offering on a busy day. It was played amid a swirling wind that made nearly every shot a gamble. To the delight of the capacity crowd, it was marked by tremendous effort on both players' part, with the shot-making sharp down to the last.
Son of former Australian touring pro Phil Dent, Taylor Dent has been criticized by U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe for not working hard enough in the gym and being sufficiently fit to survive five-set challenges. But he showed stamina and grit against Hewitt, fending off three match points and keeping the pressure on as Hewitt lapsed at critical junctures.
They traded breaks midway through the fifth set. Then Hewitt got the key break for a 6-5 lead and the chance to serve for the match.
Fans cheered wildly for Dent to rally but groaned in disbelief when he blew an easy overhead, smacking it into the net.
Dent composed himself to fight off three of the match points that followed, attacking the net at every opportunity. (He came to the net 157 times during the match and won the point 57 percent of the time.) Hewitt wrapped it up with an ace and had nothing but compliments for Dent afterward. "There's not too many guys that keep coming at you like that," Hewitt said. "He's a big guy, and he's got a lot of reach across the net. He's not the easiest person to pass or lob."