Brits’ hope is hopelessly outplayed by No. 1 Hewitt

Brits’ hope is hopelessly outplayed by No. 1 Hewitt

Howard Fendrich

Brits’ hope is hopelessly outplayed by No. 1 Hewitt

WIMBLEDON, England — Scrambling along the baseline, Lleyton Hewitt lofted a lob that curled over Tim Henman and floated down, barely in. Applause rang out.

By the end, Hewitt’s magical play had to be admired even by the 13,000 or sofans trying to will a British man into a Wimbledon final for the first time since 1938.

Alas, “Our Tim” never had a chance against the No. 1-ranked Hewitt, who conjured up 41 winners to just nine unforced errors and picked apart Henman’s serve-and-volley game, 7-5, 6-1, 7-5, Friday.

Hewitt heads to his first title match at the All England Club. Henman exits in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years.

“I got on a roll. The ball seemed to be as big as a football out there,” U.S. Open champion Hewitt said. “It was hitting the middle of the racket. It was a pretty good feeling.”

He’ll be an overwhelming favorite for Sunday’s final, no matter the opponent. Hewitt faces the winner of the rain-interrupted semifinal between No. 27 Xavier Malisse and No. 28 David Nalbandian.

That match resumes with the fifth set today, at the same time that two-time defending champion Venus Williams plays younger sister Serena for the women’s title.

Henman tried to switch styles against Hewitt,against whom he’s now 0-6: staying back on first serves, coming in on second serves, swapping baseline strokes.

“Well, as the scoreline suggests, not a lot did work, did it?” Henman said.

As Hewitt put it: “The last few games, hereally didn’t know what to do.”

The Australian stuck withwhat in 2001, at 20, made him the youngest year-end No. 1: sharp service returns, solid baseline play, and a never-give- up-on-a-ball attitudethat keeps his legs constantly churning. His shoes shuffling along the worn grass and dirt behind the baseline soundedlike sandpaper on wood.

With Union Jacks and the English flag of St. George flapping, fans did what they could to boost Henman, clapping at each Hewitt miscue, including a double fault in the third game.

There were few such mistakes.

In the fifth game, Hewitt erased two break points with an ace at 115 mph and a backhand pass. At deuce, the crowd twice yelled when Henman hit apparent winners only to have Hewitt get to them. The point ended when Henman’s third overheadflew wide.

The first break came in the eighth game, when a tentative Henman backtracked from the net on a Hewitt lob,let the ball bounce at the baseline, and smacked an overhead 3 feet long.

The biggest blip in Hewitt’s performance, really, came in the next game, as he served for the set at 5-3. Henman broke at love when Hewitt slapped a forehand wide.

That pretty much was it for the Brit, though. Hewitt won 36 of the next 44 points on his serve.

Up 6-5, Hewitt produced a lob, backhand pass and forehand pass to get three break points. He converted the second by snapping across- court forehand return past Henman.

Hewitt jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second set before a 53-minute rain delay. When they returned, Hewitt quickly finished the set, punishing Henman’s slower serves to break to 5-1.

“I like playing in big matches,” said Hewitt, who’s 13-0 on grass and 40-7 overall thisyear. “Memories come back of that U.S. Open, knowing that I was able to play seven tough best-of-5 matches there. I was able to use those sweet memories to try and get through this one.”

He set up a break in the third game of the last set with more tenacity, ranging nearly into the row of photographers to get to a backhand overhead and smack another passing shot. Henman ceded that game by double faulting on break point.

Still, Hewitt had to get by one last hiccup. Serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, he was broken when a rare forehand error found the net.

“Anyone human would tighten up a little bit,” Hewitt said.

But he broke right back, helped by three straight Henman errors — including a forehand into the net on a 26-stroke rally, the match’s longest. The game ended on Hewitt’s lob that drew applause.

Hewitt then served it out, ending the match with an ace at 116 mph. He dropped to his knees and yelled.

“Sitting back at home, watching Pat Cash win Wimbledon 15 years ago — it’s what every Australian kid who picks up a tennis racket dreams of,” Hewitt said. “It’s incredible.”

Regardless of whom he plays, the final will be thefirst at Wimbledon between two baseliners since Bjorn Borg beat Jimmy Connors in 1977 and 1978.

The other semifinal was stopped at 9 p.m. because of darkness. Nalbandian won the first two sets, Malisse the next two. Malisse twice called for a trainer and, holding his chest or stomach, left the court after the first set for medical checks. In a match inSan Jose, in March 2001, Malisse had heart palpitations.

Henman never has fared as well at other majors as he has here — but his countrymen aren’t as concerned about other majors.

They want a men’s champion at Wimbledon to succeed Fred Perry in 1936. No Briton even has made the final since Bunny Austin two years later.

Media scrutiny has been strong,including this front-page headline after Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi lost on the same day last week: “No pressure Timbo, but choke now and we’ll never forgive you.” The support during his matches has been tremendous. The chair umpire at the Nalbandian-Malisse match on Court 1 asked for silence after a loud cheer arose from people watching Henman-Hewitt on a big screen from a nearby grassy slope nick-named “Henman Hill.”

WIMBLEDON

– MEN’S SEMIFINALS: No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt def. No. 4 Tim Henman, 7- 5, 6-1, 7-5; No. 27 Xavier Malisse and No. 28 David Nalbandian are even at 2 sets, susp., darkness.

– WOMEN’S FINAL: Today, No. 1 Venus Williams vs. No. 2 Serena Williams, 6 a.m., Ch. 4

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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