Andy Roddick advances to final in Memphis after topping Leyton Hewitt
By Teresa M. Walker, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Andy Roddick struggled through nearly two sets against Lleyton Hewitt before pulling out a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory in the semifinals of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships on Saturday.
Hewitt won two more points than Roddick, trying to cap a week in which he started by upsetting No. 3 seed James Blake with a spot in the finals.
"I was lucky to get through,"
Roddick said. "He had me up against it for the better part of the match. I kind of just snuck out of the tiebreaker there, and I played my best tennis in the third set."
Roddick advanced to his second final this year and his fourth overall in Memphis where his lone win came in 2002. He will play Czech Radek Stepanek, who breezed past qualifier Dudi Sela of Israel 6-3, 6-1 to reach his second straight ATP World Tour final.
"I'd love to win this tournament again. It's been a long time," Roddick said.
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will play Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark for the Cellular South Cup championship Saturday night.
In this match between former world No. 1s, Hewitt, from Australia, is working his way back from major hip surgery last August and playing in his first ATP World Tour semifinal since August 2007. Roddick came in with a 15-3 record this year but was impressed with Hewitt's quick return.
"It's another testament to Lleyton's willpower, which I don't think has ever been questioned in the first place," Roddick said.
Hewitt broke Roddick in the first game and again in Game 5 while cruising through the first set in 31 minutes.
The second set took an hour as Hewitt fought off six break points and Roddick two in forcing the tiebreaker. Roddick took control by winning four of the first five points, shaking off an overruling that pulled Hewitt within 4-2 after the American passed on a shot right in front of him because he saw it as out.
Roddick won three of the next four to win the tiebreak and the set.
"I played pretty well, served well for the majority of the first set. I returned especially well in the first set and gave myself some opportunities in the second set and couldn't quite take the couple of break points I did have the opportunities. He came up with a couple of big shots at the right time," Hewitt said.
The men currently tied with 26 ATP titles apiece, third behind Roger Federer (57) and Rafael Nadal (32) among active players, cruised through the first six games of the third set before Roddick got a chance at break point following a nice back and forth at the net. He said he guessed right and broke at the last second to hit a crosscourt winner.
Hewitt then hit a forehand into the net as Roddick went up 4-3 and served out for match.
Roddick said he settled down in the third set.
"I started hitting my forehand a lot better.
That let me down a lot early especially in the first service game of the first set. I definitely donated a couple forehands there.
I just kind of stuck around until I started hitting the ball better," he said.
Stepanek, trying to become the ATP Tour's first three-time winner this year, needed just 57 minutes to get into the finals for the second straight week. He is off to a career-best 16-2 start that includes wins at Brisbane and San Jose.
The Czech didn't win his 16th match until May last year.
"I'm feeling great on the court," Stepanek said. "With every match, the confidence grows and grows. I'm very happy for that. I'm healthy, I'm not having problems with my body, which is very important for me, and I can build on that."
Sela was trying to become the first qualifier to reach the final in Memphis. He won two qualifying matches to play his way into the tournament this week.
"He didn't give me any chances," the Israeli said. "I think he's playing very well, and I think he's going to win the tournament. If he's playing like that, he's going to be tough to beat."
Stepanek handled Sela with his accurate serve, losing only eight points. He closed out the second set in just 25 minutes with his eighth ace.
Stepanek came into this year with only two career titles. But he spent the winter working with coach Petr Korda on his conditioning. The Czech said the difference was he started earlier than he had before in his career and stayed healthy, allowing him to work throughout the off-season.