Commentary

Mikhail Youzhny's major comeback

Former US Open champ Lleyton Hewitt loses big lead in fifth set of the US Open

Updated: September 3, 2013, 9:10 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- His run into the fourth round here excited many tennis fans of a certain age.

Anyone who once wore their hat backward and punched the air and screamed "Come on!" had to enjoy the sight of 32-year-old Lleyton Hewitt barging inelegantly through the men's draw. It's been a dozen years since he won the title here, but for most of five matches he played with a spirited, almost manic joie de vivre.

And then, when it came time to close the deal against Mikhail Youzhny -- himself a 31-year-old without the major credentials -- Hewitt couldn't do it.

He was up 4-1 in the fourth set -- and lost the last five games.

He was up 5-2 in the fifth -- and lost the last five games.

The No. 21-seeded Youzhny prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5 to advance to a quarterfinal date with the winner of No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and Marcel Granollers.

When it was over, and Youzhny was tilting his head back and screaming, he did not look like the elderly man he is in terms of tennis. Hewitt, who walked slowly to the net at Louis Armstrong Stadium, could have been his father.

In a span of the past 11 years, the two had, surprisingly, only played six times.

"Of course I'm happy because I play many matches against Lleyton, and I beat him only once in the Tokyo [in 2009]," Youzhny said. "I know that he's a great player, who is fighting every point, every match.

"For me, this way what I beat him today, it's really important actually."

After beating No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set match in the second round, Hewitt knew, going forward, it wasn't going to be easy.

"Every match was going to get tougher and tougher from there on as well," Hewitt said. "Yeah, I fought my way through the third round, and obviously I could have gone either way today. It obviously gives me a lot of confidence. It would have been great to have won today.

"I left it all out there this whole week."

For pure drama, this was a terrific match. One rally in the third set featured 46 strokes, which, in retrospect, probably explains why Hewitt was so weary, almost feeble, at the end.

It was ironic (or was it merely a coincidence?) that Hewitt wound up winning one more point than Youzhny for the match, 146-145.

For what it's worth, Hewitt had won five of six previous matches, including the past two.

Youzhny has a history here. He's been to the semifinals twice -- something he hasn't done even once at the other three Grand Slams -- but he had gone out in the first round the past two years.

Near shutout for Djokovic

Many folks see Rafael Nadal taking this title, but do not underestimate No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic.

Tuesday afternoon, he throttled Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in a match that took only 79 minutes.

The 26-year-old Serb won the last 15 games of the match and has yet to drop a set in four matches.

He advances to a Thursday quarterfinal match against Youzhny.

"I definitely played one of the better matches of the year," Djokovic said. "It took me a little while to get going, but today I played flawless tennis."

Believe it or not, Djokovic won the first 25 points of his service games.

"This is the first time I have experienced something like that," Djokovic said. "I don't have the strongest serve on the tour, but it definitely was working for me today. I had everything working, every part of my game. It's a great encouragement."

If Granollers had won, there would have been four Spaniards in the quarters. As it is, there are three -- Rafael Nadal, Tommy Robredo and David Ferrer -- Spain's best-ever effort at the US Open. Granollers, who had won three consecutive three-set matches, looked sluggish at times. The No. 43-ranked player was attempting to reach his first major quarterfinal and had never previously played a world No. 1.

Djokovic has now reached the quarterfinals in 18 consecutive Grand Slam events. He's now 26-2 in fourth-round matches at the majors, 25-0 since losing to Roger Federer at the 2007 Australian Open.

New territory for Li

It was only one shot in a match of 194 points, but it proved lethal for Ekaterina Makarova.

Serving at 2-3 in the third set, she lost control of a backhand and it sailed long, giving Li Na the decisive third-set service break. The No. 5-seeded Li went on to win 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.

There was no miracle for Makarova, who beat Serena Williams at last year's Australian Open. Li, 31, has never been this far in New York and is the first Chinese player to advance to the semifinals.

Certainly, Li was hoping the night match between Serena Williams and Carla Suarez Navarro went to the Spaniard; Li has a career record of 1-0 against Suarez Navarro, while she's lost eight of nine to Serena.

In Cincinnati, Li lost to Williams 7-5, 7-5 in the semifinals.

"At least I have two days off," said Li of the prospect of playing Serena. "Of course it's tough, tough opponent. But is good challenge to play against her, because I think we always have tough match.

"Yeah, I still have a chance. But for me today, I don't have to think about more tennis, you know, so just relax."

No rest for the weary

The teams for next week's Davis Cup matches were announced Tuesday and they included quite a few folks still in Flushing.

No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Tomas Berdych will each lead their nations into action at home for the Sept. 13-15 semifinals.

Serbia hosts Canada -- which will be represented by recently defeated No. 10 seed Milos Raonic -- and Argentina is at the Czech Republic, which also has doubles player Radek Stepanek in its lineup.

Trying to play their nations into the 2014 main draw: Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo, as Spain takes on Ukraine in Madrid; Andy Murray, with Great Britain playing at Croatia in Umag; Stanislas Wawrinka, leading a Roger Federer-less Swiss team at home against Ecuador; Lleyton Hewitt, as Australia visits Poland.

Winners of the two semifinals will contest the 2013 World Group Final on Nov. 15-17.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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