Lleyton Hewitt was denied the chance to compete in his first Grand Slam quarter-final for over four years, as the 32-year-old Australian suffered one of his most painful and heartbreaking defeats in a prolonged and distinguished career.
In a week which has left all sort of questions over 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer’s career, Hewitt continued to defy the odds by reaching the fourth round at Flushing Meadows, beating former champion and one of the favourites Juan Martin Del Potro along the way.
The scene was set for the Aussie to make a last eight appearance in a major for the first time since Wimbledon 2009.
Leading by two sets to one, Hewitt led 4-1 in the fourth set and served for the match at 5-2 in the fifth against Russian Mikhail Youzhny, but it wasn’t meant to be as the Aussie let a golden opportunity slip away, going down 6-3 3-6 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 7-5 in a match lasting 3 hours 58 minutes.
Like Federer’s defeat there was a sense of sadness around the Louis Armstrong Stadium that the game was close to losing one of its true greats.
"It's obviously disappointing to lose, but I left it all out there," Hewitt admitted after the match. "There's not a whole heap more I could have done."
With a quarter-final place at stake, it took a while for Hewitt to fully engage in the battle that lay in front of him, as the first set went comfortably the way of the Russian.
But Youzhny is a player who has a tendency to lose his concentration and when he did Hewitt was quick to pounce.
In a match where momentum ebbed and flowed, the youngest number one in history fought his way to a lead, and as his game shifted though the gears his shots carried more purpose than the Russian’s.
Up a break at 4-1 in the fourth Hewitt’s route to the last eight looked clear, but the door was quickly slammed shut as Youzhny reeled off five games in a row to force a decider.
However, Hewitt roared back racing to a 5-2 lead with the finish line in sight. He served for the match at 5-3 but once again the Aussie buckled as the inspired Youzhny dug deep to claw his way back, winning the last five games and the decider to set up a quarter-final with world number one Novak Djokovic.
As for Hewitt, we will continue to wonder how many playing days are left - hopefully another year at least. But one thing his career has always told us is that you can never write him off.
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