- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England The Wizard of Oz turned Tim Henman into Toto.

Australian Lleyton Hewitt made dog meat of the British Bulldog at the All England Club yesterday, dashing the nation's hopes 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 to advance to tomorrow's Wimbledon singles final.

"It's what every Australian kid who picks up a racket dreams of, to one day be in this situation," said Hewitt, who broke through with his first Grand Slam victory at last year's U.S. Open and is now headed to his first Wimbledon final. "For me to have this opportunity at 21 is incredible."

As if Hewitt needed a handicap, the day's other men's semifinal was suspended by darkness at 8:58 p.m., with No.27 seed Xavier Malisse and No.28 David Nalbandian tied at two sets apiece. Hewitt now has the luxury of sitting back and relaxing for the day while Malisse and Nalbandian return to the court to determine who gets to play the world No.1 without the benefit of a day off.

But if Hewitt brings the same game to the final that he unleashed on Henman yesterday, a month of rest might not help his challenger.

The high-spirited Aussie assaulted his opponent with a merciless parade of passing shots, making a mockery of Henman's repeated attempts to get to the net. For the match, Hewitt recorded 26 baseline winners and, shockingly, won nearly as many points at net (eight) as Henman (10), universally regarded as the game's premier volleyer.

Hewitt claimed the first set by breaking Henman at 5-6 with four particularly memorable strokes: a perfectly placed lob, a blur of a passing backhand and two nasty crosscourt forehand winners.

"He was too good it's as simple as that," said the 27-year-old Henman, crestfallen after losing in the semifinals at Wimbledon for the fourth time in the last five years. "I can't say that it gets any easier [to lose here]. But when I reflect on the fortnight, I'll look back on it knowing I gave it my best shot. I couldn't have tried any harder. That's good enough for me; I'm sure to others that won't be good enough."

By others, Henman likely means the British media, which spent all week imploring him not to choke and promising him they'd never let him live it down if he did. But Henman didn't choke in his quest to become the first male British singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936. He was simply overpowered by a superior talent.

The match's definitive point came in the third set, with Henman serving at 1-1 and 30-30. After a decent serve and a strong approach, Henman managed to get to the net and angled a sharp volley into the deuce court for what would have been a winner against any other player in the world. But Hewitt chased the ball down 10 feet off the court and lasered a backhand down the line for a winner.

"He hit that shot from Chelsea," said Henman, who went on to drop the game. "I tried everything out there, but he always had an answer. I think it's pretty clear he's the world No.1."


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