- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) - Lleyton Hewitt reached his first clay court final in a decade with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Evgeny Korolev at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships on Saturday.

The former world No. 1 will meet Wayne Odesnik of the United States in Sunday’s title match. Odesnik reached the final with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Germany’s Bjorn Phau.

Hewitt won his 498th career match, moving him closer to joining Roger Federer and Carlos Moya as the only active players with 500 wins. A victory Sunday would give Hewitt his first title on clay since Delray Beach in 1999.

Hewitt failed to win a tournament in 2008 for the first time since he turned pro in 1998. He ended 2008 ranked No. 67 and currently is No. 88. He’s still undergoing rehab for hip surgery last August.

“It’s always nice to win tournaments,” Hewitt said. “Doing all the rehab is worth it when you start winning tournaments again. Last year was frustrating for me. It was the first year I wasn’t able to win a tournament. It would be nice to win tomorrow. Back when I was No. 1, I was winning five or six tournaments a year consistently.”

There were no service breaks in the match until the final game of the second set, when Korolev fell behind love-40 and lost on the first match point with a backhand that sailed past the baseline.

Hewitt faced no break points in the match and gained control of the first-set tiebreaker on four straight errors by the Russian. Korolev hit a backhand into the net to bring on the first set point at 6-2. Hewitt won the set with a strong forehand to the corner just out of Korolev’s reach.

“It was good serving by both of us actually,” Hewitt said. “It was a pretty high-quality match, especially on clay court to be able to hold serve like we did. I had a couple of chances in the first set and he played a couple of big points.

Hewitt kept pressure on Korolev in the second set.

“I was serving my game quite convincingly throughout the second set and I was serving first so I was always putting pressure back on him to hold serve,” Hewitt said.

Korolev upset Argentina’s Guillermo Canas in a long three-setter on Friday.

“It was a tough match for me. I don’t think I recovered too well from yesterday,” Korolev said. “Lleyton was very solid with his service game. The last game, I missed one or two shots and couldn’t come back. I was really serving well today, too, until the last game. That’s what kept me more in play.”

Odesnik is trying to become the first American to win a clay court event since 2006 when Mardy Fish won this event.

Odesnik faced little drama until the sixth game of the second set, when he led 5-1. Phau fought off the first match point with a forehand winner. Facing a break point, Odesnik served what he thought was an ace, but it was overruled. He double-faulted on his second serve for the break.

That only delayed the outcome. Odesnik held in the ninth game and won it on the second match point when Phau hit a forehand beyond the baseline.

“I’ve still got one more match tomorrow and I’m trying to get better each match,” Odesnik said. “I’m happy to be in my first ATP final. “I don’t think I had any expectations this week. I haven’t had a win on the tour level this year. I’ve been playing well, the results haven’t come yet and I’d like to achieve it here.”

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