| Andy Roddick sits exhausted after his marathon five-set win over Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui during their Australian Open quarter final tie in Melbourne Wednesday. (AFP )
Melbourne: Andy Roddick needed every scrap of his youthful ebullience and energy to defeat Younes El Aynaoui on Wednesday in an epic quarter final to rank alongside any in Australian Open history.
It took the 20-year-old American a minute short of five hours to make his 11-year advantage count against the valiant Moroccan, Roddick sealing a 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 victory to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
While Roddick is one of the new breed of tennis players, more rock star than racket wielder, El Aynaoui belongs to a gentler era. Quietly spoken, non-confrontational and with a ready smile on his face he prefers to construct points thoughtfully, always ready to throw in the gentle, angled shot.
The contest was always going to throw up a contrast in styles, but that it produced such incredible drama was a bonus.
The match statistics read like the index of a tennis record book but the real story was etched on the faces of the two combatants, weary but aware they had been involved in something special.
“Younes is a class act. I am extremely humbled by this victory,” Roddick said, shoulders stooped and wiping sweat from his spiked hair.
“My previous longest match was about three hours 45 and I almost had to be carried off after that. It was really special playing that fifth set.”
That 21-19 fifth set was the longest-ever recorded in men’s singles at the Australian Open. It was also the longest fifth set in any Grand Slam men’s singles match since tennis turned professional in 1968.
In terms of games, the match was the longest since tie-breaks were introduced to this event in 1971, easily eclipsing the 73 Yannick Noah needed to beat Bahamian Roger Smith in 1988.
That anyone had to lose was a pity.
El Aynaoui, an amiable father of two, played the match of his life two days ago to beat world number one Lleyton Hewitt. On Wednesday night he played the match of his life again, twice leading by a set and at one stage holding a match point, but this time he came up against a man with too much fuel in his tank and too much steel in his veins.
“Even though I lost I am happy,” El Aynaoui said
Roddick, the youngest Melbourne semi-finalist for 11 years, will face Germany’s Rainer Schuettler — also into his first Grand Slam semi-final — after the German ousted Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-0.
While dramatic tennis dominated the men’s singles, the main action in the women’s singles was conducted by Serena Williams, off court.
The top seed reached her first Australian Open semi-final and Kim Clijsters made it two in a row as the pair set up a mouth-watering match-up at Melbourne Park. Williams pounded fellow American Meghann Shaughnessy into submission 6-2, 6-2 while Clijsters ousted eighth seed Anastasia Myskina 6-2, 6-4.
Thursday’s semi-final between Serena and the Belgian fourth is one to fire the imagination, adding an edge to the top half of the women’s draw.
Just minutes after swamping Shaughnessy, Williams pondered her next match and was clearly a little rattled by all the talk surrounding the in-form Clijsters.
The last time the pair met on a major stage Clijsters won to lift the WTA Championships last November, but suggestions of revenge for Serena provoked an unusual response.
“Vengeance belongs to God...I am just here to play tennis,” she said. Clijsters is again likely to ask some serious questions of Serena. “I’m sitting here in the semi-final and I haven’t lost a set yet,” the Belgian said. “I’m feeling very fresh still.
“Against Venus or Serena you’ll have to run a lot so it is definitely a good sign not to have played too many sets... spent too much time on court.”
Dev Varman exits
Meanwhile, the Indian challenge at the Australian Open junior tennis championship came to an end after Somdev Dev Varman lost 0-6, 2-6 to Britain’s Guy Thomas in the second round of the boys singles on Wednesday.
Varman had fought bravely to win the first round 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 against Rick Schmidt of Germany.
Leander Paes and David Rikl bowed out of the doubles competition Wednesday when they were beaten by Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez in the quarter finals. The ninth-seeded Indo-Czech pair lost 3-6, 3-6 to the 16th-seeded Argentines.