Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Hewitt survives scare at Indian Wells

By Ken Peters
The Associated Press

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - Top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt fought off three match points in the second set Tuesday to escape with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Younes El Aynaoui and avenge a loss to the Moroccan at the Australian Open this year.

The 32-year-old El Aynaoui, ranked 22nd, upset Hewitt in four sets in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Jan. 20 - and came within sheer inches of beating him again in the first round at the Pacific Life Open.

Hewitt, the defending champion, kept the match going when, with El Aynaoui up 5-3 and serving on match point in the second set, the 22-year-old Australian looped a weak service return that landed barely inside the baseline.

Hewitt went on to win that game when El Aynaoui hit forehands long twice in succession.

After Hewitt held serve to close to 5-4, he survived two more match points in the 10th game, the first time by rapping a passing shot down the line after an exchange of volleys, and the second time when El Aynaoui netted a forehand to end a long rally.

Hewitt held serve to go up 6-5, then broke El Aynaoui in the 12th game. By the third set, El Aynaoui, a decade older than his opponent, seemed to finally wilt in the 90-degree heat.

El Aynaoui fired a career-high 33 aces when he beat Hewitt 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 at Melbourne Park in January, but managed just three this time. Hewitt served nine aces.

"He just kept playing exactly the confident tennis that he was playing in Melbourne, serving well, hitting big forehands," Hewitt said. "In the end, I kept hanging on in match points. I knew that if I could get it to five-all, things could turn around.

"In the end, it did. It very easily could have been the other way around."

Hewitt, No. 1 since Nov. 19, 2001, and the reigning Wimbledon champion, is coming off a tournament win at Scottsdale, Ariz., where he lost only one set on his way to the title.

In other men's matches, Andy Roddick defeated Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 6-4; James Blake beat Todd Martin 6-1, 3-6, 7-5; and Carlos Moya beat three-time champion Michael Chang, who is 31 and retiring after this year, 6-0, 6-3.

In the women's fourth round, Amanda Coetzer knocked off defending champion Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-4, and top-seeded Kim Clijsters defeated Nathalie Dechy 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

The 31-year-old Coetzer won with her usual return-everything style, but also went on the attack more than usual against the 19-year-old Slovakian.

"My own game is probably to be a better defensive player than offensive," said South African Coetzer. "But it was important for me to try to be offensive before she did, and I think I did that pretty well."

Hantuchova, who defeated Martina Hingis in this tournament a year ago, said Coetzer simply outplayed her.

"She was almost not missing a ball at all," Hantuchova said. "At the moment, she's very confident. She won a tournament (at Acapulco) last week. It's very tough against her because she's so fast and gets to everything."

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