Wimbledon: Hewitt heading to finals

Fan favorite Henman falls in straight sets

? Scrambling along the brown baseline, Lleyton Hewitt lofted a lob that curled over Tim Henman and floated down, barely in. Applause rang out.

By the end, Hewitt’s magical play had to be admired even by the 13,000 or so fans trying to will a British man into a Wimbledon final for the first time since 1938.

Lleyton Hewitt reacts after hitting a winner in his three-set victory over Tim Henman on Friday at Wimbledon, England.

Alas, “Our Tim” never had a chance against the No. 1-ranked Hewitt, who conjured up 41 winners to just nine unforced errors and picked apart Henman’s serve-and-volley game 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 on Friday.

Hewitt heads to his first title match at the All England Club. Henman exits in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years.

“I got on a roll the ball seemed to be as big as a football out there,” U.S. Open champion Hewitt said. “It was hitting the middle of the racket. It was a pretty good feeling.”

He’ll be an overwhelming favorite for Sunday’s final, no matter the opponent. Hewitt faces the winner of the rain-interrupted semi between No. 27 Xavier Malisse and No. 28 David Nalbandian.

That match resumes with the fifth set today, at the same time that two-time defending champion Venus Williams plays younger sister Serena for the women’s title. It’s the third all-Williams final in the last four Grand Slam tournaments.

Henman tried to switch styles against Hewitt, against whom he’s now 0-6: staying back on first serves, coming in on second serves, swapping baseline strokes.

“Well, as the scoreline suggests, not a lot did work, did it?” Henman said.

As Hewitt put it: “The last few games, he really didn’t know what to do.”

The Australian stuck with what in 2001, at 20, made him the youngest year-end No. 1: sharp service returns, solid baseline play, and a never-give-up-on-a-ball attitude that keeps his legs constantly churning. His shoes shuffling along the worn grass and dirt behind the baseline sounded like sandpaper on wood.

Fans did what they could to boost Henman, clapping at each Hewitt miscue.

There were few such mistakes. In the fifth game, Hewitt erased two break points with an ace at 115 mph and a backhand pass. At deuce, the crowd twice yelled when Henman hit apparent winners only to have Hewitt get to them. The point ended when Henman’s third overhead flew wide.

The first break came in the eighth game, when a tentative Henman backtracked from the net on a Hewitt lob, let the ball bounce at the baseline, and smacked an overhead 3 feet long.

The biggest blip in Hewitt’s performance, really, came in the next game, as he served for the set at 5-3. Henman broke at love when Hewitt slapped a forehand wide.

That pretty much was it for the Brit, though. Hewitt won 36 of the next 44 points on his serve.

Up 6-5, Hewitt produced a lob, backhand pass and forehand pass to get three break points. He converted the second by snapping a cross-court forehand return past Henman.

Hewitt jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second set before a 53-minute rain delay. When they returned, Hewitt quickly finished the set, punishing Henman’s slower serves to break to 5-1.

“I like playing in big matches,” said Hewitt, who’s 13-0 on grass and 40-7 overall this year

He set up a break in the third game of the last set with more tenacity, ranging nearly into the row of photographers to get to a backhand overhead and smack another passing shot. Henman ceded that game by double faulting on break point.

Serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, Hewitt was broken when a rare forehand error found the net.

“Anyone human would tighten up a little bit,” Hewitt said.

But he broke right back, helped by three straight Henman errors including a forehand into the net on a 26-stroke rally, the match’s longest. The game ended on Hewitt’s lob that drew claps.

Hewitt then served it out, ending the match with an ace at 116 mph.

In today’s women’s final, it’ll be Williams vs. Williams. They are not exactly alike, of course. Venus is older, more shy, with a better backhand. Serena is more muscular, a bigger talker in public, and moves more smoothly during a point.

“I can tell the difference between me and Venus on the courts,” said Serena, who’s 15 months younger than 22-year-old Venus. “I’m way more emotional.”

There have been whispers that the outcomes of their head-to-head matches are predetermined by father and coach Richard.

“I think it’s arranged,” Amelie Mauresmo, who lost to Serena in the Wimbledon semifinals, said. “I have no information, nothing at all, but, looking at the matches, I think it may be arranged.”

The sisters scoff at such suggestions. “It’s said, but it’s not true,” Serena said.