Rejuvenated at age 32, Lleyton Hewitt was two points away from reaching the US Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
A champion at Flushing Meadows a dozen years ago, Hewitt could not close out Tuesday’s five-setter against 21st-seeded Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round.
"It’s one of the hardest games to win — the last one," Hewitt said.
Dropping the last five games of the back-and-forth, nearly four-hour match, a fading Hewitt lost to Youzhny 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5.
How close was it? Hewitt won more total points, 146-145. Wearing his trademark backward-turned white baseball hat, he got within two points of winning at 5-2, then served for the match at 5-3.
"I left it all out there," he said. "There’s not a whole heap more I could have done."
At 2-all in the fifth set, Hewitt tore some skin off his left elbow while diving to the court for a shot. After Youzhny won the point to get to 15-30 on Hewitt’s serve, play was halted for a medical timeout while a trainer treated the bloody scrape on the Australian’s arm.
Two-time major champion Hewitt had been 7-0 in fourth-round matches in New York, but he hadn’t even been that far in seven years. A former No. 1-ranked player who is currently 66th after a series of foot and hip injuries, Hewitt last got to the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon in 2009.
Asked whether he could see himself still competing at the US Open in three or four years’ time, Hewitt shook his head and replied: "I don’t know, mate. No idea."
Youzhny’s best Grand Slam showings have come at Flushing Meadows, where he made the semifinals in 2006 and 2010 — and also lost in the first round each of the past two years.
The 31-year-old Russian will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Djokovic won 45 of 53 service points while eliminating 43rd-ranked Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in a grand total of only 79 minutes Tuesday.
"I’m very happy with my mental state, how I feel physically, and the way I played," Djokovic said. "It’s definitely coming at the best possible time."
The 43rd-ranked Granollers was coming off three straight five-set matches. Djokovic, the 2011 champ, won the first 25 points on his serve and didn’t face a break point until the final game.
Youzhny said that it will be "really tough to beat" Djokovic.
"But you never know," Youzhny continued. "We will see."
Defending men’s champion Andy Murray went into Ashe and encountered some problems along the way to a 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 65th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the fourth round.
Ahead 5-3 in the opening tiebreaker, Murray dropped four points in a row. Serving for the second set at 5-1, Murray hit a volley-lob that Istomin tracked down and, back to the net, sent back with a between-the-legs shot. What should have been an easy tap-in winner became a flubbed volley, and Murray put his hand to his face. But he wound up taking that game, and was on his way to improving to 30-2 over his last five Grand Slam tournaments.
Next for Murray is a quarterfinal against No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka reached the round of eight at the US Open for the second time by beating No. 5 Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-2 in Louis Armstrong Stadium at night.
Youzhny praised Hewitt as a "great, fighting player . . . who is fighting every point, every match."
Every time it appeared one man or the other was pulling away, the other got right back into it.
Hewitt trailed by a set and a break before going ahead 2-1 in sets. Then he grabbed 11 of the first 12 points to start the fourth, going up 3-0 and 4-1. But Youzhny responded with a six-game run. In the fifth set, Youzhny broke in the first game by making a long sprint, then sliding wide of the doubles alley, for a backhand winner. Sticking to the match’s pattern, Hewitt broke right back.
In 80-degree heat, two of 12 active men who have made it at least as far as the quarterfinals at all four major tennis tournaments appeared content to hang out at the baseline for lengthy exchanges, often slicing backhands or simply placing forehands in the middle of the court. Points would last 10, 20, 30 strokes.
"Obviously," Hewitt said, "could have gone either way."
With Hewitt serving for the win at 5-3, Youzhny earned a break point by stretching for a volley winner with both players up at the net. Hewitt then missed a backhand to make it 5-4. That was part of a stretch in which Youzhny took 12 of 13 points. When Hewitt pushed a forehand long to get broken again, Youzhny led 6-5, and there would be no more shifts.
Hewitt’s renaissance at this tournament included a five-set, four-hour victory over 2009 US Open champion and sixth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the second round.
"Took a lot out of me," Hewitt said.
That was the first time he had beaten a player ranked in the top 10 at Flushing Meadows since upsetting 14-time major champion Pete Sampras in the 2001 final.
Perhaps because of name recognition, Hewitt generally received more of the crowd’s support at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
When Youzhny broke to 4-3 in the fourth set with a backhand winner, he held his arms wide and palms up and screamed, "Come on!"
"I understand. It was fine. The crowd was not against me. It was for Lleyton more," Youzhny said during an on-court interview.
Then, thanking those spectators who were pulling for him, Youzhny said, "Maybe your power gave me the chance to beat Lleyton today."