Switzerland's Roger Federer has made it into the final of the Swiss Indoors tournament after surviving a tense three-set encounter with fellow teenager Lleyton Hewitt.
Saturday's match was the fourth time that the two 19-year-olds had played each other on the tour, with Hewitt having won all three of their previous meetings.
Federer's hopes of avenging that record in his hometown of Basel suffered an early setback. The Swiss number one had not dropped a single service game en route to the semis, but back-to-back double faults in the fourth game against Hewitt put paid to that statistic.
But if Federer had been rattled, it didn't immediately show. On his next service game he unleashed three unstoppable serves to take the game to love. That though was only the beginning.
Of the next 18 points, 16 went the Swiss player's way with Hewitt broken twice along the way. The earlier double faults seemed a distant memory as Federer comfortably wrapped up the first set 6-4.
The only thing that was consistent in the second set was the inconsistency of both players, with Federer in particular mixing his impressive serves with a number of erratic groundstrokes. After saving five breakpoints in an epic fourth game, he was finally broken by Hewitt in the eighth.
Serving for the set at 5-3, the Australian then wobbled himself, conceding his own service game on a double fault. But just as the match seemed to be heading for a tie-break, Federer threw his serve away once more, almost hitting the stadium roof with what turned out to be the final ball of the set.
Neither player seemed to have settled into his service game as the deciding set got underway. And when Federer broke Hewitt in the fifth game, the crowd seemed to roar as much in hope as in expectation.
Sure enough Hewitt broke back in the very next game. Despite more scares on both sides of the net it turned out to be the last break of the match, with players clinging on for a tie-break.
Still the two youngsters exchanged eccentricities. Hewitt double faulted on the first point, Federer flashed a forehand well wide to level things up again. The Swiss player then hit a brilliant cross court winner on Hewitt's serve before totally mishitting from the baseline on his own.
Finally, after more than two and a half hours of drama, the crowd got the winner they wanted. Having won a matchpoint by forcing Hewitt to play into the net, Federer completed the most complicated of matches in the simplest possible way - with an ace.
As seat cushions were hurled onto the court in celebration, it was hard to believe that this had not been the final, but on Sunday Federer must do it all again. Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, ranked sixth in the world, is the daunting opponent standing in the way of the Swiss teenager's first ever ATP singles title.
by Mark Ledsom
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