The 2005 Australian Open men’s singles event was one of the most exciting tournaments in recent history. The title was won by Russian Marat Safin who crushed the hopes of a nation by defeating Australian hero Lleyton Hewitt 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the final.
Overall there were 24 five set matches in the eventful tournament, which will be remembered as one of the best due to the unpredictability of the results towards the end of the event.
Safin began his tournament in dominant fashion, defeating qualifier and future world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 in a purely aggressive display. It was a brutal initiation for the Serbian who was competing in his very first Grand Slam main draw.
The Russian stormed through his second round match against Czech Bohdan Ulihrach 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 to set up a third round clash with rising Croatian Mario Ancic. The former world number one was slightly tested against the youngster, but progressed through to the fourth round 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Safin’s next assignment would prove to be extremely tough and close, his opponent was an un-seeded Belgian Olivier Rochus who was only making his third appearance in the round of 16 at a Grand Slam. The Belgian would make Safin fight for his win, as the Russian prevailed 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 to make the quarterfinals at the Australian Open for the third time in four years.
His match up for the quarterfinal was Dominik Hrbaty, who was in the final eight for the second successive Grand Slam after his efforts at the 2004 U.S. Open. The Slovakian was no match for Safin, who dominated the match to win 6-2 6-4 6-2 and in the process, setting up a mouth watering semi final against the world number one, Roger Federer, in a rematch of the 2004 final.
Five Set Semifinal Battle - Federer
The Swiss maestro was in peak form and had not dropped a set en route to the final four, leaving many fans doubting whether Safin had the capabilities to defeat Federer and avenge his loss from the previous year. It was one of the matches of the tournament, with the two exchanging brilliant shots and leaving fans in awe of what they were witnessing. Safin was able to save a match point late in the fourth set, which he eventually claimed 8-6 in the tiebreak.
The fifth set was even more exciting, with both players not giving an inch until they entered advantage stage of the fifth set. With Safin leading 8-7 and Federer serving, the Russian displayed the attacking prowess that even the world number one could not combat. He would break Federer and win the match 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7 to set up a match with local favourite Hewitt.
Hewitt's Controversial Path
The Australian was in uncharted territory as he had never been past the fourth round at his home Grand Slam. The former world number one kicked off his campaign in style with a 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over Frenchman, Arnaud Clement.
His second round match against James Blake was a fiery affair, with the American seemingly mocking Hewitt and his ‘COME ON!’ celebrations. He was unable to maintain the form helped him win the first set, with the Australian running away with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-3 win.
The two time Grand Slam champion’s next match was another feisty encounter, with Argentinean Juan Ignacio Chela appearing to spit at Hewitt during a change of ends. It was an act of defiance from Chela, who was unhappy with Hewitt’s celebrations when he had made an unforced error or a served double fault. It would not distract the world number three who would win 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to set up a match with future world number one, Rafael Nadal.
Fourth Round - Nadal
The build up to the fourth round encounter was enormous, with the 18-year-old Nadal already turning heads and being touted as a future great of the sport. Hewitt would begin well winning the first set but the situation soon turned bleak for the Australian, as he won only four games in the next two sets combined and fell behind two sets to one.
His fighting spirit that he is so renowned for took over in the fourth set, as he was able to combat Nadal’s power and win it in a tiebreak. The Spaniard looked defeated after the fourth and a fired up Hewitt ran away in the fifth set to win 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-2 and reach the final eight at his home Grand Slam for the first time.
Tough Quarterfinal - Nalbandian
The quarterfinal between the 23-year-old and Argentine David Nalbandian was an Australian Open classic. The match had everything, with Nalbandian criticizing Hewitt’s celebrations in the defence of his countryman, Chela, in a press conference before the match. The two would also bump past each other at many of the end changes, adding fuel to the fire of the men who contested the 2002 Wimbledon final.
The Australian would win the first two sets comfortably before the Argentine blew him out of the water in the third to gain some momentum. He would also win the fourth to bring the match to a deciding set, leaving fans doubting whether Hewitt had the energy to keep up after his epic match against Nadal in the previous round.
The former world number one had to dig deep and whether some magical shots from Nalbandian, but as they ventured deep into the fifth set, the crowd began to spur Hewitt’s energy. He would claim a thrilling 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 10-8 victory to continue his fairytale run.
Four Set Semifinal
Waiting in the semifinals was world number two Andy Roddick, who had only dropped one set throughout the tournament. The American began wonderfully with his trademark serve obliterating Hewitt, one of the best returners in the game. Roddick would not be able to dominate the Australian for the rest of the match, as Hewitt was able to negate the American’s serve and win the match 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 and keep his dream of winning the Australian Open alive.
The final between Hewitt and Safin was one of the most watched sporting events in Australia in 2005, with the weight of a nation resting on the Australian’s shoulders.
It was all going to plan for Hewitt after he completely outplayed the Russian in the first set to claim it in close to half an hour. However, he would not gain control for the rest of the match with Safin running away with the next three sets to break the hearts of Australia and claim his second Grand Slam title. It would be the last time fans would see either of the two in a major final, with both unable to keep up with the evolution of Federer and Nadal over the next few years.
The 2005 Australian Open was genuinely one of the best Grand Slams in terms of excitement and entertainment, and it will forever be remembered as just that. A Russian making amends for his loss in the final the previous year and three years earlier, and the hometown hero who fell at the final hurdle.