WIMBLEDON, England -- There is something definitive about a five-set match.
It is the ultimate test in tennis, and in the charged atmosphere of a Grand Slam or Davis Cup play, the results can be defining -- one way or the other.
On Wednesday evening, long after the other men's quarterfinals had been concluded, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick, both red-faced and fatigued, barreled into the ultimate set. The sun was setting on Court 1 and these proud campaigners -- both former No. 1s and Grand Slam champions -- battled each other shot for shot.
Hewitt, the 28-year-old Australian, has always been an exemplary fighter. Coming into the match, he had a five-set record of 29-13 -- more matches and more wins than any other active player. Roddick's mark was a more pedestrian 10-12.
It came down, as it sometimes does, to a single shot. With the score 4-all and Hewitt serving, Roddick charged to reach Hewitt's little half-volley drop shot. He hit a running, swinging forehand into the open court for a pure winner.
A few minutes later, Roddick won this marvelous match 6-3, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 in a riveting 3 hours, 50 minutes.
"It certainly wasn't short on drama," Roddick said. "I've never been real good at comparing matches, but [it was] tough from a mental standpoint because Lleyton wasn't going away and there were a lot of ebb and flows.
"I think there's a lot of respect there. We used to get into it when we were younger. Now we're just a couple of old married dudes."
Said Hewitt, "I'm not really sure what he means by that. I think we were both going pretty hard out there. I don't think either of us left anything in the locker room, that's for sure."
It was a terrific effort from Hewitt, who was battling a groin injury and coming off a six-month sabbatical following hip surgery.
The last time Roddick went five sets with Hewitt in a Grand Slam was eight years ago at the U.S. Open. The Australian was in his prime then, perhaps the game's best-conditioned player, and he went on to win the title.
Roddick, at 26, reinvented himself during this offseason. In December, coach Larry Stefanki asked him how much he weighed when he won his only Grand Slam, the 2003 U.S. Open. The answer was 15 pounds less than he weighed when questioned. Those 15 pounds are now gone.
Over the fortnight, Roddick has looked more comfortable than ever on grass (even coming to net) and the general consensus is that he is fitter than he's ever been -- and as a result, he's playing the best tennis of his life.
After winning the first set, then losing a wild second-set tiebreaker, Roddick began the third-set breaker with an ill-advised approach shot. His forehand soared wide and Hewitt had a mini-break. And then Roddick won seven consecutive points.
Hewitt made four unforced errors in the frame and Roddick kept up the pressure with his forceful forehand. At 4-1, he crushed one from 3 feet behind the baseline that was clocked at 107 mph and touched down just inside the chalk.
After Hewitt won the fourth set, they settled into a marvelous bit of theater, dramatically lit by the golden sunshine.
They both fought off nasty break points, Roddick got into a heated discussion with chair umpire Carlos Ramos -- calling a linesman a dip---- at one point -- and Hewitt, troubled by a tweaked left groin muscle, kept gamely moving from side to side. Meanwhile, both players kept banging effective serves. Roddick finished the match with a career-high 43 aces and Hewitt had 21.
In the end, Roddick converted one more break point -- thanks to that swinging forehand -- and he was the winner. Their career head-to-head record, appropriately, is a 6-6 dead heat. After the last stroke, Roddick swallowed hard and seemed to be blinking back some tears.
"In your mind you're trying to stay the course for four hours," Roddick said. "Then relief, happiness and you're almost in instant shutdown mode."
Hewitt favored Murray in the all-Andy matchup.
"I think it's going to be a tough one for Roddick to win," Hewitt said. "When I've seen Andy Murray at his best, I think he matches up extremely well against Roddick. A couple years ago I saw them play here because they were in my section, and Murray took care of him convincingly.
"And Murray's a lot better player now than he was then. Roddick's going to have to play a hell of a match to beat him."
"That's fine," Roddick said brusquely. "I don't know. I'm not here to make predictions. With my serve I can get myself in any match. I've been in this situation many times.
"So we'll get to it."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.