.Actually, it was five acts, all disguised as sets, with the most astonishing and dramatic plot twist saved for last as Roddick and Aynaoui traded timely serves, huge forehands, delicately sliced backhands, acrobatic volleys and admiring, increasingly exhausted glances over a fifth set that required two hours and 23 minutes and 40 games to resolve.
.That made it the longest fifth set at a Grand Slam event in the 35 years of Open tennis. When it finally and inappropriately ended with an error as Aynaoui dumped a makeable forehand volley into the net, Roddick pitched forward onto his knees in a dizzy state of relief, exhaustion, joy and surprise that a match and character check which seemed perfectly capable of stretching on for another hour or more had finally stumbled upon a conclusion.
."I think my respect levels for him just grew and grew throughout the match; I'm pretty sure it's vice versa," Roddick said. "I don't even remember talking to Younes before this match, but we could see each other 10 years down the line and know that we did share something pretty special."
.Roddick's 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 4-6, 21-19 victory, which required him to save a match point with a forehand that brooked no argument at 4-5 in the final set, put him into his first Grand Slam semifinal at the age of 20. He will face another player with no experience at this pressurized level: Germany's No. 31 seed Rainer Schuettler who continued his surprising run through the draw by beating last year's Wimbledon finalist, David Nalbandian of Argentina, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 earlier in the day. Much earlier in the day, as it turned out.
.As the hours and winners ticked by and Roddick and the 31-year-old Aynaoui kept changing ends, it felt more like watching a rite of passage than a quarterfinal.
.That it came just two days after Roddick's fourth-round victory over Mikhail Youzhny, when he rallied to win from a two-set deficit for the first time in his short career, made it all the more epochal and affirming.
."There was no question that watching Andy come to life and come of age before your eyes is a special thing for everybody who has anything committed to American tennis," said Jim Courier, an American who won two Australian Opens and now helps coach Roddick in Davis Cup. "This is it. This is his time; his turning point."
.On a chilly summer night in Melbourne, the Australian crowd in Rod Laver Arena thinned out little over the course of the four hour and 59 minute match. When it ended at 12:48 a.m., the stadium was still approximately three quarters full, and the majority who remained got to see the post-match handshake turn into an embrace between the tall young American and his even taller Moroccan opponent. The symbolism of that gesture and the high-spirited, fair-spirited match that preceded it were not lost on some of those watching.
."With the way the world is today to see those two guys go at it — the No. 1 Arab and the No. 1 American — with the kind of attitude they did, they both set a fine example," said Aynaoui's American coach Jeff Tarango.
.The ninth-seeded Roddick and 18th-seeded Aynaoui had never played before; never even conversed, but they now have plenty of insight into each other's strengths and weaknesses. The quality of play was remarkably high for a match of this length; remarkably varied, as well, with both men utilizing close to the full range of tennis strokes and Roddick, in particular, showing facets of his game that were rarely in evidence as he went through a version of sophomore slump in 2001. Particularly impressive was his ability to attack the net and take advantage of the opportunities his huge serve and forehand provide, but his backhand slice also looks more reliable now.
."He still has more to learn; it's going to come," said Roddick's coach Tarik Benhabiles. "But the most important thing is I got my Roddick back; got my battler back. He was in relax mode for about six months there, but he's back to being himself now."
.Aynaoui had nearly twice as many winners as unforced errors: 107 to 55. Roddick had more than three times as many: 102 to 31.
.Aynaoui upset the No. 1 seed Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the fourth round by serving superbly, getting 70 percent of his big first serves into play. Against Roddick, who did not break his serve in the first three sets, he put 71 percent into play. Meanwhile, the American had to settle for a very fine 62 percent: striking 27 aces and, perhaps most remarkably considering the accumulating pressure and fatigue, just two double faults.
."Even though both of us played well, it's the law of sport that there has to be a winner and a loser," said Aynaoui, who presumably doesn't watch much soccer. "You have to accept the defeat and congratulate the opponent when he deserves it. Andy went after this match. I didn't give it to him. He fought hard, and at 20, it's really a credit to him that he was able to last as long as he did out there and keep serving and playing at such a high level."