Determined Hewitt back on glory trail
Originally published on: 07/04/10 14:48
Lleyton Hewitt sparked rumours of a retirement when he called a press conference after losing to Roger Federer at January’s Australian Open. But typical of his ‘never say die’ spirit, the charismatic Aussie revealed no intention of hanging up the old Yonex – that was the last thing on his mind.
“I still feel like I’m capable of beating any of the top guys on any given day, especially in the big tournaments,” he said instead, after telling the world that he had undergone hip surgery, and wouldn’t be around for a while.
Now back in Houston to defend the US Men’s Clay Court Championships – the only title he lifted in 2009 – Hewitt was today handed a double boost on his return to competitive action.
First, the 29-year-old teamed up with his coach Nathan Healey to win their opening doubles match in Houston. Healey, who took over from Hewitt’s former coach Tony Roche in September, was featuring in his first competitive match in almost two years, and though the 30-year-old has won three doubles titles – one more than his pupil – Hewitt was safely the more dominant influence in their 7-6(3) 7-5 victory.
And in a second slice of good fortune, the returning Hewitt no longer has to face the in-form Mardy Fish in the second round of the Houston tournament after the American was forced to withdraw with injury.
Twenty-eight-year-old Fish shocked then world No.3 Andy Murray in Miami last week and followed up with another straight sets victory over Feliciano Lopez, but he took a heavy fall in his ensuing fourth round tie with Mikhail Youzhny and has since failed to recover.
“I thought the pain would subside and I thought the injury was a little bit less than it was,” said Fish, who took the title at America’s only ATP clay court event in 2006.
“I got an MRI today and the swelling showed up so much, which was unusual, so there’s a lot of stuff going on in there. It needs a lot of rest.”
Mardy’s loss is Hewitt’s gain, and the former world No.1 and fourth seed kicks off his campaign against lucky loser Somev Devvarman – currently ranked a career-high 116 – later today for a place in round three.
The former US and Wimbledon champ could then face 61st ranked Argentine Eduardo Schwank for a place in the semi-final against Fernando Gonzalez, who he has never defeated on clay.
And while the world No.27 managed to make the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2001 and 2004, only two of his 27 career titles have come on the red dirt.
But that statistic does not diminish Hewitt’s willingness to compete, and the clay swing will provide crucial court time to prepare him for the major honours that he still feels more than capable of winning.
“For me the obvious goal, the next one, will be Wimbledon,” said the All England Club’s 2002 champion.
“It’s a place I played extremely well last year – I was only one or two points away from making the semis there. I feel like if I can get back and play some matches before Wimbledon, I have an outside chance of doing well.”
And despite making just one final last year, with his infectious optimism Hewitt added:”I don’t feel like I’m that far away from doing some damage in the grand slams.”