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Hewitt chases amazing slam win

Article from: The Daily Telegraph

By Nikki Tugwell in Melbourne

January 14, 2008 12:00am

MARAT Safin . . . Marcos Baghdatis . . . Novak Djokovic . . . David Nalbandian . . . Roger Federer . . . Rafael Nadal.

It is hard to imagine a more horrific draw, Lleyton? "It's not as tough as last year."

The court speed slower than you expected? "I'm happy with the speed of it."

What about the pressure here in Australia? "I've never really felt that much expectation."

Tell us, can you get back into the top 10? "I'm looking to get back in the top 10 as quickly as possible and cement myself there."

If grand slams were awarded for positive thinking, Lleyton Hewitt yesterday leapt into Australian Open favouritism.

This from the world No. 21 who last made a semi-final at a grand slam at the 2005 US Open.

Hewitt is searching for a grand slam feat unmatched in more than 30 years.

It has been 5½ years since he won the second of his two slams at Wimbledon in 2002.

In four decades of professional tennis only Arthur Ashe has waited longer between slam victories.

Ashe won Wimbledon in July 1975 after snaring the 1970 Australian Open five years and six months earlier.

Hewitt, despite second-round exits in Adelaide and Sydney and a deadly Open draw, was remarkable in his positivity (a distinct contrast to last year) ahead of tomorrow's first round match against rising star Steve Darcis.

"Last year I played Gonzalez in the third round here and he went all the way to the final," Hewitt said. "So I probably could not have gotten a much tougher third round . . . this probably won't be as tough as that."

Although just 26, the Australian Open title that was within Hewitt's grasp in 2005 has drifted every year since. In a short period, the game has evolved, standards have risen.

Hewitt not only has to contend with arguably the all-time greatest at No. 1 but the explosive talents of Djokovic, Andy Murray, Gonzalez, Richard Gasquet - not to mention Nadal, Andy Roddick and Nalbandian to get past first.

He was asked yesterday if it is possible the opportunity to win here at Melbourne Park has passed him by? He briefly pondered.

"Every year (that you don't win it) is another year down the drain, I guess" Hewitt said. "You need a little bit of luck to win any grand slam . . . for me at the moment it is just a matter of trying to survive the first week. I try and use the crowd to my advantage as much as i can, try and take all the positives that I can."

His positivity yesterday may be mistaken for him trying to convince himself. But he has never been one to lack self-belief.

Casting your mind back 12 months provides a more accurate window of understanding.

Hewitt could not have had a worse lead-in to the 2007 Australian Open.

He split with his coach, was injured and was disgruntled with the Rebound Ace court surface.

He found solace in his family, his wife Bec and baby Mia.

And even then he was accused of being distracted and losing the very thing that made him such a competitor, his hell-bent fighting spirit.

This year is different.

The world's best coach is in his corner, his body is good, the "green clay" Rebound Ace surface is no more. Life is good.

It became apparent yesterday that Hewitt is trying to reverse every bit of last year's disappointment, starting with a positive attitude. He claimedthat if he can survive the early rounds, he is as good a chance as any of playing deep into the tournament. And although not yet worrying about the long list of big names that await, he's optimistic about his chances tomorrow in his opener against 88th-ranked Steve Darcis, of Belguim.

"He's going to hit a lot of balls back," Hewitt said. "He looks like he moves pretty well, no huge weapons though.

"He is a guy who I think I can work my way into the match and get a lot of rhythm."

Lleyton Hewitt tennis
Lleyton Hewitt faces a huge task to win the Australian Open.

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