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Hewitt claws his way past Costa

Shanghai: A little cranky, a little out of sorts and a little slow out of the blocks, Lleyton Hewitt again fell back on his incandescent desire to win to beat Albert Costa at the Tennis Masters Cup, tightening his grip on the world No.1 ranking on Tuesday.

It is a will to win which enabled him to become the youngest year-end world No. 1 this time last year. It is a will to win which has already bagged him US Open and Wimbledon crowns at the age of 21 and it is a will to win which is keeping him hovering above a sea of tennis talent.

On Tuesday Hewitt scrapped, gouged and clawed his way past the French Open champion 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to earn 20 ranking points.

The Australian knows only too well how precious those points could prove to be — he himself overhauled a world No. 1, Gustavo Kuerten, to steal the year-end honour in the final week of the season last year.

This time round he is the hunted. Andre Agassi now trails him by 108 points and with a maximum 150 points available to the winner here, the seasoned American has Hewitt locked in his sights.

But nobody on the Tour fights harder than Hewitt and his will was on full display for the appreciative Chinese fans at the New Shanghai International Expo Centre.

Dogged fightback

A straightforward opening set put Hewitt on his way but a dogged fightback by wily baseliner Costa tested the Australian’s mettle.

It was not found wanting as he motored round the court looping forehands for winners and shovelling double-handed backhands in to the corners.

Hewitt was a blur on the distinctive blue Masters Cup court as he forced Costa on to the back foot and clinched a hard-fought victory.

Earlier, Spain’s Carlos Moya picked up a cool $120,000 for 98 minutes work, beating a tired Marat Safin 6-4, 7-5 in the opening match of the $3.7 million extravaganza.

The Spanish former world No.1 withstood an early barrage of Russian power to secure victory.

Fatigue, both mental and physical, got the better of Safin who still has a Davis Cup final ahead of him later this month when Russia take on France.

“It is a long season. A really long season for me and it is tough,” he said. “You know it could go either way and this time he won. What can I say' That is life.”

Early in the match the Russian’s immense power and sheer size left the contest resembling one of China’s great sporting passions — table tennis — as he flicked balls away for winner after winner.

But Moya held on, his green shirt slowly darkening under the strain of his exertions as he chased down Safin’s pummelled groundstrokes and in the end did enough to win.

“I was able to return his serve and I put him under a lot of pressure. I think that was the difference,” Moya said.

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