Melbourne: Intensely patriotic and doggedly determined, last year’s first round defeat at his home Grand Slam was the one bitter disappointment in Australian Lleyton Hewitt’s otherwise sweet season.
He held the No. 1 ranking throughout the year and won his first Wimbledon crown before retaining the Tennis Masters Cup in an inspired week in Shanghai.
“Obviously since winning Wimbledon half way through the year, it was fantastic, and that was just a dream come true,” Hewitt said.
“And then, from there on I really wanted to consolidate my spot at No. 1 and try and finish back-to-back years at No. 1. I put everything into that in the last two weeks of the year and I was able to play some of my best tennis.
“Obviously (now) the Australian Open is one of the closest to my heart.”
Hewitt enters the 2003 tournament as the first home male seeded one at the Melbourne Grand Slam since Ken Rosewall in 1976. He exited last year as the first Australian Open top seed ever to lose in the first round of the men’s singles.
He was, however, recovering from a bout of chicken pox and w, unprepared for gruelling five-set matches in the heat of the Australian summer. This time he is virus-free, as fit as ever, and again hell-bent on ending Australia’s 27-year wait for a home men’s champion.
“I feel pretty fit at the moment. I’ve put in a lot of time on the practice court and a lot of time in the gym as well grinding it out in the last two-and-a-half weeks,” Hewitt said when asked of his shape ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year. “I’m as hungry as anyone.”Not since Mark Edmonson beat John Newcombe in 1976 has this tennis superpower produced a man capable of lifting the singles crown. Hewitt would love nothing more than to be that man.
“Being an Australian and me growing up and going to Melbourne Park since I was nine or 10 years old ... it’s a very special place and I get goose bumps as soon as I get in there,” Hewitt said. “The Australian Open for me is a goal... I couldn’t care less if I win it in 10 years or this year but if I could win it someday it would be fantastic.” (Reuters)