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Thursday, June 25, 2009

One to watch: Lleyton Hewitt

Photo Titled Hewitt handles
Lleyton Hewitt opens the face of the racquet in an attempt to block the ball back and stay in a tough rally.
"The sport needs a dominant figure, someone who is a clear-cut No. 1...there is no reason why, in my mind, he cannot do what [Bjorn] Borg did and win this title [Wimbledon] five times, maybe more. He can win five US Opens, too. He has set a benchmark that others have to live up to."

That was Boris Becker talking, but it wasn't about Roger Federer. Instead he was talking about Lleyton Hewitt in the aftermath of the Australian's Wimbledon victory in 2002. Hard to believe that was the last time Hewitt lifted a Grand Slam trophy. Instead, the dominant figure Becker described came along a year later in the form of Federer, meanwhile Hewitt has endured a slow descent down the rankings and a diminishing return at the majors.

Hewitt is first on Centre Court today, where he plays the fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round. The Aussie appears up against it. He is on the wrong side of a seven-year age difference; he is giving away an 18cm height advantage; and he has a problem hip that requires ongoing rehabilitation. On his shoulders he will carry the hopes and expectations of a once proud tennis country that has fallen on hard times — he is the only male from Australia in the main draw of the men’s singles.

But in 2009 there is a frisson of excitement about the former world No.1 after his impressive 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory over American Robby Ginepri in the first round. There is a whisper, especially among the Australian media, that Hewitt could do what Marat Safin did last year and advance deep into the draw, contrary to his ranking, which is 56 in the world.

Taking on an opponent who is bigger, younger and stronger with most people expecting him to lose: that sounds like a challenge that Lleyton Hewitt would relish.

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