Rafter: Hewitt can defy odds
By LEO SCHLINK
PAT Rafter believes Australia can defy a worrying lack of depth and continue its excellent Wimbledon strike rate through Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis.
The dual All-England Club finalist and former world No. 1 senses Hewitt and Philippoussis can provide Australia's fifth men's singles finalist in as many years.
Hewitt, the 2002 champion, and Philippoussis, overwhelmed in last season's final by Roger Federer, followed Rafter on to the most famous stage in tennis after the Queenslander lost heartbreaking deciders to Pete Sampras in 2000 and Goran Ivanisevic a year later.
Rafter predicts seventh-seed Hewitt will rebound sharply after failing last season to reach the semi-finals or better of a grand slam for the first time since he exploded into major tennis five years ago.
"I've made the mistake of writing off a mate before and I won't be doing that again," Rafter said.
"Lleyton's an amazing competitor and he's done some freaky things in the past -- and he can do it again.
"He's definitely among the top four guys who stand out as the main chances. He's up there with Roger Federer, Tim Henman and Andy Roddick.
"He probably hasn't been hitting the ball as well as he could, but he'll get stuck in and work really hard because he knows that's what he has to do to be successful.
"The game has changed since I retired (2001) and it's incredible how guys are able to generate the power they do when they are wide out on the court. I think it must be the (new) strings.
"Some of the guys have caught up to Lleyton and gone past him a bit because of the strings, but he's always going to be a threat because he's such a great competitor."
Shocked in the first round 12 months ago by giant Croat qualifier Ivo Karlovic, Hewitt is seeded to play Federer in the quarter-finals.
At his best, Hewitt is capable of upsetting the defending champion and world No. 1 as borne out by a 7-4 record against the Swiss.
Rafter said Hewitt would use the Karlovic experience as a spur to greater heights tomorrow as he opened his campaign against Austrian Jurgen Melzer, who has lost two matches to the Australian over the past five weeks.
"Lleyton won't let what happened last year affect him," Rafter said.
"He'll be going out there to play his best and he won't be worrying about last year."
Philippoussis faces Belgian qualifier Christophe Rochus, who has won only one match at Wimbledon in five attempts.
The Victorian regained vital confidence with a low-key victory at a Stoke Park exhibition on Friday and, said Rafter, the man he defeated in the 1998 US Open final was capable of quickly hitting his straps.
"Mark's probably not going into the tournament with a lot of confidence," Rafter said. "But he has the ability of playing good tennis out of nowhere.
"I would put him in a group of guys behind the main four, along with guys like Taylor Dent and (Greg) Rusedski.
"On grass, the big servers are always dangerous and unpredictable. Mark falls into the category and he's done well at Wimbledon in the past."
Philippoussis, seeded 11th, has not won a rankings-point match since defeating Croat Mario Ancic in the third round of the Australian Open on January 24.
Australia has only four men in singles contention after -- for the first time in memory -- not having a sole entrant in qualifying.
Sydneysider Todd Reid, the 2002 boy's singles champion, has been included as a wildcard contender and will challenge American 30th-seed Vince Spadea.
Spadea needed three sets to roll Reid in Adelaide last year and will be wary of the 20-year-old from NSW.
Victorian Wayne Arthurs, strangely unable to have an impact on English grass in outings at Nottingham and Queen's Club, meets German Florian Mayer.
If successful against Mayer, Arthurs will play either South African net-rusher Wesley Moodie or Argentine third-seed Guillermo Coria.
Despite French Open finalist Coria's encouraging showing at Rosmalen this week, the tennis caravan was awash with tips Coria would be the first senior seed to topple.
Defending champion Federer begins his quest for a third major against 307th-ranked British wildcard Alex Bogdanovich.
Queen's Club winner and second seed Roddick faces qualifier Yeu-Tzuoo Wang.
Hewitt is hitting top form, says Masur
By Linda Pearce
June 20, 2004
Sydney Morning Herald
Lleyton Hewitt's third grand slam title would make a more-than-acceptable year an exceptional one, according to Davis Cup coach Wally Masur, who believes the former world No. 1 has been playing some career-best tennis ahead of tomorrow's opening round at Wimbledon.
The 2002 Wimbledon champion has been seeded seventh, and his campaign opens against 42nd-ranked Austrian Jurgen Melzer, a tricky opponent, but not one noted for his grasscourt expertise. The major cloud hovering on the Australian's horizon is titleholder Roger Federer, whom Hewitt could meet in the quarter-finals.
"Lleyton's had a good year. All he needs is a major, and that'll be a great year, and he can do it, he can do it," Masur said. "We have to temper our enthusiasm with the fact that Federer is lighting it up at the moment, but any player finds it hard to sustain that type of level all year . . . and I'm quite certain Lleyton is playing some of the best tennis of his career at the moment."
Hewitt is seeded three places above his world ranking of 11, but sits eighth in the ATP champion's race, the measure of calendar-year success, and has won titles in Sydney and Rotterdam. He was eliminated in the semi-finals at Queen's Club by Andy Roddick, but what the straight sets scoreline does not reveal is that Hewitt served for the first set.
The 23-year-old's ranking dropped to the edge of the top 20 late last year, when he took a break to have a wart removed from his foot and concentrate on helping Australia to regain the Davis Cup. Still, he has not reached a grand slam semi-final since 2002, nor is he the irresistible force that swept to the top of the rankings at the end of 2001 and remained there for 75 weeks.
"I just think he got tired," Masur said. "If you look at his three, four years, his involvement with Davis Cup, winning the Masters Cup (twice), then straightaway he's back at the Hopman Cup, then he got chickenpox; he was just physically tired, and every time you step up and play a match, it's like another physical and mental confrontation.
"He'd done it so well, for so long, on so many different surfaces, in so many big matches, that I think the kid just hit the wall physically. He's not like (Pete) Sampras, who gets 40 free points with his serve every match; he's a guy who has to work hard for his wins, and it just took its toll physically and mentally on him. But I think he's getting back there. Lleyton will surprise a few people by the end of the year."
Joining Hewitt on court tomorrow will be fellow Australians Wayne Arthurs, Alicia Molik, Nicole Pratt and Samantha Stosur. Mark Philippoussis and Todd Reid play on Tuesday, as does Australian qualifier Christina Wheeler.
Masur also reserved some optimism for Philippoussis, despite the 11th seed's 10-loss tournament and Davis Cup run having been interrupted only by a bright spell at last month's World Team Cup.
"I reckon he can do bloody well at Wimbledon. You don't have to be Einstein to realise that," Masur said.. "Mark's the kind of guy that can run hot on any surface. He can play well on clay, and a lot of guys don't want to play him when he's in full flight. But Mark on grass is a whole different prospect."
Wimbledon no tougher now: Hewitt
From correspondents in London
June 19, 2004
EVEN with the prospect of facing top seed Roger Federer in the quarter finals, Lleyton Hewitt rejects the notion that this year's Wimbledon will be much tougher than when he won the title in 2002.
When Hewitt claimed his second grand slam title two years ago, he sat alone at the top of world tennis as a 21-year-old while Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were on the way down.
But he denies tennis was in a lull at the time while it was awaiting the emergence of the likes of current world No.1 and defending Wimbledon champion Federer and No.2 Andy Roddick.
Hewitt, now ranked No.10, acknowledged Federer and Roddick add ingredients which weren't at the All England Club in 2002, but he pointed to Sampras and Agassi who were there and still good enough to win the 2002 US Open and 2003 Australian Open respectively.
"Yeah, but I guess Sampras and Agassi were at their best or close to their best back then as well," he said.
"Mark Philippoussis was another guy, there was always dangerous floaters in the draw.
"It's always going to be a tough tournament to win.
"There's always going to be upsets at Wimbledon probably more so than any other grand slam because in the past you've had so many clay court specialists come as high seeds and get knocked out early and that leaves openings in the draw."
The second round exits of Sampras and Agassi in 2002 left a couple of big holes in the draw which allowed Hewitt to march into the final without facing a top 10 player until he beat Tim Henman in the semis.
No such luxury has been afforded the seventh seed this year, with a scheduled quarter final against Federer.
Hewitt has a 7-4 career record over Federer, but although he has lost both matches against the Swiss this year, the potential quarter final is shaping as a massive meeting of the tournament's last two champions.
"That's if he gets there, if they both get there," said Hewitt's coach Roger Rasheed.
"They've had good matches against each other and tough matches. If we get to that situation, fantastic, we'll be pretty happy.
"Lleyton's form's very good, he's in a good spot at the moment, so his form's good so we'll have to wait and see how the first week pans out and especially Monday.
"He's done the hard work and the preparation, so he feels good."
Hewitt opens his tournament on Monday against Austrian world No.42 Jurgen Melzer whom he beat in four sets in the second round at the French Open last month.
He heads a slim four-man Australian contingent in the men's singles, completed by the badly out of touch 11th seed Philippoussis, Wayne Arthurs and 2002 Wimbledon boys champion Todd Reid.
Philippoussis comes into the tournament as last year's finalist but on the back of eight successive first round losses in ATP tour events this year.
He was handed a great chance to break his duck when he drew a qualifier for his opening match on Tuesday, but Belgian world No.117 Christophe Rochus won't be easy, especially given the Victorian's form.
Arthurs' form has not been much better with four consecutive first round losses and he faces up and coming German Florian Mayer on Monday.
Wildcard Reid starts his first senior Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday against 30th seed Vince Spadea.