Surface tensions for edgy Hewitt
By Chip Le Grand
January 16, 2006
FOR the second year running, Lleyton Hewitt will begin his Australian Open campaign at loggerheads with tournament organisers over the slowness of the Rebound Ace courts at Melbourne Park.
Hewitt said his management had held several discussions with tournament director Paul McNamee about the speed of the surface and he was disappointed to find the courts playing at much the same pace as they were 12 months ago.
In the first week of last year's tournament, the Hewitt camp referred to the hardcourt surface as "green clay" in derisive reference to its slow, high bounce, and lamented the opportunities it gave European and South American players at the expense of local hopes.
Yesterday, he echoed the perennial complaint that Rebound Ace was unforgiving on injuries.
"It is something very similar to last year," Hewitt said. "There is no doubt in my mind that it is not the greatest surface for injuries either. I think it causes a lot of friction on your body.
"Definitely after my hip injury last year in Sydney, it didn't get any better over the two weeks playing tough matches on this surface here in Melbourne.
"We've had a few chats and got nowhere," he said of the discussions with McNamee. "I feel like I've done a lot of right stuff for tennis in Australia and it is disappointing. But there is no point whingeing about it. I've got to go out there and compete. This is my national title."
Hewitt also declined to commit publicly to Australia's Davis Cup campaign starting in Switzerland next month. Hewitt has been a tireless Davis Cup performer throughout his career but refused to say whether he would play against the Swiss.
"I haven't even thought about the Davis Cup yet," he said in response to a question by a Swiss journalist. "Too much on my mind at the moment."
Hewitt's Davis Cup comments may well prove to be nothing more than a throwaway line or gamesmanship with Roger Federer, who is yet to commit to the Swiss cause. It is understood that Hewitt has made a private commitment to Australia captain John Fitzgerald and booked his flight to Geneva.
But his renewed attack on the Melbourne Park courts came as a surprise to McNamee, who had believed his surface squabbles with Australia's best player were a thing of the past.
To bring the speed of Rod Laver Arena in line with outside courts, the Australian Open has this season resurfaced its centre court one week earlier and kept the court exposed to the elements. The tournament has also changed its ball supplier, which is expected to speed up play.
"The balls are a bit quicker," McNamee said. "Everybody is saying that and obviously we tried to make sure, by getting the court resurfaced earlier, that everything possible was being done to get as much play as we could on it before the tournament.
"We did everything we could to make sure the conditions were going to be the same as the outside court. It is an imperfect science but we have tried everything to do that."
McNamee said the issue was not a personal one with Hewitt, who this week requested and received a Tuesday start for his first-round match against the Czech Republic's Robin Vik. He said the success of last year's men's competition, when the four top-seeded players contested the two semi-finals, had convinced the tournament organisers to retain the same court conditions.
McNamee dismissed Hewitt's concerns about injury rates on Rebound Ace.
"A Grand Slam has to pick a surface that it believes is in the best interests of the tournament," McNamee said.
"That means we don't want to replicate the conditions at another Grand Slam. Each of the Grand Slams is different, so if player A would prefer US Open speed or Miami speed exactly, then that is not in the best interests of the Australian Open.
"Hardcourts are a little tougher on the body, we know that. But it is the most favoured surface around the world.
"There are injuries, but the injuries at this tournament haven't been from people playing on Rebound Ace. They are people who are not here."