Lleyton won't change
Leo Schlink and Mark Stevens
LLEYTON Hewitt has vowed not to temper his ferocious on-court personality despite the shock resignation of coach Roger Rasheed.
Although disappointed at Rasheed's exit after a heated spat in Adelaide last week, Hewitt said he would remain as combative as ever.
"If I feel like I need to fire myself up, get fired up and 'C'mon', (I will)," Hewitt said yesterday.
"Everyone's had go's at me over the years, but I didn't hear anyone having go's when I made the Australian Open final two years ago here."
Hewitt's verbal barbs to Rasheed last week are believed to have prompted the coach to walk out of the job he had held since June, 2003.
While declaring the pair's friendship was not over, Hewitt delivered a stinging backhander to his former mentor.
"A lot of people have spoken about my game changing and maybe it was getting stale with Roger and Roger wasn't the best coach for me," he said.
Speaking for the first time since Rasheed departed citing an inability to work in "the current environment", Hewitt wouldn't reveal why he was left without a coach.
"It's going to stay between Roger and I," Hewitt told Channel 7. "Obviously with the timing, I'm shocked. We've had some good times, we've had some tough times."
Rasheed told friends he would no longer tolerate the type of comments directed at him during Hewitt's loss to Russian Igor Kunitsyn.
Asked if there was any chance of a reconciliation, Hewitt said: "You never say never, but I seriously doubt it. I wouldn't hold your breath."
Combining with new coach Scott Draper for the first time, Hewitt yesterday practised at Rod Laver Arena and was convinced a slicker surface would boost his Australian Open assault.
Hewitt, who was suffering a calf muscle tear, dispelled any fitness doubts in the gruelling two-hour session and enjoyed the added bonus of lower, faster bounce.
"I think it's definitely faster than last year and I think Lleyton agreed," Draper said.
"The court, I think, suits him. It's a little lower bouncing than last year. You get the odd ball that shoots a lot more."
Hewitt became disgruntled and defensive last year, increasingly frustrated by a high-bouncing surface he thought favoured the clay-courters. But Draper said his long-time friend was extremely positive after a session with fellow Australian Peter Luczak.
The right calf injury that ruled Hewitt out of the Sydney International gave him no trouble -- even in 90 minutes of match practice against Luczak.
"It was full-on points. It wasn't just hitting down the middle of the court," Draper said.
"It (his calf) wasn't ginger at all. There were a few balls he ran wide for and didn't feel a thing.
"There was no thought of him stopping throughout those two hours.
"Everything was positive. I think it was a great start."
Draper hinted Hewitt was hoping for a Tuesday start next week, but made it clear the former world No. 1 was ready to resume battle despite minimal match practice -- and capable of going all the way.
"If he gets into a gladiatorial situation with his opponent, he can beat anybody. I've seen it too many times. I would never back against him," Draper said.
"Lleyton's probably the best competitor I've ever seen. I think it's his greater strength.
"I see no reason why he can't go all the way.
"It's the Australian Open, it's his favourite tournament . . . I think the juice will be flowing and he'll be competing as hard as he can.
"If he can get to that level of thinking, he's a dangerous guy. He can beat anyone in the tournament."
Hewitt will continue preparations at Melbourne Park, with no thought of playing an exhibition match at Kooyong.
Draper, who only arrived in Melbourne yesterday to take control of Hewitt's Open campaign, said much of his job was about making Hewitt comfortable.
"He'd be used to seeing Roger on the court and when he looks up into the stands on match day he's used to seeing Roger," Draper said.
Draper, who is also juggling a golfing career, said he had not thought about his role beyond the next two weeks.