Heís been lauded as the toughest competitor in tennis and now Lleyton Hewitt is ready to fight through the pain barrier once more at next monthís Australian Open.
Hewitt has assured his close-knit team he is ď100 per centĒ certain to line up for a 16th consecutive tilt at Melbourne Park glory despite ongoing concerns over his chronic foot injury.
A specialist last week told Hewitt his battered left big toe was the ďworst heíd ever seenĒ and expressed surprise the former world No.1 was walking around, let alone preparing for a grand slam tournament.
Hewitt, though, considers the grim medical assessment a badge of honour and will soldier on without even using pain killers as they upset his stomach.
The 30-year-oldís show of grit is no surprise to his vastly experienced coach Tony Roche.
ďLook, heíd be the toughest competitor that Iíve seen,Ē Roche told AAP earlier this year.
ďHeís had a lot of setbacks the last couple of years but he keeps bouncing back.Ē
Hewitt hasnít played since Australiaís Davis Cup loss to Switzerland in Sydney in September.
But he has proven time and again he can return at a high level after long breaks from the game.
Last year, Hewitt was sidelined for almost four months following a second round of hip surgery and a knee operation before he toppled Roger Federer on grass in the Halle final.
He reached the quarter-finals of the 2006 US Open despite carrying a knee injury that had threatened his participation and famously beat Rafael Nadal in five sets at the 2005 Australian Open while battling a hip injury.
Despite languishing at 186th in the rankings, father-of-three Hewitt insists retirement is not in his plans.
ďThis yearís been frustrating with the foot injury,Ē Hewitt said this month.
ďThe rest of my body feels great, so thatís probably even more frustrating. If I was breaking down in a lot of different areas, then you can sort of put up with it.
ďSo if I can get over this foot injury, I feel great at the moment in terms of my ball striking. Itís as good as itís been in a long time.
ďAs long as my foot holds up, Iíll keep going.Ē
Hewitt will launch his 2012 campaign at the Hopman Cup in Perth starting on Saturday before contesting both the Sydney International and Australian Open as a wildcard entrant.
Lleyton Ė seventh time, Hopman Cup, what keeps you coming back?
I think its good preparation. For me especially this year and the last couple of years when I havenít played the most matches, to come back and be guaranteed three tough matches in my group again this year. You know the first two matches are going to be extremely tough for me, but itís good to test out and preparation obviously for the Australian Open only a couple of weeks away.
Who do you rate your toughest opponents in your group this year?
Well obviously Verdasco and Gasquet are on paper the two toughest, but Wu from China is no easy beat either. Heís very good indoors and actually beat Matosevic in our Davis Cup match in singles in five sets earlier this year - so at least Iíve seen him play a little bit.
You seemed to move pretty well out there, howís the toe going?
Yeah not bad - just battling through it. Doing all the right things and hopefully I can get out there and play as pain free as possible, you know go out there and hopefully do the job.
Are you feeling any pain at the moment?
A little bit here and there, but itís been a while since Iíve been injury-free and pain-free now, so itís a matter of just being mentally tough out there and not worrying about it and going out there and getting as close to 100% as possible.
Is there any doubt that Lleyton that you may not play?
That was a fairly heavy work out, does that give you confidence that itís all good?
Iíve been training pretty hard the last few weeks, obviously back at home in Sydney with Rochey, heís been putting me through my paces Ė those sessions are never easy. So Iíve been doing a lot of off court work as well, a lot of foot work drills. Iíve been trying to get the agility more than anything, I havenít really played that much since I had foot surgery at the end of February, start of March earlier this year, so itís more about trying to get my movement sort of second nature again out there and that reaction time back to how it usually is. Itís a matter of doing the long hours on the practise court and on the fitness gym to try and make it second nature as much as possible.
Weíve heard people say that theyíre amazed that youíre out there even and going that hard - is that just the way you are or is that your body? How fit are you do you think?
Oh I donít know everyone has niggles. Iím not sure if other play with what Iíve got - I wouldnít have a clue. My motivation is there, Iím pumped up to play the Australian Summer again, and Iíve done everything in my power to get us close to 100% as possible. Thereís no stone unturned for me and thatís what I pride myself on doing - being as professional as possible and hopefully that rubs off on some of the younger Australian guys. Especially around the Davis Cup team and with Patty Rafter as captain and now and Rochey as the coach Ė I think itís a good team mix and hopefully some of the senior stuff can rub off on the younger guys.
Fitness wise what have you been doing over the past few months?
A little bit of running, a little swimming, a lot of bike obviously, but a lot of agility stuff just to try and get confidence back in the movement more than anything. As I said just so it becomes second nature. Normally when you go on the court and youíve been playing a lot of matches itís not something you think about. So for me itís more been trying to do that so I donít rely on or think about how my foot is or movement out there or pushing off from the sides, or stuff like that.
And what was the feedback from the surgeons? Did they say this is something that is likely to flare up again?
Who knows? No-one knows.
Taking Looch around with you as a hitting partner now, how does he help you?
Well heís my second coach, so Iím nearly like a football team now. I have a head coach, assistant coach Ė this is great. Itís a lot easier that way. Looch has been fantastic; heís a great guy to have in my corner, heís helped me out a lot in Davis Cup matches. Heís what playing for Green and Gold is all about. The small stuff behind the scenes that goes in to obviously helping myself or Bernard Tomic or Guccione and these guys go out and play. For me itís going to be great to obviously have Looch in my corner this year. I donít know if heís going to play the Australian Open or not, but heís a great hitting partner and still one of the best ball strikers out there and he works extremely hard.
If you two get on the court at the Aussie Open for doubles, as is rumoured, what will that mean to you to help say a farewell alongside your mate?
Yeah weíll wait and see. Weíll see how my body is going first Iíve got to try and get on the singles court, but yeah if we did play doubles it would be nice. We played doubles, got a wild card at Wimbledon which was fantastic to play in the main draw there for him. For him if he can play one more Australian Open doubles alongside myself it would be a lot of fun.
Weíre used to seeing you team up with Alicia Molik, now Jarmila Gajdosova a new partner, how do you feel about her and how do you think sheíll go?
Yeah not a lot, I havenít spent a lot of time around her. Iíve seen her play some matches though and she hits the ball extremely well. Sheís a great ball striker; she moves well, sheís strong out there. Sheís got to hit a lot of winners but sheís got to cut out her unforced errors I think a little bit as well and thatís probably the main part of her game - to take that next step from 32, 35 in the world to getting into the top 20, top 15 in the world. But sheís dangerous, I wouldnít write her off against anyone and Iím looking forward to playing the mixed doubles with her.
Have you had the opportunity to set some goals heading into the Aus summer?
Youíre just going to go out there and play and take it as it comes?
Yeah basically. Iím a wild card so there are no expectations on me.
Youíve counted up 6 years here, what have you learnt from the team environment and representing Australia and that side of things?
Well obviously Davis Cup pressure wise, you donít get any bigger than that, so I thrive on playing in those situations and every time I come to Perth Iím fortunate the crowd has been fantastic in the support that the Australian team always gets. Itís a lot of fun going out there and playing and it would have been nice to have won it at some stage Ė weíre outsiders this year but weíll see what happens.
Can you do it?
Oh weíve got an outside chance. If Gjada goes out there and plays the way that she can then thereís no reason why she canít win most of her matches in our group, and if I can win the odd match then that would be nice.
Just looking ahead to the Australia Open, youíre a pretty good judge on how whoís going to go well. Who do you think will win on both sides of the draw?
Well I only care about the men so Iíll only give you that one. Djokovic is obviously the form guy, you know I think he would have had plenty of time to get over his shoulder niggles that he was having at the end of this year. Heís played extremely well on the Australian hard courts. He played well here in Perth last year. Heíll be the guy to beat. Roger has obviously stepped up to the mark again Ė he should have knocked off Novak in the semiís of the US Open and hasnít lost a match since, so heís obviously played extremely well in Australia as well. You can never count Raffa out, so theyíre obviously the main three. Itís the usual four at the moment with Andy Murray sort of just behind them. Thereís dangerous floaters out there as well and some of the young guys coming up, so weíll just wait and see.
And just on your time off the court does a period like that really fuel your hunger to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible?
Yeah it depends; you sort of see where your motivation is at. I guess when youíre not playing and youíre seeing other guys out there competing and playing it really depends how much you want to go out there and still be a part of it. Iíve obviously got a beautiful wife and three kids now as well to look after, but the motivation is still there for me to go out there and compete otherwise I wouldnít be doing it.
Is thatís what is driving you now, considering your pushing through an injury and pain?
Iím probably more motivated now than even a couple of years ago really. Sometimes you just go through the motions a little bit I think, and you take everything for granted. Right at the moment, this situation, and the rest of my body feels unbelievable. Itís just been this sort of niggling foot injury and if I can get over that then Iíll 100% totally and fully committed to doing all the right things. Hopefully thatís just around the corner.
There have been those retirement talks. Do you feel you can go around again and what challenges does this year pose for you?
Retirement talks have been around since I was 26, because I was a ten year veteran by then, so for me itís just a load of rubbish. I go out there and do my job and Iím fortunate that Iím in a sport that I can choose when I want to stop when the time is right.
So Lleyton you have never had a set time or never thought about a particular age at all when you want to retire?
This is the last Hopman Cup in the Dome Ė how great would it be for the Aussies to take it out?
Yeah it would be nice. Once again though, you people in Perth have been saying that for seven or eight years now, I keep coming back and itís still here. So Iím not holding my breath that weíll be playing anywhere different next year.
AGEING Australian warhorse Lleyton Hewitt will face the sternest test of his fitness in months as he opens his summer campaign against world No.24 Fernando Verdasco.
Hewitt will meet Verdasco in Australia's opening tie of Hyundai Hopman Cup XXIV at the Burswood Dome, with the match to follow the opening rubber between Jarmila Gajdosova and world top 30 Anabel Medina Garrigues.
The Spaniard's athleticism will provide Hewitt with a solid guide as to where his fitness is at, with the 30-year-old having not played a match since September, when Australia faltered against Switzerland in the Davis Cup.
A chronic foot injury flared up following surgery earlier in the year, and a battered big toe sidelined him.
Hewitt welcomed the testing matches ahead of him, with Australia's other Group B opponents of France and China pitting him against world No. 19 Richard Gasquet and Davis Cup player Wu
"To be guaranteed three tough matches in my group again this year, the first three matches are going to be exceptionally tough for me, it's good to test myself out for the Australian Open," said Hewitt, returning to Perth for the seventh time.
"Obviously Verdasco and Gasquet are, on paper, the two toughest, but Wu from China is no easybeat either, he's very good indoors and he actually beat Matosevic in our Davis Cup match in five sets earlier this year."
Gajdosova will also face a telling test in her match against Medina Garrigues.
"The teams are very strong, so it's going to be good preparation and then I get to defend my title in Hobart, which is very exciting," Gajdosova said.
Lleyton Hewitt's battered foot passed its first test, but the former world No.1 couldn't muster a win in his Hopman Cup showdown with Spain's Fernando Verdasco on Sunday night.
Hewitt, making his first competitive appearance since re-injuring his foot in September, moved freely throughout the 128-minute contest, getting the better of Verdasco in the second set before the Spaniard took out the match 6-3 3-6 7-5.
Verdasco's triumph levelled the tie at 1-1 after Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3 3-6 6-3 earlier in the day.
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"Lleyton is a very tough player. He always fights to the end," Verdasco said.
"He played really well.
"He's a good friend and I hope he will have a good 2012 with no more injuries."
Hewitt entered the clash with a mountain of question marks surrounding his mangled left big toe.
But the 30-year-old, whose ranking has slipped to 186 following an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, displayed no discomfort as he wiped away some of the cobwebs following his lengthy lay-off.
After getting outplayed in the first set, Hewitt got the crucial early break in the second to send the match into a decider.
Verdasco raced to a 4-1 lead in the third, but the match looked set to go down to a tiebreak after Hewitt fought back to get on level terms.
However, two double faults from Hewitt in his final service game gifted Verdasco match point, before the Australian fired a backhand long to allow Spain to level the tie.
Earlier, world No.33 Gajdosova kicked off 2012 in fighting fashion, overcoming a slight blip in the second set to grind down world No.27 Medina Garrigues in 121 minutes.
"I was really nervous," Gajdosova said.
"It's my first match so it took a bit longer to get into a rhythm.
"My feet were a little bit slow in the second. My feet kind of stopped and she started playing better.
"But I picked it up in the third set.
"It's the first match and I'm glad how it went, and I'm glad it's over."
IT'S very early days, but Lleyton Hewitt is cautiously optimistic that his troublesome left foot will hold up to the rigours of professional tennis this year.
In his first competitive match since re-injuring his foot in September, Hewitt pushed Spain's Fernando Verdasco all the way on Sunday before losing 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
Australia went on to lose the tie 2-1 with Hewitt and Jarmila Gajdosova blowing a match point in the deciding mixed doubles.
But the tough loss was offset by the news that Hewitt's battered foot had held up as he sets his focus on another Australian Open campaign later in the month.
The veteran moved freely and showed no outward discomfort against Verdasco who, at No. 24 in the world, is ranked 162 places higher than his Australian opponent.
Although Hewitt admits that his foot still caused some pain, the former world No. 1 said it wasn't enough to keep him off the court.
''You have to try to block out the pain as much as possible and concentrate on what you need to do on the court, tactics and game plan and everything else that's going on out there,'' he said.
Lleyton Hewitt is keen to represent Australia at the London "Wimbledon" Olympics this year, but says he will not make a definitive call until he gets more time to assess how his troublesome left big toe holds up.
Hewitt successfully negotiated his way through three tough singles matches at Perth's Hopman Cup this week, moving well in each contest despite spending the previous three months injured on the sidelines.
After pushing world number 19 Richard Gasquet and world number 24 Fernando Verdasco to three sets, he finally earned his first singles win of the tournament when he downed China's Wu Di 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday night.
Hewitt, a proud Davis Cup combatant for Australia who also represented his country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2008 Beijing Games, said his big left toe was "hanging in there" and hoped his foot would not flare again this year.
"I'd like to play the Olympics," Hewitt said.
"I enjoy playing on grass so if the opportunity comes up then I would love to.
"My fitness has been good, which is a positive.
"But I'm just focusing on the Aussie (Open) at the moment.
"That's the priority and then we'll worry about the others later on."
The former world number one will play at the Sydney International starting on Sunday before this month's Australian Open, where he was forced to rely on a wildcard invitation after his ranking slipped to 186.
"I still play the game for the big tournaments," Hewitt said.
"You get an adrenaline buzz every time you step out there in a grand slam.
Lleyton Hewitt: I can match world's best in Australian Open
INSATIABLE as ever, Lleyton Hewitt says he's an unseeded player to avoid at this month's Australian Open.
Ranked a lowly 186th in the world after an injury-marred 2011, the wounded court warrior will be at the mercy of next Friday's draw for the season's opening grand slam in Melbourne.
But with a rare knack of returning at a high level after long stints out and after an encouraging return at this week's Hopman Cup, Hewitt rates himself the most dangerous floater in the men's 128-strong field.
"Out of all the unseeded guys that guys could draw, I'd like to think that I'd be probably be tougher than most of the others," he said on Saturday.
"Especially over five sets, because what I pride myself on is being able to go the distance."
This year's Open could well be Hewitt's home slam swan song as the 2005 runner-up continues to battle a debilitating toe injury.
But the 30-year-old father of three insists his appetite to compete remains as healthy as when he ruled tennis as the youngest-ever world No.1 a decade ago.
"The motivation's still there," Hewitt said.
"If it wasn't, it would be easy to give it away.
"If I wasn't prepared to do all the hard work in the gym and running sand hills and hours on the practice courts and all that, then I wouldn't be here. So obviously something is still motivating me.
"Sometimes small setbacks like the injuries and that make you hungrier and stronger to come back and you sort of miss competing.
"Even the Davis Cup tie at Royal Sydney only a few months ago, I had Federer a set and a break in that match and obviously had Wawrinka two sets to one and (Chris Guccione and I) won an unbelievable epic doubles (against Federer and Wawrinka).
"So for three days there, I matched it with the best players in the world and that probably motivates you more, knowing that you're not that far away.
"If I'm fully fit and feeling good, I can definitely push the best guys in the world. The hardest thing is going to be bouncing back and winning seven five-set matches in a row.
"But that's why you do all the fitness work, to put yourself in the position to do that."
Chasing an unprecedented fifth title at next week's Sydney International, Hewitt faces Serbian fifth seed Viktor Troicki in the opening round.
"I couldn't have asked for more at the the Hopman Cup, but the focus wasn't on the results," he said.
"It was more about getting out there and competing and getting into the groove and playing points again against quality players.
"Now it's about stepping it up this week in a competitive tournament here before Melbourne."
The fire and fight remain but the finish just wasn't there for Lleyton Hewitt, who may have bid farewell to his Sydney fans after a three-set first-round loss at Olympic Park on Tuesday.
Four-time champion Hewitt bowed out of the Sydney International 6-4 3-6 2-6 to world No.21 Viktor Troicki in a typically stoic performance.
Trailing 4-1 in the first set the former world No.1 wound back the clock with some vintage passes, reeling off five straight games to take the set.
Up a break in the second, the signs looked good for Hewitt to record his best win on tour since beating Gael Monfils at Wimbledon in 2010 but a faltering serve saw the match slip away for the former world No.1.
Hewitt will now head to Melbourne for his 16th consecutive Australian Open campaign.
But ranked No.182 in the world and at almost 31 years of age the sun is setting on the two-time grand slam winner's career, a recent toe injury far from helping his cause.
He said the toe was in much the same condition as when he played his first competitive match of the year against Spain's Fernando Verdasco at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
"It's no worse," he said.
"That's probably the biggest positive out of it.
"If I played (after the) first match against Verdasco and couldn't walk the next day that was going to be a worry, but it hasn't got any worse."
With one win from his four matches of the year but some positive signs most times he played Hewitt admitted being frustrated.
"But as I said, I didn't come to Perth or here with the highest expectations," he said.
"It was to try and get match-hardened as much as possible.
"Sure, I would've liked another match or two here for sure. But all said and done, I felt like any movements got better throughout the Hopman Cup. Then I think tonight was the best I moved - better than I moved in the Hopman Cup, which is a positive, because obviously my movement is such a big part of my game."
As for his future Hewitt was typically non-committal about his longer term plans only offering that he'd still like to play in Sydney again next year.
"At the moment I would like to," Hewitt said of playing the grand slam lead-in tournament again.
"Obviously my focus is on the Aussie Open next week.
"To tell you the truth, we got that and then two weeks later, a week and a half later the Davis Cup in Geelong. I haven't looked past that."
Q. You must have been very pleased after the first five games, that run between there when you were up a break in the second set. You played some terrific tennis.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I played well. There was a lot positive to take out of the match. Yeah, he's a tough competitor. He doesn't give you too many cheap points you out there. He's got a very big serve.
So I felt like I started getting into more of his service games. Obviously from the start I had never hit with or never played against him before, so took me a little while to read his game.
But, yeah, then I thought I was really in. My serve just went off a little bit when I was up that set and a break about halfway through that second set. That let me down a little bit, and then I just couldn't find my rhythm then throughout the third set on my serve.
He picked up his first serve percentage, and that made it a lot tougher for me.
Q. You were competitive in Perth, and here you're getting the wins. Do you feel frustrated?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Ah, it's a little bit frustrating. But as I said, I didn't come to Perth or here with the highest expectations. It was to try and get match hardened as much as possible.
Sure, I would've liked another match or two here for sure. But all said and done, I felt like any movements got better throughout the Hopman Cup. Then I think tonight was the best I moved‑‑ better than I moved in the Hopman Cup, which is a positive, because obviously my movement is such a big part of my game, so...
Q. During the course of a three‑set match, does your movement stay the same?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Pretty much I think tonight, yeah. You know, obviously it's going to be tougher next week over five sets as well.
Hopefully the next few days I just acclimatize to the conditions in Melbourne. Depending on who I play there, hopefully I come out and play well.
Q. Do you want to try to get a match at Kooyong or anything?
LLEYTON HEWITT: No, no.
Q. In terms of the toe, where do you put it at? 95%?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I don't know.
Q. Hard to put a number on it?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, very hard.
Q. Is it fairly better than the first match at Hopman?
LLEYTON HEWITT: It's no worse. That's probably the biggest positive out of it. If I played anywhere first match against Verdasco and couldn't walk the next day that was going to be a worry, but it hasn't got any worse.
Q. What do you do to recover? Ice the toe?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Um, few different things.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Sometimes. (Smiling.)
Q. Is it something that could go at any time? It's a bit of an unknown in the back of your mind?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Not sure of that either. It's very hard to put your finger on at the moment. Yeah, just trying to battle away as well as possible.
Q. Do you see yourself back here next year. Do you think you got another year?
LLEYTON HEWITT: At the moment I would like to. Yeah, at the moment I would. Obviously my focus is on the Aussie Open next week.
To tell you the truth, we got that and then two weeks later, a week and a half later the Davis Cup in Geelong. I haven't looked past.
You know, I've been trying two get my body as close to 100% as possible for those two things.
Q. Both Sam and Jelena have spoke about the pressure of winning in Australia. Both said they thought it very was tough here. As someone who has had success here yourself, can you understand what they're talking about?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I think everyone is different. See, I love it. 2005 year was unbelievable. I came here and everyone expected me to play well, and I won Sydney and played exceptional tennis the whole week there.
Then went to Melbourne and just rode a wave for two weeks. As I've said many times, I think it was the toughest Grand Slam draw that I've ever had, seven matches in a row against the guys that I had.
To come through to the final and be two sets away from winning the tournament, you know, I think I handled the pressure reasonably well.
Q. You feed off it. You understand how it can work the other way?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I mean, it comes back to personalities and situations, I think. Yeah, Andy Murray handles it pretty well in London.
You know, everyone says he hasn't won a slam yet, but keep making semifinals, you're giving yourself a chance every time.
Q. How does it feel to be going into an Australian Open without the same sort of expectations there have been in previous years for you?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, it doesn't really change a lot, though. You still go in, yeah, focus on your firstround match. Just like anything else, try and prepare as well as possible. I think I've done that.
The last few days have been good. Had some good, tough hitouts with quality players on Rod Laver Arena out there. I feel like I got a bit of confidence in the last couple of days.
Q. What do you know about your opponent?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Not a lot. I never played him. Never hit with him. He obviously had his breakout year last year. Yeah, I think he's going to get better as a player obviously. I think he's about 21 years old. He's going to get better.
I found out a bit about him just speaking to a few people, looking into a few things. Yeah, that's the good thing about playing over five sets, it gives you a little bit of time to work your opponent out out there.
Q. Do you watch any sort of video on a guy like that?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I've seen a little bit, yeah. I've seen enough.
Q. How is your mindset? How are you feeling in yourself, confidence, body coming to this event?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I feel all right. Yeah, it would have been nice to get a few more matches. But I think the matches that I lost, the three matches the last couple weeks, have been against quality guys, around 20 in the world or just inside. They were all tough threeset matches. That was a good thing leading into the potential of playing four, or fiveset matches. That gave me a bit more confidence in the back of my mind to at least have played those tough guys in those situations.
It would be nice to win in straight sets, but that's not always going to be the case.
Q. What do you think you need to do to take the extra step to beating those guys?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, you know, it's just hard. I haven't played a lot of matches. It was purely getting in those tough situations, I guess, of serving breakpoints down, playing the big points well, 30All points, stuff like that. I felt like, you know, against Troicki in Sydney, I ended up playing some really good tennis late in the first set, the start of the second set. Wasn't quite able to consolidate the break in the second set.
If I can go out and sort of extend on how I played the end of that first set and second set, hopefully that will hold me in good stead this week.
Q. How is the foot? Do you have to do anything to help and safeguard it?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I do a little bit of work every day on it, yeah.
Q. What about special shoes?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Not really, no.
Q. 10 years ago you came here as a defending Grand Slam champion. This year you come here as a wild card. A lot has happened in between that time. How different is that?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Not that different. As I said before, the first question, when I come to Grand Slams or big tournaments anyway, you're sort of in your own bubble a little bit. You're not worried about the outside talk or what it's really about. You're doing everything in your power just to be as ready as possible.
You know, this week has been no different. Rochey and I and my team behind me, we've done everything we can to obviously get my body and ballstriking and everything in as good a nick as possible, and it would have been the same 10 years ago.
Q. Is this the hardest slam? Big break at the end of the year. Difficult to come here without a lot of matches.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I don't know. It's slightly different for me because I've obviously been in Australia throughout December training in these conditions. It is in some ways. French Open, playing on clay, is pretty tough to go out and win seven bestoffiveset matches in those conditions.
Q. As somebody who backed up a No. 1 season at one time in your career, talk about what Djokovic is going through here, what you think the challenges of that are and how he will fare?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, I think he'll fare pretty good. He's a standout, except the last few weeks of last year when he was a bit fatigued, a bit tired at the end of the year. Obviously Roger stepped up, was feeling a bit fresher.
When the big tournaments were there to be won last year, he was the standout player. He's definitely the guy to beat going into this year. I think this kind of surface suits his game pretty well, too, here in Melbourne.
You know, it's going to be hard for everyone coming up against Novak.
Q. How about the year ahead for you? Do you still have the same hunger for the game?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, absolutely at the moment. Yeah, we got a Davis Cup tie a couple weeks after this in Geelong. Most of my focus has been on trying to get the body right and get some matches before coming in here to Melbourne. I haven't really focused on where I'm going and playing too much after here right at the moment.
Q. With this being an Olympic year, especially it being at Wimbledon where you've had a lot of success in the past, is that a goal for you?
LLEYTON HEWITT: It would be nice to play there if I get the chance. If I'm feeling fully fit, obviously. Yeah, Wimbledon is a special place to play anytime. But obviously, you know, first Olympics to play on grass. It's probably my favorite surface, as well, to play on. There's not a whole lot of guys that play extremely well on grass either.
Yeah, it would be great anytime to play for Australia.
Q. You had a lot of success playing doubles early in your career. With you and Sam Stosur being elite doubles players, is that a partnership you would consider if that was a way for you to compete?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I haven't even thought about it, mate. I'd be going for men's doubles before mixed.
Q. Why would you make that choice?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Guccione and I have played some pretty good doubles recently. We beat two guys named Federer and Wawrinka last time we played on the same surface we play Wimbledon on. I reckon that should give us a bit of confidence.
Q. Were you at the players meeting yesterday and can you tell us how the players are feeling about the scheduling and prize money issues?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I was there for a bit. Yeah, I'm not going to go into it right now, though. Right at the moment I'm here to focus on the Australian Open. For me it's not a big deal right at the moment.
Q. A branding question. You're wearing a hat with your signature move on it. They were selling them in Perth. Is this a merchandising line you're trying to do?
LLEYTON HEWITT: No, I just thought it would look good for me (smiling).