Mighty Mouse will test Lleyton
DON’T be fooled by the fact Lleyton Hewitt has drawn a qualifier in his opening round of the Australian Open tomorrow.
US’s Michael Russell, who goes by the moniker of Mighty Mouse, is no one’s idea of an easybeat.
While an underdone Hewitt goes into his home grand slam battling a calf injury and adjusting to life with a new coach, his opponent is flying.
After finally overcoming a string of knee and hamstring injuries that kept him off the tour for the best part of four years, the American is back on the cusp of the top 100.
He won his past two Challenger tournaments in Hawaii and Noumea, dropping just 10 games in five matches in the latter event in early January.
Russell, 28, breezed through the Australian Open qualifiers, belting another South Australian Paul Baccanello 6-2 6-1 in the final round.
Back in 2001, Russell advanced from qualifying to the fourth round of the French Open, beating two-time former champion Sergi Bruguera and Xavier Malisse along the way.
Awaiting him in the round of 16 was claycourt king Gustavo Kuerten, a Brazilian by birth but a player so adored by the French fans he once drew a heart with his racquet on Roland Garros’ centre court.
Russell eventually went down in five sets, but not before holding match point against the man who would go on to win his third French Open title.
“You’re so close to beating the No.1 player in the world on the biggest stage and at the same time you don’t and you lose,” Russell said yesterday.
“I took a lot of positives out of it but obviously there were a couple of negatives.”
Russell has played Hewitt once before and was on the end of a 6-1 6-1 drubbing in Tokyo in 2001 when the Australian was the world No.1.
This time he has form and match fitness on his side.
“I’m playing really well but obviously Lleyton is a great competitor and he doesn’t give you anything,” Russell said.
“I consider myself a great competitor too so I think there will be a lot of great rallies.
“I’m good at mixing the pace, I play a bit like a Spanish-type player.
“I’m very quick around the court, my fitness is really good and I know it’s supposed to be pretty hot on Tuesday.”
Russell is also hopeful he can take advantage of Hewitt’s abbreviated build up, with the No.19 seed only playing one-and-a-half matches since September.
“His preparation maybe wasn’t the best for this tournament,” Russell said.
“But the thing is he’s a great competitor.
“He’s been No.1 in the world and he’s a professional, so I’m sure he’s going to be playing at his best or at least trying to on Tuesday.”