Will J. B. defend his title in Sidney? Great lineup for it - so it'll be a little tough and tricky. Lordy be - two weeks away from live tennis.
Hewitt no longer leading light
By Nikki Tugwell
December 02, 2006 12:00
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LLEYTON Hewitt's bid for a fifth Medibank International title will be unaccompanied by favouritism for the first time since his teenage years.
Hewitt was yesterday seeded only seventh for the January 7-13 tournament – a reflection of the strong field and his slide down the world rankings.
The 25-year-old former world No. 1 has been top seed in Sydney for the past wo years. World No. 2 Rafael Nadal is this year's top seed, followed by Nikolay Davydenko, James Blake, Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych and sixth seed Richard Gasquet.
Hewitt, currently world No. 20, started last season at world No. 4.
"For the first time ever the Medibank International will host three of the world's top four men players," tournament director Craig Watson said.
"Rafael Nadal ranked two, Nikolay Davydenko ranked three and our titleholder and world No. 4 James Blake will spearhead a fantastic cast of stars."
Nadal was set to headline the tournament last year but was forced to make a last-minute withdrawal with a foot injury. The problem later prevented him from playing at the Australian Open.
The dynamic Wimbledon finalist won five titles in 2006, including the French Open for the second straight year, and maintained his place as one of the game's most recognisable stars.
The same could be said of Baghdatis, who won the hearts of fans at this year's Australian Open with his flamboyant style.
The charm, charisma and playful demeanour of the young Cypriot with the bandana and scraggly beard brought the Open to life after Hewitt's second-round demise.
The meteoric rise from obscurity of the unseeded, unheralded and then almost unheard-of Baghdatis continued this year, resulting in a world No. 12 ranking.
For Davydenko – representing Russia in the Davis Cup final against Argentina – his No. 3 ranking is a career high, while reigning Medibank International champion Blake has also had his best year.
Blake won four more titles after Sydney and capped off the season by qualifying for his first Tennis Masters Cup, reaching the decider. He was beaten in the final in Shanghai by Roger Federer 6-0 6-3 6-4.
Among other notables joining the field are former finalist Carlos Moya and former Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement.
"This men's line-up complements our women's field superbly," said Watson.
This week nine of the women's top 10 were confirmed as starters at the Medibank International, in what organisers describe as the strongest field in the century-long history of the former NSW Open tournament.
Heading up the field are world No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo and former world No. 1s Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters, together with Australian stars Alicia Molik and Samantha Stosur.
Interview w/Rafa below. I didn't want to start a new thread. He's asked about James.
J.B. hired a new man for his team.