Hewitt hopes to hone his game to perfection in Indianapolis
by Bill Scott
INDIANAPOLIS -- Top seed Lleyton Hewitt has the perfect chance to fine-tune his big-match preparation as top seed at the RCA Championships.
The world No. 1 is naturally looking ahead to his major date on court in New York beginning in a fortnight. And the hardcourts of the Indianapolis Tennis Center can provide a good test of form for the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion.
Hewitt, along with the other leading seeds, is the beneficiary of a first-round bye, with his second-round match coming against either Spain's Alberto Martin or Swedish veteran Magnus Larsson.
While certainly not discounting the Indianapolis week, Australia's Hewitt has his thoughts on Flushing Meadow. After all, a Grand Slam title defense is no small matter. Indy will be his last event before a practice week prior to the Open.
"It's important to take a week off before," said Hewitt. "I want to be gradually improving for the big one."
The Australian is sure to be a popular autograph attraction for young fans this week. And the 21-year-old can remember the time when for him, Andre Agassi - now a rival - was the king of tennis.
"I've still got a poster on the wall of my garage at home of him. Growing up, he was the kind of personality who fitted right into my attitude. I'm able to draw confidence form a guy like him who's won all four majors."
While Hewitt's stock is rising, it's been a downhill roll for Russian second seed Marat Safin this summer in North America, with early exits at the Toronto Masters and a first-round thrashing by Briton Greg Rusedski a week ago.
The Russian had not lost in the first round for 12 previous events until he ran into the Briton.
"I have no game, I have no confidence," complained Safin. "I played terrible, I don't have the shot to beat any of these guys. I haven't lost my focus - I've lost my (entire) game. I don't feel the tennis, it's really sad."
Safin, also with a bye, could try to start turning it around in the second round against the winner between a qualifier and Ramon Delgado of Paraguay.
Germany's third seed Tommy Haas is also coming off an upset loss. The third seed is burdened with shoulder problems and was troubled by them as he lost last week to American veteran Michael Chang in the first round. Haas goes against either American Robby Ginepri or Magnus Norman, the Swede who won ten titles in 1999 and 2000 but who is still not 100 percent after hip surgery a year ago.
Russian veteran Yevgeny Kafelnikov is starting to feel his age and was not happy to come to town after another easy defeat.
Kafelnikov, 28, has said he could happily end his career with Russia's first-ever Davis Cup title in December, which would hinge on a victory against Argentina in Moscow next month.
"I'm in the middle right now, in an undecided period," the two-time Grand Slam champion said of his retirement possibilities. "It's a nice feeling when you are in great shape, competing hard and feel like you are unbeatable. On the other hand, when you are running out of steam, it's the worst feeling losing to the guys you are not supposed to lose to."
Here is a preview of Marat's match tomorrow from rcatennis.com:
2-Marat Safin (Russia) VS. Stefan Koubek (Austria)
Marat Safin is something of an enigma on the tennis tour - he's got the goods to be the best player on the world, but seems to lack the consistency to get the deed done.
One day brilliant, one day not so brilliant - is that to be the legend of this Russian star.
It was only last week in Cincinnati when Safin fumbled in the first round to a capable Greg Rusedski. After the loss, Safin bared his soul to the media, admitting he has no idea what is going wrong in his game and therefore, has no concept as how to fix it.
Last year, Safin was playing for the world No. 1 spot in the season finale Tennis Masters Cup, but Lleyton Hewitt walked away with the honors.
Early this year, in the final of the Australian Open, Safin was so much the clear-cut favorite that no one really gave Swede Thomas Johansson a fighting chance. But Safin looked like a stranger in a strange land and Johansson became the first Grand Slam champion of the year. There's no denying that Safin needs to pick up the pace and a good showing here in Indy would work wonders. He feels comfortable here having been a semifinalist in 2001 and a finalist in 2000, so this would be the place to start pulling his game together.
His opponent Stefan Koubek is a qualifier at the event, but don't underestimate his abilities. The Austrian has had some success on the tour and if he senses an opponent is feeling vulnerable, he will go in for the kill.
Even if not on top of his game, Safin should see third round action with a straight sets victory over Koubek.