The home stretch

Reaching out: Lleyton Hewitt stretches for a shot at Kooyong on Wednesday.LLEYTON Hewitt will spend the year travelling with his pal Peter Luczak, the promoted hitting partner who will effectively co-coach the dual grand slam champion in tandem with the more stay-at-home veteran Tony Roche. There will be golf (Hewitt off a handicap of seven, Luczak off nine), dinners, practice. It will be comfortable, and fun.

As an end approaches for Hewitt that will arrive sometime in the next few seasons, he is fit and pain-free enough to enjoy his tennis again, and looking optimistically ahead to a season in which the popular Luczak will be his on-the-road partner, as he has often been on the practice court.

”It’s always important to have people around you that you trust and get along well with, and he knows my game and what makes me tick as well,” Hewitt said after his 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7-3) defeat of world No. 15 Milos Raonic at Kooyong’s AAMI Classic.

”So I have a lot of confidence in him with that. Plus, he knows my strengths and weaknesses and how to get the best out of me. He’s a very positive guy as well, which is a good thing, so it’s going to be a bit of fun. I’ve always got along extremely well with ‘Looch’, tried to help him out as much as possible when he was playing, and obviously we’re pretty close family friends, too.”

Roche will continue to travel to the Davis Cup ties and grand slam tournaments, and to help Hewitt during the grasscourt season. ”So I get both of them, and they get along extremely well, which is great for me,” he said.

Much has been written about Hewitt’s fused big toe, which has left him with ”a lot of metal plates and screws in there and I can’t move it”, but there is also a load off his mind to be playing without the need for a pain-killing jab before he could even warm-up.

”I don’t know how many injections I had last January; it was just getting out of control. So in terms of mentally, I can just focus on that I need to do and my game, which is a lot. It’s refreshing,” he said.

”There’s no stress or extra pressure about my body at the moment, which just leaves me with a clear mind. It just makes you happier to be out there doing the hard work and not grimacing every time you’ve got to do something.

”I’ve always prided myself on being pretty tough mentally – even when I was 20 and world No. 1, I felt like I won so many matches through mental toughness back then, and doing the right things, and those one-percenters really got me across the line in so many close matches. I don’t think that’s changed that much; I still believe in myself and back myself out there. But I feel like when the going gets tough I’m there, and I enjoy those moments.”

Yet if it is more than a decade since Hewitt won the second of his two singles grand slams, and there will not be another, one of the only other two men not named Federer, Djokovic or Nadal to own a major out of the past 27 – Juan Martin del Potro – can appreciate even more the size of his achievement in claiming the 2009 US Open. Del Potro has since suffered wrist, knee and hip injuries but returned to a world ranking of No. 7, and although he is yet to reach another grand slam final, ”maybe in this tournament or in this year, another name can win,” he said after a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu in difficult, windy conditions at Kooyong.

”I need many things to be there, but I am working to be a better player day by day,” said del Potro.

”I found the experience against them in the grand slams, I made semi-finals in [the ATP World Tour finals] London. I got the bronze medal in the Olympics and I know it’s very tough to beat them in grand slams.

”But I have confidence in myself to try to do it again in this tournament or the future.”

Earlier, world No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic succumbed to a tendon injury in his right arm that had been bothering him during his run to the title in Chennai last week, and left for hospital for an MRI scan after retiring at 0-1 in the second set against Marcos Baghdatis, having dropped the first 6-1.

From the original field, Juan Monaco (hand) withdrew on Monday and Kei Nishikori (knee) on Tuesday night.

Tennis Australia has secured an extension of its sponsorship deal with Kia Motors, for a reported $50 million over five years. The original contract was for $36 million from 2008.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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