LONDON: It is a moment only a handful of the world’s best ever get a chance to experience and Lleyton Hewitt is relishing the imminent arrival of his turn to savour it.
Walking out on to Wimbledon’s centre court as defending champion is exactly the kind of thrill the Australian dreamed off as he honed the skills and extraordinary mental resilience that have driven him to the top of the men’s game.
Now, as Monday’s start to the defence of the title that means more to him than any other, the first tingles of nervous excitement have begun to kick in.
“Its going to be a special momement,” the 22-year-old said. “Winning that final last year was something I’d dreamed about it and that’s what comes with it. It’s part of the tradition of winning the tournament here.
“Its a buzz just to walk in the place – you can feel the tradition. If there is one place I’d like to walk back in as champion it’s here. It’s a real special feeling.”
Although Hewitt lost his world number one ranking to Andre Agassi last week, his superior recent record on grass has seen him installed as the top seed.
The draw however has not been kind to him.
His task in getting through the second round looks to have been made easier with the withdrawal of his likely opponent Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion, who called off on Tuesday after being beaten in the first round of the ATP tournament in Holland citing an unspecified injury.
Hewitt’s quarter of the draw contains Taylor Dent, Belarussian Max Mirnyi, Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan and Andy Roddick, the player he is seeded to meet in the last eight.
Hewitt admits the draw looks about as tough as any he has been handed in a Grand Slam since ascending to the top of the men’s game, although he is understandably wary of looking beyond his opening encounter.
“A lot depends on how it pans out. A lot of Grand Slam draws can look tough at the beginning and then open up.”
Despite his early exit from Queen’s, where he had won for the previous three years, Hewitt strikes a bullish tone when asked to assess the current state of his game.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I’d like last week but since then in practice I feel like I’ve stepped it up a notch or two.
“I’m where I want to be and hopefully I can just keep it going until Monday.”
Many observers have detected an attempt by Hewitt to curb the more aggressive manifestations of his competitive edge. The famous fist-pumping after winners is rarely directed towards an opponent, as sometimes it was in the past.
But if he has changed, Hewitt insists he has not done so consciously.
“It (the fist-pumping) was never something I felt was directed at any opponent although some people say that was the case.
“It is not something I consciously think about.”
The competitive drive, he says, is such an ingrained part of his character that he cannot recall a time when he was without it.
“I don’t know where it comes from but I’ve got that never-say-die attitude that means it doesn’t matter what situation I’m in I still believe I can pull through and get out of there.” – AFP