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Hewitt hell-bent on return to the top

Ossian Shine | January 04, 2004 18:09 IST

The world number one spot couldn't matter less to Lleyton Hewitt. The Australian's eyes flash defiantly when he says it.

But as the 2004 tennis season explodes into action Down Under, Hewitt's preparations for the year already betray a very different feeling.

2003 was a year in which he was toppled from his place at the head of the rankings and left without a Grand Slam title in his possession. Now the 22-year-old is determined to put things right.

While the rankings may not be paramount in his mind, major success is -- and with Grand Slam titles comes ranking points.

In the last few months, Hewitt has packed more power into his 1.80 metres frame, adding bulk to his wiry body.

While he says he does not care about being top of the rankings, he is certainly determined not to be blown off court by the present incumbent of that exalted position Andy Roddick.

Hewitt will not be cowed by Roddick. Not by the American nor anyone else.

"A ranking's just a ranking, mate," he said in the western Australian city of Perth on Sunday as he fine tunes his game for an assault on the Australian Open in two weeks' time.

"I couldn't care less about that."

The ATP's current list shows Hewitt at number 17 in the world but that is not a position which worries the Australian.

"I know how well I can play when I want to," he smiled. "And I have been training hard."

BEEFED-UP BASELINER

The beefed-up baseliner certainly has his focus firmly on success. A disappointing 2003 season was saved at the death by a Davis Cup triumph for Hewitt.

But the blond battler has no intention of leaving it so late this season before winning another big one. The Australian Open is in his sights.

Listed in the official ATP guide as weighing 68 kilograms, Hewitt has added "maybe four" kilograms to that weight as he looks to make himself tougher to beat.

A smouldering serve and rattling groundstrokes guided Roddick to the U.S. Open in September.

Andre Agassi won the Australian Open by being Andre Agassi while Roger Federer won Wimbledon by producing a game of such sublime touch and intuition that perhaps only the Swiss could draw on.

Hewitt knows what he is good at. He knows the game which lifted him to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns and the world number one spot.

It is a game based on strength, both physical and mental, and it is that strength the Australian has been working on.

Hewitt is in Perth for the ITF Hopman Cup, a mixed team competition guaranteeing plenty of match play before the Open.

He is in good company. Former world number one Marat Safin is also in the western Australian city as well as James Blake of the U.S. and Czech Jiri Novak.

Blake's friend and Davis Cup team mate Roddick is heading to the Gulf to kick off his season.

The American, a strong favourite for the event, is drawn against Russia's Nikolay Davydenko for his opening match of the $1 million Qatar Open in Doha.

Roddick flies into Australia next week for a couple of explosive clashes at Kooyong, the former venue for the Australian Open.

These days it acts as a warm-up event for the Melbourne Park extravaganza and Roddick will be joined by Federer and Agassi on the old club's hard courts.


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