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Hewitt finds form after slide from the top

Lleyton Hewitt's slide from the top of the men's tennis rankings has come as quickly as one of his sprints across the court.
PTI | By Jim Slater (AFP), New York
PUBLISHED ON AUG 29, 2003 10:12 AM IST

Lleyton Hewitt's slide from the top of the men's tennis rankings has come as quickly as one of his sprints across the court.

But after losing to a qualifier in his Wimbledon opener and going a mediocre 5-3 and hardcourts after that, the 22-year-old Australian speedster has found the form to make a run at his third Grand Slam title here at the US Open.

"I have given myself every opportunity of playing well here, whether it happens or not," Hewitt said. "I've started well enough, got to keep it going.

"At the moment I'm not quite peaking. But I'm not too far away from it."

Hewitt defeated South Korea's Lee Hyung-Taik 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 Thursday to reach the third round on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts, booking a Saturday date with Czech Radek Stepanek, whom he ousted from January's Australian Open.

"He started really well, sort of lost his way halfway through the first set," Hewitt recalled of Stepanek. "I was able to get confident and play some of my best tennis in that match.

"He returns extremely well. He moves very well. He has an all-court game. He mixes a lot. He likes coming in and playing with a bit of bluff. I have to go out there and play my game and stay aggressive."

Hewitt won his first Slam crown here in 2001 and captured Wimbledon last year, but was ousted by Andre Agassi in last year's US Open semi-finals. Hewitt could meet Agassi, the new world number one, in the semis again this year.

"He doesn't have a big serve but he kept me thinking, changing angles and such to keep me off balance," Lee said after his loss. "I wouldn't be surprised (if Hewitt won the Open). He has won two Slams before."

The more momentum Hewitt builds, the more of a threat he becomes.

"If I get toward the quarters or the semis, that's when I'm most dangerous," Hewitt said. "I know what you have to do to win Slams. If I get myself into the second week and get my confidence going, I have been in that situation before."

Having plunged from the top seed at the past seven Slams, Hewitt has been bolstered by strong practice sessions against countryman Mark Philippoussis, Britain's Tim Henman and Swiss Wimbledon winner Roger Federer.

"I have been hitting the ball a lot better in practice. I have got to take that over into the match," Hewitt said. "This is the big time. This is what gets you motivated. You want to go and save your best for these tournaments.

"You need a little bit of luck with the draw probably opening up a bit, and taking your chances when you get them. Even when I lost the last couple weeks, I played a set and a half of good tennis. I just haven't taken my chances."

"You try to put the losses to the back of your mind and work even harder to perform well in the big events.

"For me, it's a good opportunity to forget some of those losses."

The one he wants to live down most is being beaten by qualifier Ivo Karlovic to become the first Wimbledon champion ousted in the first round.

"I'm going to try to bounce back. I know what to do to win Slams. The memories will come flooding back," Hewitt said.

"When I have had little hiccups, I think I've bounced back from them pretty well. I'm mentally tough, probably one of the more mentally tough players out there. That's one reason I've been able to achieve everything I have so far."

With top-ranked Agassi and ATP Champions Race leader Andy Roddick stealing the spotlight so far, Hewitt has escaped the glare for the first time in years.

"People are talking about guys who are in better form going in," he said. "Hopefully this year I can go out and give everything I've got again.

"Might be good enough."

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