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Payback time for hard-working Hewitt

PTI | ByAllan Kelly (AFP), Paris
May 30, 2004 02:08 PM IST

Lleyton Hewitt has quietly made it through the first week and is into the last 16 after yet another win over Martin Verkerk of Netherlands.

He's put in the hard work and now its payback time for Lleyton Hewitt at the French Open.

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The former World No.1 has quietly made it through the first week and is into the last 16 after yet another come-from-behind, five-sets win over last year's beaten finalist, Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands.

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There's still a long way to go he insists, and an armada of clay-court specialists stand in his way but his chances are real, the Australian feels.

"I feel as good as I ever have on clay and especially at this tournament," said Hewitt, whose best performance here to date was a quarter-final loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in 2001.

"Going into the second week is not going to get any easier, but I am pretty happy where my game is. I played more matches this year on clay coming into Paris."

Australia's first round Davis Cup loss to weden was one reason why Hewitt was able to spend more time on European clay ahead of Roland Garros, making it his priority for the year as he attempts to add the third leg of a career Grand Slam after his wins at Wimbledon and the US Open.

The big question mark will be over how much he can step up his game and go on the offensive during the week to come.

Against the explosive Verkerk, Hewitt took on the counter-puncher role, waiting patiently until the big Dutchman had used up all his ammunition early in the fourth set before stepping in to take command.

"For about an hour and half I wasn't getting a look in on his service game and then on your service games he just comes out and smacks a few," he said.

"I was just trying to hang in there and wait for my opportunity and when I got that break in the fourth I stepped up a gear."

Next up for Hewitt could be an old rival in the form of gritty 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa of Spain who was two sets to one up and 5-5 in the fourth when fading light pushed his tie's conclusion against Xavier Malisse of Belgium into Sunday.

Hewitt famously defeated Costa in five sets to help lift the Davis Cup for Australia in Barcelona in 2000, but he lost to him at the same fourth round stage in 2002 before the Spaniard went on to win the title.

"Albert has won here before and he loves long matches," said Hewitt.

The battler from Adelaide is also adept at long matches and in one week's time he hopes to be able to say he has won in Paris.

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