Melbourne: Lleyton Hewitt will enter the record books as he embarks on a 15th Australian Open campaign, a feat made even sweeter by his 7-5, 6-3 defeat of Gael Monfils to win the Kooyong Classic.
While Hewitt, 29, is a seasoned veteran at the Grand Slam venue of Melbourne Park, where he reached the 2005 final against Marat Safin, he was a newcomer to the Kooyong club, having not previously played the Open warmup.
Hewitt had never ventured onto the storied courts of the Kooyong club, the home of the Open until just over two decades ago.
But he skipped ATP events this month, counting instead on three guaranteed matches at both the Hopman Cup in Perth and Kooyong as his warmup for the Australian Open.
“I didn’t know I’ll be setting a record (15 Opens in a row). But it’s kind of amazing when you think about it,” Hewitt said.
“I’ve only had one Open (2002 after chicken pox) when I feel I shouldn’t have played. But you would cut off your leg rather than not play at Melbourne Park.”
“This is about as good a preparation as I could have done,” said Hewitt, who started pre-season training 10 weeks ago with coach Tony Roche after recovering from a wrist injury.”
“My game is right where I want it to be. I feel good. Ten weeks ago Rochey and I sat down and decided what we wanted to work on, where we wanted my game to be.”
“I’ve done the best preparation possible. I respect Rochey and I’m happy to have him in my corner.”
Monfils was troubled in the second set by a muscle problem in his lower back which he hopes will not affect his Australian Open.
“I’m tired, I’d say,” said the Frenchman. “I played two big matches here. Today it was tough against Lleyton. I felt the problem when I was up a break, then I felt it a bit more later.”
“I hope it’s not major. I still have to see my physio. I would say that I played with less conviction in the second set, some of the time I was trying to test my back.”
He said he hoped a day off on Sunday would help him reach full fitness for the start of the Open, where he is 12th seed and will begin his campaign against Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker.
Hewitt said that his current top fitness is what is making the difference to his game this year.
“It always helps when the body feels good. I’m enjoying getting out of bed with no aches and pains,” he said.
“It’s a lot better than 12 months ago (when he had hip surgery after an Australian Open loss). There are a lot of tough matches next week, but I feel ready.”
The Australian veteran said that he has been able to do all the work required to whip his game into shape and will not be dreading his showcase start at the Open against Argentine David Nalbandian.
The match is a replay of the 2002 Wimbledon final won by the Australian.
Nalbandian lost the Auckland ATP final on Saturday to Spain’s David Ferrer.