Melbourne: Lleyton Hewitt put the final polish on his Australian Open preparation Saturday with victory in the Kooyong Classic in his first appearance at the event.
The two-time Grand Slam champion downed injured Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the eight-man exhibition event.
Hewitt, 29, who is heading into his record 15th straight Australian Open on Monday, had never ventured onto the famous courts of the Kooyong club, the former home of the Open.
But Hewitt altered his longtime Open preparation schedule by playing at the Hopman Cup in Perth followed by Kooyong this month and the payoff came in the form of a sweet ending for the world number 54.
Monfils was troubled in the second set by a muscle problem in his lower back which he hopes will not impact on 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, accompanied on the sidelines post-match by two of his three children, Mia and Cruz, was pleased to have won at one of the most famous clubs in Australian tennis.
"They`ve been trying to get me here for a long time," Hewitt said.
"Thankfully, I got to play this year, I remember watching Pat Cash and Mikael Pernfors play here (1986 Australia-Sweden Davis Cup final).”
"It means a lot for me to play on this court and have wins against a couple of quality players.”
"It always helps when the body feels good. I`m enjoying getting out of bed with no aches and pains. 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."
Hewitt goes into his first-round challenge at Melbourne Park against Argentine David Nalbandian buoyed by the victory over Monfils.
Nalbandian, by contrast, lost the ATP final in Auckland on Saturday.
Hewitt is riding a wave of confidence after more than two months of hard training for the Open with coach Tony Roche after injuring a wrist in Davis Cup play last September.
He completed the win over Monfils in just under 90 minutes after a rollercoaster opening set.
Hewitt raced away to a 5-2 lead only to be pegged back by the athletic Monfils, who saved a set point and broke as Hewitt served for the set leading 5-3.
Two more breaks followed, with Hewitt finally putting the set away after 52 minutes on his fifth chance.
Once Monfils lost momentum in the second set, it was one-way traffic for Hewitt, who broke twice in the sprint to victory.
Hewitt won his first ATP title in 1998 as a teenager and has lifted at least one trophy every year since, save one.