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July 26, 2002

Lleyton Hewitt

GREG SHARKO: Good afternoon to everyone and thank you for joining us for today's conference call with Lleyton Hewitt. Next week Lleyton returns to action in the Tennis Masters Toronto where he'll take his 14-match winning streak into the tournament. This will be Lleyton's first appearance since capturing his second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon on July 7th. Following Toronto, Lleyton will play the Western and Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, followed by the RCA Championships in Indianapolis. For the season, Lleyton Hewitt has a 39-7 match record with four titles, the Siebel Open in San Jose, Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Queen's Club in London and, of course, the Wimbledon championships, becoming the first Aussie to win there since Pat Cash in 1987. So thank you again for joining in on the call and at this time I will open it up for questions.

Q. I wondered if you could tell us how you're feeling since you withdrew from Los Angeles because of a viral problem. Can you tell us how you feel?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I feel a little bit better now. Yeah, I didn't pick up a racquet until a couple of days ago. You know, sort of got it pretty much straight after Wimbledon. Pretty much a letdown feeling. I probably waited a week or so to see a doctor, and then, you know, I'd been speaking to doctors back in Australia. Then when I was in Belgium, I went and saw the doctor and they prescribed some antibiotics for me that I had to take at the time. I couldn't do any exercise at all. So it was obviously disappointing. You know, I feel like I'm better now. I feel fresh at the moment. Hopefully come Monday or Tuesday when I have to play, I'll be a hundred percent and, you know, be able to put everything on the line again.

Q. Did you lose any weight? What kind of effect has it left you with?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I don't think so. You know, I wasn't able to eat an awful lot. Ate pretty much fruit, sort of milk and water was basically my diet for a few days there. I couldn't have any sort of heavy foods or anything, and that was tough. But, you know, now I'm sort of back on track again. You know, I feel like, you know, I'm fighting fit at the moment and hopefully I'm able to continue that, you know, through this whole American summer now.

Q. Do you feel having missed LA, that will put your training back? Obviously, you would have loved to play LA to get that match toughness on the hard courts again. What will it be like playing your first hard court tournament after Wimbledon?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, it's always going to be tough. Last couple of years I don't think I've peaked really until the US Open. You know, the Canadian and Cincinnati and Indianapolis, I haven't played my best tennis I haven't felt the last couple of years, and it's taken me a little while to adjust from the grass to the hard court season. You know, come US Open the last couple years, I've peaked pretty much. I couldn't play much better, you know, making a semi and then going on and winning it last year. You know, sure, that was my plan, to play LA and get more matches. You know, I've got to reschedule now. Now I want to get as many matches as I can before the US Open. It's a good place to start. It's going to be still three extremely tough tournaments. I'll need to go out there and, you know, get all the matches and the match toughness before going into The Open again.

Q. Why has Canada not been a good place for you to put up some victories?

LLEYTON HEWITT: It's hard to say. You know, I like playing there. But, you know, the court surface, I felt last year, was just lightning quick in Montreal, the court surface. It was hard coming off the grass and, you know, trying to get some rhythm back on hard court with the courts being so quick. I didn't find two years ago when I played in Toronto that being the case. You know, I'm looking forward to getting back there. You know, it should suit my game. It's really hard to say. You know, as I said before, it's taken me a little bit of time to, you know, get my footwork, get everything clicking again on the hard courts. You know, I've started in Toronto the last couple years, and maybe that's the reason why. You know, I can't do much about it this year. I was hoping to play LA and get some matches coming into two Masters Series events. Too late now. It's a minor setback. But I still feel like I'm fresh enough to do well.

Q. How long were you off the court with your virus? Was it the week after Wimbledon you stopped practicing pretty much?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I haven't practiced -- I didn't practice until about, you know, two days ago. Didn't pick up a racquet. What's that, two, two and a half weeks I guess after Wimbledon. Two and a half weeks, about that.

Q. A general question about men's tennis. I know Venus was quoted a few weeks ago saying she doesn't think it's very exciting. What do you think about it?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I think it's pretty good. Obviously, I'm sitting on the top of it at the moment. But there's a lot of young guys coming up. It's sort of that transition period, I guess, where, you know, people are going to have to start getting used to a lot of younger names that maybe people haven't heard of yet coming up and winning big tournaments. You know, it's not just this year that it's happened. You see Kuerten coming out and winning three French Opens the last three or four years, you've got Costa winning, that's a new name, on the clay you've got Ferrero pushing every time, Safin and myself winning Slams on hard courts and now myself on grass at Wimbledon, Roger Federer winning big tournaments on clay. There's a lot of young guys coming up. Roddick is another one, you know, an American. Sort of the ATP has been trying to get this whole next generation, changing the guard sort of thing going, I think at least a year and a half or so now. You know, it's slowly starting to happen. I think the public and the media have got to come to expect that. Obviously Sampras and Agassi, who you've seen so much at the top of the game for so many years now, you know, age is a factor. There's nothing much you can do about that. I still think they've got good matches left in them, no doubt about that, a lot of good tournaments left in them. But whether they're going to be around in five years' time, that's another question.

Q. Following up on that last question, the state of men's tennis, the parity, depth and balance, what do you think has gone into this? You're No. 1. Is it as hard to dominate now as ever? Anyone can kind of beat anyone?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, for sure. You know, you've got to be on your game. I think we all have seen that probably more so in the Australian Open earlier in the year and also, you know, at Wimbledon this year where anyone can beat anyone on any given day on any surface these days. You know, it's seven tough matches. You know, we don't get the 40-minute matches going through to the quarterfinal. It's as simple as that. Going into -- at the French Open, I was playing matches, you know, four hours long against qualifiers in the second and third round. You know, the type of depth that's in men's tennis at the moment. You know, that's why there's a lot of new names that I think the public, you know, haven't really seen a lot of coming out and, you know, making Round of 16s and quarterfinals in big tournaments these days.

Q. I think around the world after the last 12 months you've gotten a lot of respect for everything that you've done, appreciation, all that. How are things back home? I know the media in Australia are still somewhat slow to warm to you. You're always probably going to be compared to Patrick Rafter. How has the reception been back home lately?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, you know, I haven't been back since February basically, since the start of the year. So, you know, I'm not sure at the moment. But, you know, every time I go back home, it's an incredible reception. You know, the public is all over me back home. You know, it's a great feeling to have. Whenever I have to play a Davis Cup tie there or the whole Australian summer during January, it's an incredible feeling. It's my favorite time of the year, to go back and play in front of, you know, friends and family back there and get the reception that I've got, you know, every time I step on the tennis court. You know, even with some of the awards that I won, how well I did last year, you know, that means a lot, you know, to win a lot of people's choice awards and stuff like this. That really means a lot to me because that's coming, you know, not from any judges, you know, that's coming from the public. I think that means more than anything.

Q. Now that you are No. 1, is there any more pressure or expectation that you are sort of the main ambassador for tennis in dealings with the public, media, things like that?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Oh, I don't know. I'm sure there's a lot more things that I have to do. That comes with the territory. There's not a lot you can do about it. You've got to, you know, deal with it as well as possible. But, you know, also I don't want to lose the reason why I, you know, got to No. 1. I've won two Slams already at the age of 21. That's because I go out there and I don't want to lose sight of working hard, giving a hundred percent, not only in all my matches but on the practice court, as well. That's one of the main reasons why I think I've been able to get here and have so many big wins at such a young age.

Q. You have the No. 1 ranking, you won two of the last four Slams. Do you think you're definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now? You talked about how wide open it is. Do you think you are No. 1?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I think at the moment, you know, I'm 2000 points ahead on the entry system. That's the rankings that I go by. At the moment, you know, it's hard to argue I think. I've come out, had an incredible run basically since the US Open last year, then came home, obviously got the chicken pox at the start of the year, which was tough, especially in the Australian Open, one of the tournaments I'd love to do well in. Then I came over and felt like, you know, I played some of my best tennis. You know, I won most of my matches here in San Jose, Indian Wells, Miami, first two tournaments making the semis. Clay court season I played pretty well, not bad. Then since then I've won 14 matches on grass. It's sort of hard to argue with my performance basically since the US Open last year.

Q. When you look at these tournaments like Toronto and Cincinnati, Indianapolis, are you more focused on results or are you trying to prepare for the US Open? What's your focus going into those?

LLEYTON HEWITT: There's no doubt that it's mainly the US Open. You know, when you win a Grand Slam, your priorities change. You know, you win a Slam and you get to No. 1, the thing that drives you more and more is more Grand Slams. So when I set my schedule at the start of the year, I write in there with black pen the Davis Cup ties and the four Grand Slams, and I work backwards from all the Slams to what the best preparation is going to be for me. You know, I go out there, though, every time I step on the court and give everything I've got. But at the end of the day, I'm not going to get discouraged by if I do have an early loss, you know, in one or a couple of these next tournaments, as long as I'm peaking in four weeks' time basically.

Q. You seem to be pretty pleased with how you're perceived, your accomplishments. I'm wondering if you feel that you've gained the notoriety you should have for winning Wimbledon and being No. 1, especially because tennis doesn't seem to be as big a sport as it was maybe 15 years ago?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, I don't know. I haven't even -- you know, everywhere I've gone, it's been fine. I really haven't, you know, looked at too many things around the world since Wimbledon. I sort of stuck to myself. I've enjoyed it with family and friends. You know, from what I've heard, I can't argue with the sort of support and the congratulations that I've got from around the world. You know, to me it's been great.

Q. Do you think tennis should do anything to become more popular or are there just so many sports going on at the same time now that everyone seeks its level and that's it? Can tennis become more popular than it is?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I'm sure it can. You know, I don't have reasons off the top of my head how they can really do it. You know, I'm sure you can get more and more popular, try and get more people to come to matches and make it more public friendly, I guess. But, you know, I think, you know, there's been a few changes over the last few years that have tried to help in that way. I think, you know, the more we try and get the names of the younger guys who are going to be, you know, holding the stature of tennis up, you know, the next five to 10 years, the more you can get those names out in the spotlight and out in the public, you know, names that you haven't heard of, Robredo, Federer, Ferrero, these kind of names out there, the better off I think the game is going to be.

Q. Have you reached No. 1 and won the Grand Slam events that you've won quicker than you expected? When you're 15, 16 years old, everyone has a dream, but sometimes that's just a dream.

LLEYTON HEWITT: No doubt. You know, when I was 15, I was still playing junior tournaments in Australia, satellites. If you told me that five, six years ago that I was going to be in this situation now, you know, No. 1 in the world, won two Grand Slams, US Open and Wimbledon, then going to try and finish the year No. 1 for two years in a row, I would have told you you're joking. I've come on I think a lot quicker than a lot of people probably expected. You know, a lot's got to do with the hard work and I think self-belief, as well. I've taken it a step at a time and I think I've done everything, even winning my first ATP title at Adelaide, I've done everything a little bit quicker than a lot of people have expected. So it's a little bit surprising to me. But also I don't get wrapped up in winning my first title at 16 and then sort of be done with it. I've always wanted to keep improving and try and take that next step and try and, you know, find bigger goals to go for.

Q. Was there one tournament or one match that you played that you realized you could accomplish this, not just hope you would accomplish this?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I don't know if there's one match. Not till you're actually playing that one match for it, you know, the US Open final against Sampras last year, until you're actually in that position where you're one match away, a few sets away from winning a Grand Slam, I don't think deep down you can actually realize that, "I'm going to be a Grand Slam champion." Until I actually got that match against Rafter, I had to play in Sydney playing for the -- to finish No. 1 last year, I'd never even really thought about getting to No. 1. Even after I won the Grand Slam, I was happy with the Grand Slam, and I didn't even go around chasing points at the end of the year too much to try and finish the year No. 1. I just went out there in every match and, you know, gave a hundred percent. If it fell my way, it fell my way.

Q. You talked about how winning a Grand Slam changes your life. Has life changed for you after the Wimbledon win? Getting offers, people wanting more of you?

LLEYTON HEWITT: A little bit. I tried after Wimbledon just, you know, putting the racquets away, basically putting the phone away as well for a few weeks, chilling out with my friends and family basically, not doing a hell of a lot. You know, I just wanted to put my feet up and sort of recognize the achievements that I've had, not only over Wimbledon but also over the last, you know, year or so because I really had very little time to reflect on all those big matches that I played. Since then, I'm not sure. Obviously, you get a lot more demands to do interviews and media stuff, to be places. You know, that comes with winning another Grand Slam, winning such a big Grand Slam, as well. You know, in Australia, Wimbledon I think is perceived as the biggest one in the world.

Q. Is focus going to be a bit of a problem?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Oh, I don't think so. I'm a very driven person, I guess. I'm very competitive. I don't enjoy losing. So I'm going to go out there still and be as hungry as ever when I get out on the court. You know, I'm still going to take that same motivation into every match that I step on the court.

Q. Your win at Wimbledon proved that quickness still reigns despite the power in the game. Talk about your quickness and what do you do to work on it? Do you think this is a model for other people who don't have the big power? Can you rely on quickness?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, you know, I think for sure. Look at me and take me as a role model just as I've looked at Andre Agassi and Michael Chang over the years, as well. You know, it's great to sort of counter-punch those big servers now and then. There's obviously a lot more of the bigger guys, Safin, Philippoussis, Sampras guys around. I've took advantage from looking at a guy like Agassi do well, you know, 10 years ago at Wimbledon, winning from the back of the court there. I decided not to change my game. Really, I go out there and I play my game, I return extremely well on grass, it puts a lot of pressure on the other guy's serve. I've been able to work on my serve a little bit, get a few more cheaper points, it helps on grass. You know, working on my speed, I really haven't done a hell of a lot to work on it. I've always been pretty quick. I do some wind sprints, stuff in the gym now and then. But, you know, you don't get that much time off to try and do it consistently week-in and week-out.

Q. Last time I saw you you had the hat backwards as a superstition. You've taken it off. Can you tell me the reason why? Will we continue to see you have this at the tournaments?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Have to wait and see how hot it is. I might have to wear it forwards. I've never really been superstitious. I just preferred to wear it backwards at the time. I took it off, I was getting a bit sick of wearing a hat. I don't know even why I did it. I cut my hair a bit shorter as well, which helped.

Q. It seems like everyone makes a comparison when they try to describe you and your game, groundstrokes like Borg, intensity of Connors, style of Chang. Do you hear a lot of that? Do you mind that? Do you have someone in particular you modeled your game after?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, I hear it, but it doesn't really worry me either way. You know, if I win as many Slams as Borg, I'll be extremely happy. You know, I never really modeled my game after everyone. I enjoyed Mats Wilander, though. I play a little bit similar game to Mats on the court. You know, mainly from the back of the court, not the strongest guy, very quick, very consistent, good returns, good passing shots. He's probably one player that I probably liked watching as much as anyone, I think.

Q. If you modeled your game after him, he was still more the calm and cool guy, you kind of thrive on your emotions. Is that the key difference to Wilander?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, I just -- I play with a lot of emotion. You know, that's when I play my best tennis. I get fired up when I feel like I have to get fired up, and after a big point. If you watched, even Tim Henman was getting pretty fired up at Wimbledon this year. I think a lot more people are getting fired up on the court these days.

GREG SHARKO: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. Lleyton, thank you for your time. Have a good trip over to Toronto. Good luck this summer.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Thanks, mate.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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