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February 14, 2002

Lleyton Hewitt

GREG SHARKO: Thank you for joining us this afternoon with last year's No. 1 player Lleyton Hewitt, who makes his return to action at the Siebel Open in San Jose beginning February 25th. Last season at 20 years, 10 months, Lleyton finished as the youngest player to finish No. 1 in the ATP rankings. This will be Lleyton's first tournament in the US since winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open last September. This will also be his first tournament in more than five weeks since the Australian Open on January 15th. Following San Jose, Lleyton will participate in the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, March 11th through the 17th, and the NASDAQ 100 Open in Miami, March 20th through the 31st. At this time I will open it up to questions.

Q. How are you feeling? Are you over the effects of the chickenpox?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Pretty much. Sort of a slow, gradual process really that you had to go through. Just unlucky that it happened at that time. You know, it was unfortunate, but also I probably needed the break. Hopefully I'll come back bigger and stronger because of it. You know, it was obviously a little bit of a setback playing in such a big tournament as the Australian Open with it. Afterwards, at least I've been able to stay home for a couple weeks. Due to the Davis Cup commitments, doing so well over the last three or four years, I really haven't had that time to have the break in the past.

Q. Are you definite for San Jose?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, pretty much. You know, I'm feeling good. I sort of have just been training the last week or so at the moment, back on the court. I've been in the gym a little bit longer than that. I feel like I'm getting better and better each day. It's going to be a tough week, though, in San Jose for me, coming back after you haven't played for a while. It's always going to be tough, but hopefully I can get those first couple of matches under my belt. Once you sort of get into the tournament, I think I've got as good a chance as anyone.

GREG SHARKO: Barry MacKay from the Siebel Open is with us. Sorry for not introducing you. I know you want to give Lleyton a welcome as well.

BARRY MACKAY: Lleyton, how are you doing?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Good, mate. How is it going?

BARRY MACKAY: I do want to welcome everyone, and on behalf of the tournament welcome you, Lleyton, back to Northern California. It was your first trip last year. As you may probably already know, we kind of like to think we're the birthplace of great players. I want to congratulate you on your fine finish up last year, ending up No. 1. A couple other guys we kind of think we've discovered out here by the name of McEnroe and Agassi got cooking at our event. I'm looking forward to seeing you.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Thanks, mate. Appreciate it.

Q. Wondering how tough it was sitting through the Davis Cup.

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, the last tie that I wasn't at was back in Washington when Australia played America. You know, I was only 16 or 17 at the time. Since then I've sort of been a part of every one. It was a weird feeling getting up here in Australia at 3:30 in the morning to watch the boys compete over there. It was tough to see the guys go down 5-Love over there. You know, I realized that I knew the pain and how hard it was going to be to go over there and play in that tough environment, in South America, not our best surface, like we went down in Brazil last year. For me it was a good opportunity to recover and get over the chickenpox. I'm hopefully going to be ready for the September qualifying match anyway.

Q. Is it going to be strange at San Jose facing up against Agassi, who has Darren in his stable as well? Is that going to be weird for you?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Not really. I'll go out there, it's between me and Andre basically. Last time I played Andre was in the Masters Cup. I played one of my best matches ever. In the past, we've had extremely tough matches. It's sort of gone either way. I've got great memories of playing Andre. He was obviously my biggest win in that first tournament when I beat him in the semifinals here in Adelaide. I've got good memories of that. If we were to meet, it would be an extremely tough match, that's for sure.

Q. You guys parted on good terms, you and Darren?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, fine. No problems at all.

Q. Can you talk a bit more about the coaching change, why it was done, just your thoughts on him now coaching Andre.

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, it's sort of between Darren and I, and that's the way it's going to stay pretty much the whole time as well. You know, we just sort of came to the end. Darren let me know that he was resigning. You know, I didn't have a problem with that. I felt like we've had a great partnership over the last three or four years that we've been together. You know, in that time, you know, the actual San Jose, Indian Wells, Miami, Scottsdale leg last year, you know, he actually wasn't with me that time either. I brought my old coach back with me. I feel like I've got other coaches who have helped me out along the way, as well, such as Peter Smith, who came on that trip with me last year. Because I knew Jason so well from Davis Cup ties and that, it was really a pretty easy transition from Darren to Jason. Jason and I have got along great since we've sort of been working together. He works extremely hard. A little bit different strategies about fitness stuff and stuff like that. I think it's obviously strange with Andre and Brad breaking up, as well. I don't know the whole details of that. Andre obviously has known Darren for a lot of years, probably knows him pretty well. They probably played against each other a few times.

Q. The reaction to you in Australia, was it different after you won the US Open, and then after you beat Patrick Rafter in November, was there more attention paid to you at that time or whether it changed much?

LLEYTON HEWITT: It's pretty hard when your face is on every front page of the paper every day that whole week of the Masters Cup and that. You know, it was a great reception when I got back here, no doubt. I didn't have a lot of time to enjoy the US Open success. Straight after when I got home, I had to go straight to Sydney and play the Davis Cup semi there against Sweden. After that, I went to the AFL Grand Final and joined in the motor parade before the Grand Final. I've never been to a Grand Final before. That was my number one sport growing up. The fans, they've been great the whole way through my career so far. You know, even through the Australian Open when things weren't going well for me, you know, they were with me the whole time. They probably went through some of the pain that I went through going out there and trying to compete when you're not a hundred percent right.

Q. You mentioned it was hard being on the front page of the paper every day. Is that going to be a problem that magnifies as you go on in your career?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Who knows. It's not a problem for me, though. I got no quarrel with it. I sort of have come into the spotlight at a very young age, 16, and even before that when I was 15 and qualified for the Australian Open that year. You know, it's something I've had to deal with. I've had great people to look up to in the likes of Patrick Rafter, working with guys like Newcombe and Roche in the Davis Cup, as well, who have been to No. 1 in the world, as well. Hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about your feelings on being in New York so close to the September 11th tragedies, what that was like for you.

LLEYTON HEWITT: It was, you know, a weird feeling. I haven't been back to America since. A lot of things have changed, on the court for me, you know, off the court, around the world. It was shocking news what happened. I was actually leaving LA. I was on the LA-Sydney flight at the time when it happened. I actually didn't know for probably that evening your time, I think, when we landed in Sydney. You know, cameras and stuff are in your face after you walk off the airplane. The pilot had just informed us five minutes beforehand of what had really happened. Until I actually got in front of a TV and saw the whole broadcast of what had happened and that, it sort of didn't really hit home at the start. You know, it's a terrible, you know, thing that's happened. It's changed the whole world, I think, as well. Yeah, that was the big shock for me. It was weird coming home and being on such a high after winning your first Grand Slam, US Open, something you wanted to do, your goal and your dream, to sort of be put like that when you get off the flight, it was a totally different feeling.

Q. Your game is based so much on tremendous fitness on the court. How long do you think it will take you to get back to a hundred percent after your illness?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, it's hard to say. I feel like the last week or so it's been a big bonus for me. I put the racquets down probably three or four weeks after the Australian Open, didn't pick up a racquet after I lost there. You know, I started going in the gym about a week and a half ago. I can already feel some of the strength coming back. I lost a little bit of weight over that time, which is expected. So at the moment it's sort of a recovery process, you know, trying to build up again to get to that point where I was before. Jason and I have been working on it slowly. I think gradually and gradually it's getting there. Obviously, you know, the toughest thing that -- I'm not going to have that match practice, that match fitness going into San Jose, as I probably would have like to play some more matches. Can't do much about that. Hopefully, you know, I can get a lot of matches in San Jose, and then I can really be getting better and better with my match fitness in Indian Wells, Miami, sort of going into the French Open hopefully a hundred percent.

Q. Could you talk about what Jason brings to the table as the coach, how he may differ from Darren's style?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, probably made the biggest difference off court, just different stuff in the gym, sort of building up different areas of my body I feel like I can use better. In the past, I haven't done a lot of gym work, a lot of off-court work. That's a lot due to, you know, not so much Darren, but also how many matches I played in the past as well. When you have the weeks off, you needed that rest in the past. The last few weeks have been totally different, and that's where we're spending more time, in the gym, you know, doing some more weights, you know, more work on my fitness, to try and get back up to where I was. Also I think we're going to try and keep that going over the next six to eight months as well to try and get even better than I was and stronger than I was. I'm not the biggest guy out there. I feel like I've really got small areas of my game that, if I am going to improve, which I think I'm capable of, easier to get more cheap points working on an all-court game, getting that added strength is going to help me in that way.

Q. I know it's a thorny issue, but do you think there should be a rule change about the injury time-outs, saying a player can only take them after a game?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, it's hard to say. Everyone's got their opinion. You know, I think sometimes it does get taken the wrong way, you know, bringing in the cramping rule, taking it at certain times, in the game, in the tiebreak, whatever, instead of taking it at the end of the game. At the end of the game I can half understand. Obviously, the change of ends I think is better because that gives everyone a fair go. Everyone's got their opinion, though. It's been a big issue with the ATP and the ITF for a while.

Q. I was wondering if you would talk about some guys who live here that might have been an influence on you. The first is Mark Woodforde, another guy from Adelaide. Was he a guy you grew up watching and idolizing? What has your relationship been for since?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, for sure. Woody, when he grew up, lived about 10, 15 minutes away from where I lived. I knew Woody really well. He helped me out. I knew him from the Davis Cup ties where I was the orange boy there. We got along great. He obviously looked at me a lot closer than other guys, as well, because I was from Adelaide. Before the Adelaide men's hard court that first year that I won it, he invited me out to hit with all the guys. He got me hitting with all the other Australians, which actually included Jason Stoltenberg, Todd Woodbridge, Mark Woodforde, Scotty Draper, plenty of guys to hit with. At that time you're going to be shy, a 16-year-old, trying to go up to these guys, asking for practice sessions every day. Woody really did go out of his way to help me set up those practice sessions. Actually I played in the tournament he sponsored the week before, which is a local tournament here. Actually won it. He donated some of the money out of his prize money for the year before. He actually presented it to me there. The next week actually I beat him in the second round. It was a weird feeling playing him, as well.

Q. Another guy who lives around here is Rod Laver. What kind of impact has he had on you, if any?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Rod's been great. Actually I was fortunate enough to hit with him at the 2001 Australian Open the day before it started, in the charity day. We went out and hit a few balls. For me, that was one of the highlights of my whole career and being a part of tennis, to hit with one of the greatest players. I'm so lucky that we've got so many great players coming from our country, as well. It means a lot because I've seen all the Davis Cup videos and I've seen some of the highlights of his Davis Cup matches. He played so well for Australia, not only himself. For me to actually, you know, now be playing Davis Cup and to see what those guys are doing, trying to follow in their footsteps, it's a great feeling to be sort of mixing with them, having dinner with them, you know, just chatting with them at tournaments. You know, he's so down-to-earth, as well. He's such a nice guy.

Q. Everyone knows what a big fan of Rocky you are. How much of an impact is that on you? I heard that you watch it a lot before you play.

LLEYTON HEWITT: What's that?

Q. About the movie Rocky. I heard that you watch that a lot.

LLEYTON HEWITT: It's gone a little bit over the top in the media I think the last couple years. Yeah, I used to watch the Rocky movies all the time. It's just a great story, I thought. That sort of underdog, coming from behind. Trying to stay at the top, I think, as well. Just the whole training and that, it really suited my image and my philosophy on going out there and playing tennis. I love to work hard on and off the court in my training. I think that sort of comes through for most Rocky movies.

Q. Have you ever had a chance to meet Sylvester Stallone?

LLEYTON HEWITT: No, I haven't.

Q. As successful as your career has been on the court, I'm wondering why you would want to change anything pertaining to it, including your fitness regimen. We always say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Why are you effecting these changes?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I actually don't think that I was as fit as I should be and probably could be the last couple years. A lot of that has had to do with playing a lot of matches and also doing -- I've had a lot of issues with my health over the last 18 months to probably the last couple of years. When I feel like I start to get over that, that's when I wanted to sort of, you know, do more and more fitness. Even if I didn't finish the year No. 1, that was going to happen this year anyway. I feel like, you know, even though I got to No. 1, I'm not as good a player as I can be. It's great that I've had the success that I have, but there's still areas of my game - I'm only 20 years old - there's areas of my game that I still know and think that I can work on and become a better player. To produce the results like the US Open on all different surfaces, for me, I've got to change a few things. I think I've definitely got to get a little bit stronger and I've got to work on a couple of areas that I spoke about before, obviously a high percentage of first serves, getting more cheap points off my first serve, getting those easier points, and also becoming more of an all-court player. That's going to help playing on clay and grass as well for the future.

Q. Have you ever had the measles and the mumps?

LLEYTON HEWITT: No, I haven't.

Q. So much has happened to you over the past year. How have you managed to stay grounded? Is there something about the Australian mentality, or having Patrick around to kind of talk to?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Staying on the ground, you mean?

Q. Yes, kind of staying grounded, not getting fat-headed.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I don't know. It happened in a hurry for me. As you've seen, I've sort of gone up in the rankings every year. It actually helps to have guys like Pat and that around. Sort of the last few years, I wasn't the focus point of Australian tennis, with Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, so I was sort of the No. 2 or No. 3 player on the team. That wasn't a problem for me at all. I feel like some of that pressure may have even been taken off. You just go out there and play. Because I'd been so close to Pat, I was there when he won his two US Open titles, I was actually there the day after the Boston Davis Cup tie, we actually got the world No. 1 ranking that week. Just to see how he handled it all, how he basically handled it in stride, it was a great learning experience for me just being there and seeing, just in case it did happen to me one day.

Q. You have two semifinal finishes last year at the Ericsson, NASDAQ now. I'm wondering what it is you enjoy about this event. Is it one of the ones you look forward to every year?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I really look forward to it. The court suits me, the atmosphere, I think the crowd suits me, suits my personality playing there in Miami. The last couple years I probably haven't played my best tennis the first couple matches, but I was able to scrape through. I've had a couple of tight matches in the first couple of rounds, I felt. I was sort of able to go on from that and get better and better as the tournament went on. Last year was a little bit disappointing, losing to Jan-Michael Gambill in the semifinals. I felt like I had my chances. Had a couple of set points actually in the first set, didn't take them. From there on, the whole match sort of turned around. I felt like that was a little bit of a missed opportunity to make the final of such a big tournament.

Q. Could you talk about at this point in your career what it is you want and need from a coach.

LLEYTON HEWITT: From a coach? You know, I think a little bit of guidance really. I've basically got my game worked out that I pretty much want to stick to. As I said before, just those couple years that, you know, I want to work on for the long-term, for the next three, four, five years of my career. Basically it's just sort of having a friend on tour, as well, someone to go out to dinner with, hang around with, sort of just chat about everyday things. I think that takes that pressure of going out there and playing tennis all the time, when you can just talk about normal things. That's why Darren and I got on really well. It's going to be exactly the same with Jason. I've known Jason for a long time now. You know, he's really down-to-earth. You know, he likes the same kind of things that I like back here in Australia, too.

Q. You're bigger and stronger than Michael Chang, but you guys are both known for your speed. I was wondering if there's anything you identify with with Michael or anything you've been able to learn by watching him play?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, obviously when I was younger, I looked up to Michael because I wasn't the biggest guy around and that. I sort of looked at how I was just going to be able to, you know, dominate the big servers and big hitters. You look at guys like Michael and Andre Agassi, see how that sort of counter-puncher player, especially Michael, further in the back of the court, can dominate guys with the passing shots and obviously I think the biggest weapon is sort of the return of serve. I've drawn strength. Michael winning obviously the French Open, but probably more so Andre winning with his style of game on all four surfaces at the four Grand Slams. For me, that's a big thing, knowing that a guy like that can do that, beat such big servers, especially on a court like grass at Wimbledon. So I think one of my main areas of strength as well is my return of serve. I think in my mind, I'm capable of -- I've got the confidence that I'm capable of doing well in the French Open and also at Wimbledon in the years to come.

Q. You talked about other illnesses. I know had you a sinus problem or something going on. Did you ever rectify what that was?

LLEYTON HEWITT: No big deal. Actually, it was -- that was about a year or so ago. I actually had a breathing problem at the time. They weren't sure, couldn't put their finger on it, but weren't sure if it had something to do with blocked sinuses. Since then I've had CAT scans done. It hasn't shown up in the sinuses too bad. No big deal.

Q. When you look at this year, obviously there's a lot of expectations around you because you got to No. 1 and you won the US Open. How do you defuse some of that so you can just go ahead and play your tennis, let it all happen?

LLEYTON HEWITT: You know, I sort of just take it in my stride actually. Doesn't really worry me. I don't think about it too much. When I go out there to play, I go out there, I love competing, I love getting on the court and working hard. That's not going to change. When I go out there, I'm going to go out there and give a hundred percent every time I step on the court. If I played with that same confidence that I played with at the end of last year, then I think, you know, I'm going to end up having a pretty good year as well this year. Hopefully I feel like I'm getting better and better on clay and grass the last few years. I'm just hoping it's sort of a matter of time before I start having some big results at also like the French and Wimbledon.

Q. Another guy you're likely to run into on Sunday in San Jose if it's not Andre would be Andy Roddick. I believe you beat him in the quarterfinals of the US Open. Is he a guy you see maybe establishing a big rivalry with down the road?

LLEYTON HEWITT: He's a great player. He's a totally different kind of player to me. He's got a big game, huge serve, huge forehand, pretty much an all-court game. He's going to get better and better. He had an extraordinary first your on the tour last year. I think he's going to be around for a lot of years to come. It's just basically how he handles probably that pressure and that expectation of being the next big thing out of America following sort of Agassi and Sampras retiring or whatever, when he's got to step up and really take charge. He may be the only one - I'm not sure. If he sticks with it and plays the kind of tennis that we all know he probably can, he's going to be around for a long time.

Q. With guys like Roche, Newcombe and Rafter officially out of the scene, are you still in contact with them, and do you know what's future holds, especially for guys like Rafter?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I've got no idea what Pat's going to do. I do speak to him on a regular basis, pretty much every week I speak to all three of those guys. Pat and Scotty Draper were my two closest mates on the tour. I'm always talking to Pat, seeing what he's up to, trying to get what his plans are. He doesn't really know what he wants to do, I don't think. Newcombe and Roche, they're just there to show their support, help out whenever I need to speak to someone. It's nice to know that you've got those guys to fall back on, as well, that are willing to talk to you whenever you need about whatever issues are on your mind.

Q. Going to be strange without Rafter around this year?

LLEYTON HEWITT: It's going to be strange. He was always a guy that I looked up to so much, such a great player for so many years. Really changed the whole outlook on tennis in Australia. For me to try to continue that, it's going to be a tough (hour?). If he does come back, it would be a great thing. If he doesn't, then he's had a wonderful career. The only probably real downside is the Davis Cup final we couldn't get the last couple years.

Q. What are your overall thoughts on the state of the men's game? Do you think there's a changing of the guard going on now?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I think we've got unbelievable depth at the moment. As you saw probably at the Australian Open, so many of the top guys going out. I think that's good for the game. I think it's good to see a lot of these younger guys coming up. Tommy Haas, Roger Federer, Robredo, Ferrero, so many guys coming up. It's probably just a period of time before these guys pop up and win the slams, as well. Obviously Ferrero has been pretty dominant on clay the last couple years. He looks like he could be the guy to beat as well at the French Open again this year probably with Guga. It's good to see sort of Safin back having a good start for the year after he struggled sort of last year after he got nearly to the top of the rankings. I think it's good for the game to have some new faces up there, as well.

Q. How much do you think Andre and Pete have left?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I think they've got plenty left. They're great players. You can never take them lightly. You can never write them off, that's for sure.

Q. Might you be sorry you gave up Australian Rules Football? Do you ever have twinges of wanting to go back to that?

LLEYTON HEWITT: I'd have to spend a lot of time in the gym if I was going to anyway. I'd have to get a lot bigger and a lot stronger. I think it's a bit late now anyway to try and make a comeback. Sometimes when you watch it back home, sometimes you wish maybe you played that. But tennis has been great to me. I've had a lot of success in tennis so far. Hopefully that continues. I'll let my team go out there and hopefully win the flag this year.

Q. What are your thoughts about playing indoors? Do you like it? Do you feel better indoors than you did outdoors?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Really for my game, it's no huge difference, hard court indoors and outdoors. I don't really worry about the wind too much if I was playing outdoors anyway. It's not a huge difference for me. I've had some really good results, though, indoors as well, topping it off with the Masters Cup last year in Sydney. It doesn't make a big deal to my game because you probably have to watch out for some of those big servers a little bit more if the court is playing quick in there or not. That's probably the only difference. But also it does fit my return of serve because there's no element, wind, to worry about.

GREG SHARKO: We appreciate everybody joining us this afternoon. Lleyton, thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you next weekend in San Jose. Have a good trip over.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Thanks, mate.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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