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January 28, 2009

Lleyton Hewitt

THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us in the Bay Area, and this afternoon for some of us that are joining us outside of San Jose. We're pleased to have SAP Open former champion Lleyton Hewitt with us. And this will mark the fourth time in Lleyton's career that he's played in San Jose. In February of 2002 Lleyton captured an exciting third set tiebreak over Andre Agassi in what is considered to be one of the most exciting finals in tournament history. Lleyton is appearing in San Jose for the first time since 2006 and that year he reached the final where he lost to Andy Murray in a three set final. In Lleyton's career he's had amassed 488 career match wins, 26 singles titles and of course 2001 US Open champion and 2002 Wimbledon champion, and of course, a former two-time year end ATP world number one.
So let's just start the call. Bill Rapp, do you want to make a couple opening comments.
BILL RAPP: Absolutely. Lleyton, thanks for joining us.
LLEYTON HEWITT: No worries, mate.
BILL RAPP: First I want to welcome you back to San Jose and the ATP Pavilion and the SAP Open. Lot of good memories here of your matches here. Two-part question, talk about the final against Agassi here in 2002, because I remember it very well. And, secondly, talk to us about your surgery and your current level of fitness?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well the final in 2002 was, yeah, a huge effort for me purely because the start of that year I actually got chicken pox, so I wasn't able to play for over a month before coming to San Jose and playing. It was my first tournament back since then. So I wasn't probably at 100% fitness at the time, and was world number one at the time.
So I actually saved match point in the second or third round and went on to get better each match. And for me it will go down as one of the greatest matches of my career in terms of the actual quality of the match. I think the match went well over three hours, and for a tiebreak in the third set and I saved match point in the second set.
So it was an amazing memories for me playing against one of the greatest players of all time in his home country as well. So that will definitely go down as one of the greats.
In terms of my comeback now. The hips been going pretty well. It was a decision that was sort of forced on me. I hurt my hip in Las Vegas and kept trying to play with that injury. I wasn't 100% sure exactly what it was and I was trying to get over it. I wanted to play obviously the French Open, Wimbledon and Davis Cup.
When I got through Wimbledon, I went to Beijing and played my first round there and basically my whole leg just shut down after that, and I wasn't able to compete at all. That's when I flew back to Australia, and I had basically no choice but to have the surgery if I wanted to keep playing the game. That's where I've done a whole heap of rehab since then, and I feel really strong.
I obviously got a rough draw in Melbourne last week and lost to Fernando Gonzalez in a tight five-setter in the first round. But the biggest bonus and positive for me is I didn't feel the hip at all during the match. And I pulled up 100%, and I would have been able to play two days later easily if I had gotten through that match.
So there are a lot of positives to on come out of the first month of the season for me, and I'm hoping to build on it especially in San Jose and Memphis in the next couple of weeks.

Q. Can you go into more detail about what it takes to come back from hip surgery?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, it's probably -- it's obviously physically but mentally as well, I guess, to be able to come back and do all the rehab and right things to get back to try to compete on the tour. For me it was a positive to get back on the court. In Melbourne at the Australian Open and be as close to 100% as possible. A few months ago I really didn't know if I was going to be able to compete in Australia.
For me it was a huge positive to be out there competing, and the biggest success was that I didn't feel any pain, that same pain that I was getting. It's a mental battle. I've never missed the US Open since I played there. And that was a special place because I won the US Open in 2001.
So for me it was disappointing not being able to play there last year. And to miss that Grand Slam. That's why I play the game. Once you've won Grand Slams and beaten world number one, the Grand Slams drive you as well. That really showed the hunger and drive was definitely still there to get back.
So now for me the most important thing is to try to get a lot of matches under my belt. That's what I'm going to be trying to do in the next couple of weeks.

Q. How did the injury happen?
LLEYTON HEWITT: From the first time I felt it, I was in Las Vegas training a couple of days before the tournament started in February last year. I went for a move in a practice session with Nicklaus Kiefer. I felt something straight away. I had it checked. Wasn't 100% sure at the time what it really was.
I kept trying to play with it. I got through some tough matches and then the days after those matches it just wouldn't pull up whatsoever, and, yeah, I really wanted to get through Wimbledon though.
So I went through the French Open and Wimbledon, and played there. Basically after that I made the round of 16 at Wimbledon against Federer and was well under 100% going into that match. And after that, my whole leg basically shut down because it was compensating so much.
So I had to have some bone taken off my hip joint. And I also had a couple of tears and cysts in there as well. So it was a pretty decent clean up in the end.

Q. Given all you've gone through, what are your goals for this year?
LLEYTON HEWITT: For me at the start of the year it's just trying to get the matches under my belt. I still want to be a force in the Grand Slams, and probably now I'm looking more so toward Wimbledon and the French Open purely in terms of the surface. I've had so much success at Wimbledon in the past.
I feel there's probably a handful of guys that can only push Nadal and Federer on that surface, and I think I'm one of them. For me it's about trying to get as many matches as possible, and trying to get the ranking back up there as close to the seedings as I can.
But obviously I want to be 100% going into Wimbledon and really try to push for that. And then hopefully the rest of the year I can work towards getting back in the Top 20, Top 10 again.

Q. Finally, I wanted your thoughts on Andy Roddick's resurgence down there in Australia?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, I actually haven't seen any of Andy's matches. So he's obviously done extremely well. Obviously the last match I know the circumstances, Djokovic pulling out and everything with that as well.
There's obviously, Andy's gone probably under the radar a little more in Australia this year than in previous years. That's probably helped him in a lot of ways as well, the expectation and the pressure on him. He's up against his old foe Federer in the semis. So he'll have his work cut out in that one.

Q. You were talking about getting matches under your belt when you started the year. Is that part of why you added Memphis after San Jose?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, a little bit, I guess. I was really keen to play San Jose this year again. I've had a lot of success there. Not only when I won in 2002, but the final against Andy Murray when I lost in the tiebreak third set as well.
So I think it's a place where I play well. And you always like to go back to places where you play well.
But for me to play a couple of indoor tournaments in a row in similar conditions was a good situation for me to be in. Especially I take one more week off after that. And I have Davis Cup in Thailand and come back for Indian Wells and Miami.
So for me it's about trying to get those match practice. And doesn't matter how much you are on the practice court, you can't get it until you're in the match court and get in the routine of playing the big points and the pressure points and being down, you know, breakpoint on serve and all that stuff. So for me it's about trying to get as much matches as possible now.

Q. Talk about Federer, Nadal. In terms of Roger approaching Pete's Grand Slam record, he's getting close, could possibly reach it and tie it this week. Can you shed some perspective on Roger being on the verge of that record, and what it takes to accomplish that?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, it's an amazing feat not only to be on the verge of it, to be very close to it. Obviously when Pete did it, I don't think anyone really expected anyone to get as close to Pete as Roger has and probably so quickly either.
You know, it took Pete an awfully long time to end up getting that one as well. So it's an amazing feat what Roger's been able to do.
Yeah, especially considering he hasn't won a French Open either. It would be a lot easier if he's won all four majors to be able to go out there and collect that sort of number of Grand Slam titles.
But, yeah, he's going to go down as possibly the greatest ever. You've still got Rafa knocking on the door, and who knows how many slams he's going to be out of putting the bag in the next few years as well.

Q. How healthy would you say the men's game is now, with Roger and I guess Novak and Murray?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I think it's doing really well at the moment. Obviously, those four guys that have been the standouts through the end of the year. But it's good to see Andy back, putting pressure on those guys as well. As I said, I think he's been a little bit under the radar in the last few months.
Yeah, there's a lot of good young guys coming in. Del Potro who I know is playing San Jose in a week or so's time as well. He's a great young player. On the rise as well. You know, Gilles Simon is up there. A lot of younger guys, Richard Gasquet, a whole group of them putting pressure on the top guys. But they're the four standouts right at the moment.

Q. I was going to ask you about some of the changes on tour. I know they've created three levels, I guess offering 1,000 and 500 and 250 points. Can you just talk about how that set up is for you this year and what you think about the tour's changes?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, well, right at the moment I can't say it's a huge deal right in my eyes right at the moment. Obviously I'm focusing on these couple of tournaments coming up. Then, obviously, the Masters series which coming up. I think it's good for the public to be able to put together a tournament from what they are worth. Purely before it was for players and coaches to know what kind of points for each tournament.
So I think that is the biggest category the ATP has tried to put together is that every tournament has a number that you're sort of going towards, and depending on how big the tournament is. So I guess they've tried to simplify it for a lot of the tennis public out there. But really didn't know how the ranking system worked in a lot of ways.

Q. Players and their coaches, in terms of you see some players make changes on almost an annual basis. But your coaching history and how important that is for a player?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, it's very important. I think in terms of the tennis coach, it's totally different to a lot of other team sports around the world and probably more so in America as well. The basketball and baseball and those kinds of things.
It's such an individual sport out there that it really has to be a great mateship as well to make it work. It's got to be a great partnership. And you have to be able to get along with that person and basically talk about anything with that person as well.
I find that the people that I've got along extremely well with throughout my career are people I'm extremely close with. Not only know my tennis game but my personality on and off the court as well. And I think that makes it a lot easier. If you're going out there, you might have a great coach out there, but you two really don't mix together, then it can end awkwardly, I guess.
You look at the Murray-Gilbert situation. They obviously had their differences even though Andy Murray is a fantastic player and Brad Gilbert is a fantastic coach. I think the biggest thing is you have to get along with your coach.

Q. You've had how many different coaches?
LLEYTON HEWITT: How many I've had?

Q. Yeah.
LLEYTON HEWITT: I've had four.

Q. Who is your coach right now?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Tony Roche is my coach. He's one of the greats of Australian sport and of Australian tennis and former French Open champion. So I'm very lucky to have a guy like him behind me.

Q. You've been with him how long now?
LLEYTON HEWITT: We started about a year and a half to go together. But I've known Roche for a number of years. He was a Davis Cup coach when I was on the way up, and he and John gave me my opportunity to play Davis Cup for Australia when they were captain and coach. So, yeah, Roche knows my game as well as anyone does, I think. It's been a good partnership, and hopefully goes on for many more years.

Q. Working on the tournament San Jose year round we work for 51 weeks and then one week the guys come in and we're thrilled to have you back. Can you talk about how you'd like things to go here in San Jose?
LLEYTON HEWITT: For me what I remembered of the past is a fantastically run tournament for the players. I think the players get looked after extremely well. Obviously, in a great arena as well.
So for me just to come back to a place like that and play tennis. I've had great support there in the past as well. Played a lot of big night matches there which is fantastic. You know, that tournament's obviously been fortunate to have a lot of big names in the past as well.
Andre Agassi supported it for so many years and it was only a few years ago John McEnroe made his comeback in the doubles court there as well, I remember. So it's always been a fun tournament to come back to. Hopefully for me in particular this year, I'm just hoping to get through my first couple of rounds and build on that as the tournament goes up. I'd like nothing more than to be holding up the trophy on the final Sunday.
BILL RAPP: If you do get in early, if you're here by Thursday night, I don't know if you follow the San Jose Sharks, but the team here is the top team in the country right now. If you're in on Thursday night, we'll get you a ticket to the game.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Okay, no worries, thank you, mate.
BILL RAPP: Thanks, Lleyton.

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