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January 28, 2011

Lleyton Hewitt

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining today's call with former ATP World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. Lleyton joins us from the Bahamas, I believe. And Lleyton captured the SAP Open title in 2002, defeating Andre Agassi in a thrilling third set tie-break. Runner up in 2006. He has an 11-3 career record in San Jose. Last season, Lleyton captured his 20th career title on the ATP World Tour by defeating World No. 2 Roger Federer in the final Halle, Germany.
Before we get underway, I want to turn it over to tournament Director Bill Rapp, who would like to make a few comments.
BILL RAPP: Good morning. I want to welcome all the members of the media. You recently had another baby, yes?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yes, we had a third child now. So, yeah, we're outnumbered now. A bit of a handful.
BILL RAPP: Any chance we'll see the kids here in San Jose?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Not for a couple of weeks. Just got to the Bahamas. Settling over here for the moment. And I'll come over with my parents and my coach and also my physio. So looking forward to it.
BILL RAPP: You're now being coached by Josh Eagle, correct.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Working with Tony Roache and Josh Eagle this whole year. So for me I feel comfortable with both those guys.
And Josh will be joining me in San Jose and Memphis and throughout the year as well, the Clay Court swing, leading into the French Open. So I feel like I've put a pretty good team behind me to hopefully help me out in the next couple of years.
BILL RAPP: Could you just take us back, I vividly remember the Final in 2002 against Andre here at HP Pavilion. Talk about that match.
LLEYTON HEWITT: It was a fantastic match. Andre and I both came off difficult strained Open campaigns. Mine was interrupted. I had chicken pox after getting the World No. 1 position at the end of 2001 for the first time. For me it was a pretty special time.
It was my first tournament back since having the chicken pox. And Andre, I believe, was coming off a wrist injury at the time. And the quality of tennis in the Final was as good as I've played in ever. And a lot of people have always commented. And I had to save match points to come back and win that match. It's a memory I'll always have.
Beating quality opponents, especially in finals, that's where it means a lot to players. San Jose will always hold a special memory for me.
BILL RAPP: One other question. So jumping ahead more to current matches, so I remember you did, at Halle, beat Federer, No. 1 player in the world, or maybe 2 at that time, I don't remember, but won that match just before Wimbledon. Talk about that match and also talk about your plans for 2011.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, for me it was a frustrating start of last year. I felt like I got off to a really good night and played extremely well at the Australian Open, making the fourth round. Then had to have hip and knee surgery, wasn't able to come to San Jose and Memphis where I was meant to be playing straight after the Australian summer.
That really set me back. I was only able to play a few tournaments on the clay season. And it took me a while to get my movement back to scratch after a couple of surgeries.
And I felt by Halle, I really started to move a lot better. I think it showed in my performance. And obviously knocking off Federer in the Final, he's a quality player. I have lost, I'm not sure, 14, 15 times in a row, since I used to have his number back a few years ago. So for me it was a huge win.
As I said, big quality players in finals. That's where it really means a lot more. Because the true champions always normally play their best tennis in the finals as well.
So this year I'm looking forward to obviously expanding on that. And my body feels really good at the moment, which is a huge positive as well for me.

Q. What would you say is the difference in the way you're playing now overall, to when you were No. 1?
LLEYTON HEWITT: There's not a whole heap difference. The game keeps changing and keeps improving, I think. And obviously there's a lot of guys out there these days with such big games and able to really hit through the court extremely well.
So it's a matter of me, you know, when I was at my best, sort of counter-punching out there. It's not so easy to do it day in, day out these days against all the power hitters out there. For me a lot is trying to add more dimensions to my game.
In a lot of ways there's things I do a lot better now than when I was even No. 1 in the world. As I said, Roger took it to a new level. And now Rafa has come along, taken it to another level again.
The game is improving with technology and stuff anyway and a lot more power out there.

Q. Could you just mention what you feel you do better now than you did then?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, I think I've got more variety in my game. Obviously I think I serve a lot bigger now than I did back then, whether it's technology and racquets. Or just overall strength as well, since I was 19, 20 years old.
I think I use my variety a lot better in terms of coming into the net and mixing it up a lot better. I think improvement was probably my biggest strength when I was 19 or 20 years old. And that's always really a tough thing to keep up, as good a mover as you can be, especially when you're getting close to 30 years old.

Q. Obviously you've been playing in a real tough -- with Rafa and Federer. When it comes down to it, who do you think is a better player on medium-hard court, we'll say, at their peak, Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer?
LLEYTON HEWITT: It's hard to say. In my opinion right at the moment it's probably still Roger. Through what Roger was able to do through the years and being at the absolute top of his game and hardly losing matches.
But then, again, if you look at their head-to-head records, Rafa's had his number in big matches, Grand Slams semis and finals. I think on a hard court it's a pretty even playing field. Obviously on clay you definitely give Rafa the upper hand. And then nine times out of ten on grass Roger would probably have that.
So on hard court, I think it's pretty even at the moment.

Q. If you had to take the same question, back it out a little bit, and you obviously came up with when Pete and Andre were the big names, how would you fold them into the same question? How would you rate the four of them Federer, Rafa, Pete and Andre, those four?
LLEYTON HEWITT: It's hard to say. They've all got totally different game styles, really. I think out of the four of them, probably Pete and Roger are the most similar. But Andre was such a good ball-striker and standing up in the court and taking time away from your opponent. But the great thing about tennis is rivalries, and we've been fortunate enough to have those rivalries between Roger and Rafa. And then Pete and Andre, two of the greatest rivalries the game has ever seen.
So it's very hard. It's like trying to compare Laver to Louie Hoad and comparing that to Sampras and Federer. It's hard to do through generations because you never actually see those guys play, competing against each other at their absolute best.
So I think we've been fortunate to have those guys playing against each other.

Q. Pete, who obviously is going to be at the SAP in a couple of weeks, you said he had a similar game to Federer. In what way were you thinking?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, I think Pete's movement was very underrated, very much like Roger's. They're both great movers on the court, but they don't get a lot of credit for it, I think. Obviously their serve is one of their main weapons. Pete probably had a slightly bigger serve, and obviously followed it in a little bit more than Roger.
But that was probably more due to the game styles that guys played back then as well. I think they both had such all-court games as well. And their games suit obviously quick courts extremely well.

Q. Tennis has a way of making people's career seem like they happen in a blink of an eye, and looking back to when you first broke through at the U.S. Open seems like yesterday in a lot of ways. But I was wondering if you could reflect for a minute how the game has changed and morphed over the years the most, the things that stick out for you as far as how the competition and the game has changed since you first broke through in the late '90s to today?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, I think nowadays there's certainly more better players from the baseline than there used to be. I think I kind of a little bit started that trend by staying back, especially on some of the quicker surfaces and not actually trying to serve volley all the time.
And winning Wimbledon from the baseline and stuff like that, because very rarely now, as good a server and volleyer Roger is, he very rarely serves volleys these days. So many good servers. Everyone is able to actually return serve very well and get the ball back in play. And I think the guys are a lot better from baseline than they used to be 10, 15 years ago.

Q. You think the competition has, since '98 or so, continually just keeps ramping up as far as the depth?
LLEYTON HEWITT: It's hard to say. There was good depth back then, but the game styles were just so different. There were so many attacking players back then that would try to serve volley and chip charge. And I think whether the court surfaces I feel have gotten slower, whether that's the balls or conditions or what it is, it's not as easy to serve volley these days against these guys from the back of the court.
I think that's what made it a lot tougher for guys to serve volley, and you even saw guys like Henman and these guys, at the end of their career standing back a lot more than they did at the start of their career.

Q. If I could just follow up, you mentioned earlier, you said a couple more years in the game. And considering all you've been through in the last few years with the hip, do you still see yourself out there for a couple of years? Is that not even a question?
LLEYTON HEWITT: At this stage it's not a question. I feel comfortable where my body is at at the moment. And as long as my body's there, I feel like I had a great preseason this year through November/December and was able to prepare for the Australian summer in 2011 as well as I've ever been. Right at the moment I'm really happy with where my body's at. As long as that's the case and the motivation is still there and I'm still enjoying it, I'll keep going.

Q. Lleyton, do you feel that you've mellowed at all over the years, or are you as fiery as ever?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Well, I think I still -- you always mature over the years, I think, and learn a lot and whatever. And obviously having a wife and three kids now and times change, but I think still in terms of my fitness and when I'm in the gym or on the practice court or on the match court, I'm still as competitive as I've ever been and still as hungry as I've ever been when I get out there.
I am still trying to get the best out of myself, and otherwise I still wouldn't be playing. So that obviously still drives me in a big way there.

Q. How well do you know Mark Knowles and how would you compare your personalities?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I know Mark Knowles extremely well. Obviously I spend a lot of time with him through the Bahamas and played doubles in Barcelona last year as well. And I think our personalities are quite similar in a lot of ways. We're both very competitive when it comes to any sports all around anyway. And we're obviously family men now and enjoy spending time with our families away from it, but I think the reason that he's still playing is very similar to me, to try to get the best out of himself and the most out of himself as well.

Q. You're good friends?
LLEYTON HEWITT: We're good friends, yeah.

Q. Now that your career is stretching for over a decade, I did want to ask you to specifically compare the strength of the field as a whole when you came in in '99, the first few years of your career first half of your career, compared to where it is now where there are obviously about four top players and so forth. But just how did the competitive field now and before compare.
LLEYTON HEWITT: I feel there's a lot more depth in the men's game. I feel in the Grand Slams and Masters series, there's very few easy matches.
Every one guy to be on their game right from the start. We saw that at the Wimbledon in the first round where Federer easily could have lost to Fyre in the first round. And so I feel there's still those capabilities of upsets happening early on in big tournaments. Purely because of the depth of men's tennis right at the moment. Obviously we got those top four or five guys that are really standing up and being able to be so good on the stage so often. But I feel there's a strong field behind them as well.

Q. You're so famous for the celebratory call, "Come On," can you possibly compare "Come on" with the Spanish "Vamos" and the French "A La," which is the best?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I don't know. I don't know if there's a best one. I guess they're all similar in themselves, and how people use them. Rafa uses them and gets fired up and uses it in such a positive way for him as well.
A lot of the French guys out there use theirs as well. It's what you grow up with and how you use it and your corner and it's more the personality of the player coming out as well, which is good. You want to see different personalities out there, obviously a guy like Roger Federer is quiet and within himself. Where Rafa is in your face a little bit more. It's good for the game.

Q. What do you think deep into a match when the very controlled Swiss guy, Roger Federer, actually uses "Come on," what goes through your mind when you hear that?
LLEYTON HEWITT: Obviously he's determined and he does it more on a big point, I guess, and that's just his personality coming out. That's just how Roger is. He's very controlled throughout the match, and definitely shows a lot of emotion whether he's winning or losing and there's definitely been times in his career where he's got to fire up out there. And it's not something that players think about. It's just, it's an instinctive thing that happens in the heat of battle right at that particular time.

Q. We're talking about the state of U.S. tennis, who will be the next great player, why don't we have the generation we used to have with Sampras, Agassi, et cetera, you've had to deal with that kind of talk for quite a while in Australia, too. People are looking to Tomic now, et cetera, talk about what that pressure is like, whether it's coming from the media and Australia, always kind of having to carry the great tradition on your shoulders?
LLEYTON HEWITT: I guess for me it's probably I'm being very similar to a guy like Andy Roddick in a lot of ways. He sort of carried the U.S. and Davis Cup over the years and I feel I've done the same with Australian tennis. Obviously we both love players from our countries to come up helping the Davis Cup. It's not as easy as people think either. There's so many nations that have learned the sport and doing well in the sport and a lot of the eastern countries are doing unbelievably and even though there are small countries out there, they're able to produce so many great players.
And I think a lot's got to do with how spoiled we are in the states and also Australia and the UK for different options, I think, in different sports. And there's a lot more choices out there for our kids growing up.
And depending on which way they go. So there's no doubt we've got talented kids in each of our great countries, but whether they choose tennis or not is another story. I'm sure a lot of those gifted kids would be good at any sport depending which one they chose. So a lot of these other countries see it as a great out for their country and a good opportunity to earn money and earn a great career by playing tennis. And it's sort of that they lay all their eggs in one basket to become a great tennis player.

Q. Do you put it more down to the globalization of the sport, or do you buy into the cyclical argument, too, that eventually it will come around and Australia will produce a string of champions again?
LLEYTON HEWITT: You are never going to see it like it was in the '50s and '60s and '70s, I think, and that's just -- that's part of the sport changing. It's a lot more global now, and obviously so many more countries are playing. And back when my coach Roche played, there really wasn't that much guys from a lot of different countries, which made it a lot easier to perform well in Davis Cups and also have a lot of Grand Slam champions out there as well. I don't think you'll see one or two countries dominating like we did back then.

Q. It's been a while since you won the U.S. Open doubles championship. I remember that well Max Mirnyi.
LLEYTON HEWITT: Yes, that was a while ago.

Q. Is the rumor I hear that in San Jose you plan to play doubles with Fernando Verdasco, is that going to be happening?
LLEYTON HEWITT: We're going to be playing in San Jose. I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to play doubles around the tournaments. And Fernando and I have never played together. So he actually asked me just the week before the Australian Open whether I was interested in playing doubles in San Jose. I took him up on the offer. It's going to be a lot of fun.
It's always nice to play with other quality players as well. And Fernando is a top player obviously. And I believe he won the tournament last year. So he's got good memories of coming back to San Jose.

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