Hewitt back in comfort zone as US Open looms

Lleyton Hewitt is back in his comfort zone this week as third seed at the ATP Atlanta Tennis Championships, with six weeks of hard court tennis to go before the US Open.

“I’m quite comfortable on the hard courts,” said the former number one. “I don’t think it’s too early to start. I’ll take next week and one more off before the Open [which begins August 30].”

The 29-year-old Australian is seeded behind Americans Andy Roddick and John Isner.

None were in action on Monday as the top four seeds received byes into the second round.

In first-round results, American Michael Russell upset German eighth seed Benjamin Becker 6-3, 6-3 to earn a meeting with another German — veteran Rainer Schuettler who beat Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-1, 6-4.

Rajeev Ram booked a second-round clash with Roddick with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Slovak Karol Beck, and Ukranian Illya Marchenko beat qualifier Kristof Vliegen by the same 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) scoreline.

American Mardy Fish also advanced, beat his second British opponent in three weeks, hammering James Ward 6-1, 6-2 after beating Richard Bloomfield in a title run on the grass courts of Newport.

Atlanta returned to the ATP calendar this season after a nine-year absence in the wake of a financial deal with the bankrupt Indianapolis event.

Hewitt’s previous visit to the southern American city came in 1999 when the event here was played on green clay.

The Australian, now based with his family just a flight away in the Bahamas, is keen to put the confidence he gained from a title victory on grass last month in Halle, Germany — where he beat Roger Federer — to work during the gruelling cement season.

“Winning Halle gave me a lot of confidence, especially after beating Roger on grass in a final,” said the Aussie. “The top players like him all tend to play their best at the business end of a tournament.”

Number 30 Hewitt’s last match was the Wimbledon fourth round, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.

Hewitt wrote on his website he had enjoyed spending time at home with his wife, Bec, who is pregnant, and family.

“But it’s once again business as usual,” he wrote. “I’ve been training in the heat for the last week and preparing for the American swing towards the US Open.”

Hewitt is especially impressed with his progress after undergoing a second hip operation in late January after losing in the Australian Open.

“I never expected to get back to form this fast,” said the player who has won a title every year except one [2008] since 1998.

Hewitt is planning a full Grand Slam buildup, with his August schedule comprising tournaments in Washington, Toronto, and Cincinnati and then a week off prior to the Open.

“I’m hoping for a good run, I’ve got a lot of matches under my belt right now.” — AFP

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