HEWITT SHORN OF CONFIDENCE?

LIKE SOME CRICKETERS, Hewitt wants his home pitch doctored.-AP

For Lleyton Hewitt the home advantage of playing in his own country, where the weather is no stranger to him, buoyed by a crowd that swears by him, is evidently not enough. Like some cricketers, he wants his home pitch doctored as well.

Last year, the sometimes irascible Australian and his crew expressed their displeasure with the Melbourne Park Rebound Ace courts, suggesting they should be quickened, for it would add menace to his game which is built less on muscle and more on consistency. Hewitt's continuing fury was evident during his loss to Juan Ignacio Chela this year when he reportedly screamed during the match "fix the courts". While Hewitt may have a point that the new balls used this year, Wilson instead of Slazenger, are fluffier and seem to slow the action down further, his assertion that "Mate, it (the courts) could be slower than French Open" will take some digesting.

But the courts issue only distracts from Hewitt's, even if temporary, slide. Understandably, he, a former world No.1 and Wimbledon and US Open champion, had injuries last year, and missed the Masters Cup because of the arrival of his daughter, Mia, but right through the summer, where he suffered early round losses in Adelaide and Sydney in warm-up tournaments as well, his game has seemed strangely unreliable.

He appears a player somewhat shorn of confidence, unsure still whether to just stay tough from the baseline or lace his game with a greater aggression like John Newcombe suggests, or mix it up as Pat Rafter had advised. Bereft of power, Hewitt has not just survived but stayed near the top because he has pugnaciousness sewn into his soul. But how long can he run, how long can he fight?