Hewitt sees threats everywhere

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Suggest to defending champion Lleyton Hewitt that this U.S. Open is his to lose, that there are few challengers to the world's No. 1 player, and he just bristles.

"That's rubbish," he snapped after beginning his defense Tuesday with a routine 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nicolas Coutelot.

So which players does Hewitt -- winner of the last Grand Slam at Wimbledon -- believe are legitimate threats to him?

"There's a lot of challengers," he said. "Most people know who they are."


Then he rattled off the names of the usual suspects -- Andre Agassi and Marat Safin. Andy Roddick, too. Also Tommy Haas, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Juan Carlos Ferrerro.

Safin and Roddick held up their end of the bargain Tuesday, opening with wins.

Safin won a test of survival, outlasting Nicolas Kiefer 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) in a five-set marathon that lasted 4 hours, 31 minutes and left both players exhausted and cramped.

Roddick, seeded No. 11 and three days from his 20th birthday, needed treatment for a blister on his right hand and defeated Martin Verkerk 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-4.

Ferrero, No. 7, won two tiebreakers before subduing Wayne Arthurs 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-5.

Haas, Henman and Rusedski get started Wednesday. So does four-time champion Pete Sampras, the man Hewitt beat for the title last year but a name he left off the list of challengers.

"I'm forgetting guys, I know I am," Hewitt said. "There's a lot of guys. I think it's getting more and more open. I think it's an extremely tough field this year."

That said, Hewitt was in charge throughout in his first match, much the same way defending two-time women's champion Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati were in their openers at the Open.



Williams and Capriati threw the tennis equivalent of perfect games, both cruising to 6-0, 6-0 victories. Williams blanked Mirjana Lucic in 50 minutes and Capriati dismissed Bethanie Mattek in 44.

Williams, seeded No. 2, understands she is expected to cruise through the field to a third straight Grand Slam final with sister Serena.

"I realize I have the potential to be in the final," she said. "But it doesn't mean anything. I still have to play. I realize I can get there, I can be there. I've done it, but I still have to perform and do everything it takes to be there."

Capriati, seeded No. 3, knew Mattek was in over her head, but she wasn't about to give her 17-year-old opponent any openings.

"I'm not out there to feel sorry for anybody," she said. "Once you do that, then you never know. It could turn into one game, two games, three games."

On this night, it turned into no games.

As routine as the wins were for Hewitt, Williams and Capriati, there was great drama packed into two other matches.


Safin wins long match

Safin, a former champion seeded No. 2, and Kiefer were locked in a match of attrition. Safin admitted he was hoping Kiefer would quit.

"I was praying for it," he said, "because I couldn't (play) anymore and I just wanted to finish this match because it was just terrible."

How was he feeling when it was over?

"Dead," he said. "Completely dead."

And he was the winner.

Kiefer, the loser, had never cramped before.

"I saw it on TV, when somebody was cramping," he said "But now it happened to me also. It's a very bad feeling."


Still he was not about to give in to the pain.

"I didn't think about it," he said. "I wanted to continue. I wanted to finish it." This is a little disappointing because I was out there for 4 1/2 hours. I got to a tiebreak in the final set. I had the chances. I was very close to winning it. Finally, I didn't make it."

Neither did Mark Philippoussis.

The runner-up at the Open in 1998, Philippoussis has been dogged by a bad left knee and undergone three operations in 14 months. He looked fine for three sets against No. 24 Sjeng Schalken, winning the first two, losing the third.

Then, as he reached for an overhead shot, he came down awkwardly and his leg collapsed under him. His face contorted in pain.

After being treated by a trainer, he continued briefly and even won another game. But eventually he quit and Schalken won 6-7 (1), 4-6, 6-3, 5-3.

Philippoussis left immediately for Miami and will have an MRI on Wednesday.

Other Day 2 winners at the Open included No. 9 Carlos Moya, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) over Adrian Voinea; No. 6 Monica Seles, 6-3, 6-3 over Zsofia Gubacsi; No. 7 Kim Clijsters, 6-1, 6-0 over Conchita Marinez Granados; No. 10 Amelie Mauresmo, 6-3, 6-2 over Iveta Benesova; No. 14 Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-3 over Jill Craybas; No. 21 Lisa Raymond, 6-4, 6-3 over Jennifer Hopkins; and No. 32 Paola Suarez, 7-6 (3), 6-3 over Mary Pierce..


Sampras, seeded No. 17 and still seeking his first tournament victory since Wimbledon 2000, begins play Wednesday. Sampras, the runner-up the last two years, faces Albert Porta.

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