Hewitt finds his fighting form on road to recovery

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The Independent Online

There is nothing like an English summer to set the Australian pulse racing. Their cricketers arrived on Sunday full of confidence as they prepare to defend the Ashes and, at Queen's Club in London yesterday, their two most successful tennis players of recent years took their first steps back to fitness en route to Wimbledon.

There is nothing like an English summer to set the Australian pulse racing. Their cricketers arrived on Sunday full of confidence as they prepare to defend the Ashes and, at Queen's Club in London yesterday, their two most successful tennis players of recent years took their first steps back to fitness en route to Wimbledon.

Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis have been out of the game since March, but both showed that they will come out fighting when the year's third grand slam tournament begins on Monday week. Hewitt, the No 1 seed at the Stella Artois tournament, was given the most testing of work-outs by Xavier Malisse, beating the Belgian, 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, after more than two and a half hours, while Philippoussis brushed aside the challenge of the Dutchman Raemon Sluiter, losing only four games.

Hewitt, who beat Tim Henman here in the 2001 and 2002 finals, has been out of action with toe and rib injuries and took his time to settle against Malisse, who on his day can be a match for anyone. There were plenty of mistakes but also some cracking rallies. Both men preferred to play from the back of the court and at times the quality of their retrieving was exceptional.

There were no breaks in the first set and Malisse won the tie-break 7-3. Hewitt immediately broke serve in the second set and, despite a wobble when Malisse broke back, the Australian broke again to level the match. The third set provided some excellent tennis, Hewitt serving out at 6-5 and winning the match with an ace.

Considering that Philippoussis has also been absent since March, courtesy of his dodgy knees, his 6-4, 6-0 victory over Sluiter was an equally creditable performance. The 28-year-old, who now faces the No 2 seed, Andy Roddick, rarely looked in trouble.

Philippoussis came to Queen's having played only seven matches this year, during which time he has failed to progress beyond the second round of any tournament. The 2003 Wimbledon finalist's world ranking has slipped to 189, though the lure of the grasscourt season has been an incentive as he has regained fitness at his home in Florida. He has even put his surfboards away for the time being.

"I love the start of the grass," Philippoussis said. "I get excited around this time of the year. For the last month back in Florida I've been hitting on Fisher Island every day on grass. They have two grass courts there." He was asked what he thought he might achieve in the coming weeks. "Who knows?" Philippoussis replied. "The great thing is I'm in a positive frame of mind - on the court and off the court. I just try and take the right steps in preparing myself well for the coming weeks."

Following Andrew Murray's first win on grass on Monday, Jamie Delgado gave a further boost to British tennis with a convincing victory over Gael Monfils, who is one of the game's most exciting young players. The Frenchman, who won the junior Wimbledon title last season, has had an excellent first year as a senior and has earned a world ranking of 82.

Delgado, 28, has promised much at different stages of his career without ever building on his potential. Here, however, the world No 205 had too much know-how on grass for Monfils. "I thought my balance of attacking and coming to the net was perfect today," Delgado said. "I tried to rush him a bit and make him move." Having earned a wild card at Queen's thanks to the toss of a coin - the Lawn Tennis Association could not decide between four Britons and a play-off was rained off - Delgado is now guaranteed to win at least £3,910 in prize money (just £300 less than he has earned so far this year). He now has to juggle the rest of his week between his commitments here and a 16-man British play-off at Raynes Park for a wild card at Wimbledon.

Murray plays his second-round match this afternoon against Taylor Dent, of the United States, who beat Tomas Behrend, of Germany, 6-4, 6-3. Dent, a big-serving American, is ranked No 30 in the world, 327 places above 18-year-old Murray, who recorded his first win as a senior player when he beat Santiago Ventura here on Monday.

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