Hewitt serves up a treat to terminate the Dominator

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The Independent Online

Accordingly, Hewitt marched into the fourth round of the men's singles of the French Open by defeating Dominik Hrbaty, the Slovak who goes by the nickname The Dominator, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2 - a clear case of Dominator dominated.

It has to be said that Hewitt did miss last year's Roland Garros, but then he could hardly walk because of a serious rib injury incurred when he fell down stairs at home in Sydney. Yesterday he was the familiar Hewitt, perhaps not as pumped up as Wimbledon audiences will remember, but in feisty enough form to hammer down 11 aces. And all this despite Hrbaty having played, in Hewitt's estimation, "better than he has ever done against me".

"My ball striking was great," said Hewitt, the last Australian standing in Paris. "Right from the word go I served as well as I've ever served, especially on clay. I just mixed it up extremely well. Dominik doesn't give you a lot of cheap points, you've got to work for it. But I took it to him."

But at what cost to the ankle he injured at a tournament in Austria in April? "It's about 80 per cent right now," he said. "If it was 100 per cent I'd be moving better. But gradually every match has been better and better. But it's a healing thing, which is sort of out of my hands. So I'm doing icing and physio all the time, just trying to get the inflammation down as much as possible after matches and rest it as much as possible as well." Which is good news for the grass- court part of the season coming up.

Good news was forthcoming, too, for the French fans with the success of one of their own, Julien Benneteau, over the 11th seed, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic. Benneteau, ranked 95th in the world, fed on the rabid backing he received from the stands to overcome Stepanek 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 6-3 in three and a half hours, a marvellous marathon performance.

So hard and long were the rallies that even an iron man like Stepanek eventually wilted, showing clear signs of physical distress in the fourth set. Perhaps he was the first heat exhaustion victim of this chilly tournament which has suddenly turned much, much warmer. In the end, the match turned on the 59 unforced errors perpetrated by Stepanek, which more than offset his 15 aces. But Benneteau was perfectly prepared to take the credit.

As a Stepanek return sailed long on match-point the 24-year-old from the cheese town of Bourg-en-Bresse threw both arms high and then launched into blowing a series of kisses to all quarters of the Suzanne Lenglen Arena. No wonder. This surely adds up to the best win of his career at the best of all locations for a Frenchman.

Britain's contingent is, of course, already back home, getting in valuable time on the grass in preparation for the "London season" at Queen's Club and Wimbledon.

Tim Henman, free for once of crippling expectation, claims also to be clear of injury worries and is happy with "movement, strength and form" while admitting: "For sure, I'd like the results to improve."

There is, consequent upon that lack of success, the certainty that he will not enjoy a seeding at the All England Club this year for the first time in a decade and the luck of the draw could see him facing a first round against the likes of Roger Federer or Andy Roddick.

As for Andy Murray, he plans to spend most of this week attempting to recover from problems with his lower back before testing his fitness on grass, a surface he insists is his least favourite.

Pesumably the good folk at the Stella Artois have recovered from the shock of Murray's unguarded comment here that, if he did well with James Auckland in the French doubles, he might well give their tournament a miss.

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