Hewitt thriving on return from the brink

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Andy Roddick made the profoundest acknowledgement when he declared that there is no way he will break Lleyton Hewitt mentally when the two face each other for the first time at Wimbledon today. "A lot of guys you can get on top of, you can get on top of their game, you can look for holes in it," Roddick observed. "Lleyton doesn't really have a lot of holes... you're definitely not going to get on top of him mentally. He's as sound there as anybody."

If that was the case when Hewitt was taking the Wimbledon title seven years ago and establishing himself as No 1 in the world the previous year, then it is the more so now. That, as Hewitt declared in his irresistible three-set win over fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the second round, is because he has stared into the abyss and walked away from it.

In the darker recesses of his mind before and after he underwent arthroscopic hip surgery last year on the torn muscle in his left hip, which restricted his lateral movement, Hewitt wondered if he would compete again – or else drift away from the tennis scene like his compatriot, the eternally injured Mark Philippoussis. "I didn't want to spend a whole heap of time playing with the pain that I was playing with for about six to seven months last year," the 28-year-old reflected. "[Retirement] was on my mind."

A little of the obvious aggression has gone in the same direction as the self-doubt. There were fewer of the "Come ons!" during Monday's five-setter against Radek Stepanek and in their place there is more of the reflective sense that comes with age, fatherhood and a successful marriage, to the actress Bec Cartwright. "He just seems very content with life," said his friend, cricketer Adam Gilchrist who, along with Formula One driver Mark Webber, was at Court One for the Del Potro match.

No-one is getting too carried away about the encounter with Roddick, who beat Hewitt in successive tie-breaks to win their last 16 match at Queen's two weeks ago. Hewitt, who is confident of recovering from the thigh strain sustained on Monday, has never beaten Roddick on grass and you have to go back to Indian Wells four years and five matches back for a win of any description.

"You know you're going to get aced out there,'' Hewitt said of an opponent two years his junior. "You've got to weather the storm and take the small chances when you get the opportunity." A task for only the most tenacious individual, then – like Lleyton Hewitt.