1 Lleyton Hewitt 21
2 Peter Luczak 79
3 Chris Guccione 91
4 Alun Jones 131
5 Robert Smeets 150
6 Joseph Sirianni 197
7 Nick Lindahl 248
8 Nathan Healey 258
LUCZAK PRIMED FOR THE BIG TIME!
Peter Luczak, Australia’s No.2 player, rarely hits the headlines. You won’t see him splashed across the front page embroiled in controversy – it’s just not his style.
Luczak has had what could be considered a breakthrough season but has received less attention for his on-court achievements than others have for their off-court exploits.
In March this year, Luczak’s ranking blew out to 246 and in the affable Australian’s own words ‘things weren’t looking too good’. At the end of the month Luczak ground out a hard-fought victory at the Fes Challenger in Morocco. It was to be the beginning of Luczak’s ascent.
Three months later, in front of family and friends in Poland, the Polish-born Australian cracked the top 100, for the first time, at the Bytom Challenger. But that’s not all he’d cracked.
While playing in South Africa, shortly after competing in his fifth Australian Open, Luczak suffered a foot injury, but was given the all-clear without having an X-ray. Unbeknownst to him, he had cracked one of the sesamoid bones in his foot, an injury that would not be diagnosed until August.
Despite this injury, Luczak continued to work hard and the results started to come. This season has been Luczak’s most successful – four Challenger wins and he was a finalist in three others, enough to entrench him in the top 100 at year’s end (at the time of writing he is ranked 79 in the world).
Luczak credits his rise up the rankings to being a part of the AIS team, led by head coach Brent Larkham. Most weeks he has an AIS coach travel with him and has benefited from this enormously. Luczak has spent most of his time working with the AIS’s Shannon Nettle, who happens to be a close friend and was the best man at Luczak’s wedding to his Swedish partner in July this year.
‘We’re hoping for some bigger and better things in 2008,’ says Nettle. ‘Looch is one guy I’ve been fortunate enough to coach and when he goes out on court he always gives a strong performance and leaves everything out there. Next year our goal is to be top 50 in the next four or five months and if he can stay injury free I’ve got no doubt he can achieve that goal.’
Family, wife, Katarina, and their son, Sebastian, is a great source of inspiration for Luczak. ‘It’s [family] so much motivation … If you lose a match it’s no big deal, you see them and it’s OK … There are other things that are a bit more important than tennis,’ says Luczak.
Home for the Luczaks is Melbourne, but they also have an apartment in Sweden where they spend a lot of time. When speaking about his family, Luczak lights up.
For now, though, the focus is squarely on Australian Open 2008. Having a ranking in the top 100 means Luczak is a direct entrant into the main draw, which has enabled him to finish his 2007 season a few weeks earlier than usual. This has given the Melburnian extra time to train at Melbourne Park.
Luczak still has two more weeks of solid training ahead of him on the new Plexicushion courts at Melbourne – ‘I like them a lot … a lot more consistent’ – a couple of days off for Christmas, then he will play in the Hopman Cup with Alicia Molik in Perth. Then, all going well, he hopes to join the field for the Medibank International, but he will need a wildcard to get in. And then he’ll join the best players the world has to offer at Australian Open 2008.
In 2003 and 2006, Luczak made it to the third round, this year he hopes to go a step or two better and, if he does, he will be guaranteed a few headlines of his own.
HEWITT CONFIDENT OF AUSTRALIAN OPEN CHANCES !
Lleyton Hewitt believes a month-long layoff with an ankle injury puts him in a good position to mount a serious challenge for the Australian Open title next month.
The 26-year-old former world number one's best result in Melbourne is a final appearance in 2005 when he was beaten by Marat Safin.
Hewitt who missed the last month of the 2007 season because of the injury, said the year-ending schedule for most of the world's top players, including world number one Roger Federer, could take its toll in the heat at Melbourne Park.
"I'm going to be a lot fresher than Federer," Australian Hewitt told reporters. "Even when you look at (Novak) Djokovic, (Rafael) Nadal ... (Nikolai) Davydenko were getting tired at the Masters Cup so I'm going to be a lot fresher than those guys but I've just got to try and get some matches under my belt."
The world number 21, who annually carries the weight of his country's hopes of a first home champion at the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976, has been working with Federer's former coach Tony Roche to climb back up the rankings and prepare for 2008.
"It's long hours, trying to get the miles in my legs but also working on specific areas," he said of working with compatriot Roche, who helped Federer win six grand slam titles before they parted in May.
"The hard work's probably been done up until now and the next week or so and then try and taper off a bit more."
Hewitt, who will warm up for the Australian Open by appearing at the Sydney International event which starts on Jan. 6, added he would also compete at next year's Beijing Olympics.
Super-coach Tony Roche says Lleyton Hewitt will be primed to give the Australian Open a "real shake" next month and 2008 could be a "real big year for him".
Roche has been working with Hewitt to add variety and aggression to his game in the tour off-season and made it clear today that nothing was being left to chance in terms of fitness and sheer hard work.
"He's doing a lot of training off court and doing three hours a day on court, so the first part of the preparation has gone very well," said Roche.
"There's no question that he's going to be so fit that the five set matches in the heat are not going to be a problem, it's just now getting the matches under his belt in (the) Adelaide and Sydney (tournaments), and I think if he can do that then he'll be a real threat."
ROCHE TIPS HEWITT TO WIN AUSTRALIAN OPEN!
Lleyton Hewitt's new coach, Tony Roche, believes the former world No 1 can win the 2008 Australian Open.
Roche, who began coaching Hewitt in July after parting company with Roger Federer, said Hewitt was ready for a career renaissance and that he was "definitely" capable of returning to the game's upper echelon.
Roche revealed Hewitt intended to change his game style slightly, adding more variation and aggression, recognising that Federer and Rafael Nadal were playing a different game to the one that Hewitt "dominated" some years ago.
Asked what Hewitt's goal was for the upcoming Australian Open, Roche replied bluntly: "To win it."
"You're dealing with a world-class player who's been there with that experience ... obviously he wants to win the Australian Open," Roche said.
"It's something that means a lot to him, and he's already got a Wimbledon and a US [Open]. So he wants to win the Australian Open and it's been too long since we've had a winner here. So I'm sure the public are going to get behind him and he'll give it a real shake. There's no question about that."
Roche said Hewitt "most definitely" could climb back into the elite bracket.
But, Roche insisted, he had to add new dimensions to his game.
"That's where he needs to work," Roche said.
"When he was dominating, it was a certain way the players played, but now you've got Nadal and Federer playing a different type of tennis."
HEWITT 'S TRAINING TORTURE!!
Lleyton Hewitt is spending up to six hours a day steeling his body for a renewed tilt at the Australian Open title.
Hewitt, 26, has been ravaged by injury and fitness concerns since reaching the 2005 Melbourne Park decider and this year failed to reach a grand slam quarter-final for the first time since 1999.
But the South Australian yesterday declared he was on track to be the fittest he had ever been for the Australian Open after a series of searching workouts with coach Tony Roche
"I'm hitting every day with 'Rochey' for three hours," Hewitt said yesterday.
"I'd be spending about the same time in the gym each day.
"By the time the Australian Open comes around, I'd like to be fitter than I ever have been going into it."
Two years ago, Hewitt stunned the tennis world when he arrived at Rod Laver Arena carrying more muscle than ever before after an intensive strengthening program devised by then coach Roger Rasheed.
Since then, Hewitt's effectiveness has been compromised by ankle and knee complaints.
Recovered from an ankle problem which prematurely ended his season in Tokyo in October, Hewitt is in the throes of a brutal pre-season under Roche.
Hewitt conceded the training was tough.
"Rochey and I are hitting on my court every day and doing all the preparation for the Australian Open series (Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne)," Hewitt said.
"He's very tough and we've been spending a lot of hours getting things right.
"It's been great.
"Every day he's working with me on specific things.
"We're working on specific shots, specific tactics. There's a purpose behind every drill and I'm really enjoying it."
This year Hewitt reached the fourth round of the French Open and Wimbledon, the third round in Melbourne and the second round at the US Open.
He remains confident, however, of rebounding strongly at the Australian Open.
"Everything is good at the moment and I'm really looking forward to getting back to the Australian Open," Hewitt said.
"It's the one tournament I'd love to win."
NEW SURFACE FOR 2008
In 2008, the Rebound Ace surface which has been in place for the past 20 years at Flinders Park, will be replaced by a cushioned acrylic surface known as Plexicushion.
The main benefits of the new surface: better consistency and less retention of heat (due to a thinner top layer).
This change will be accompanied by changes in the surfaces of all lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open.
Work began on the removal of the old surface on 4 June 2007.
The decision has been met with much controversy, primarily due to the new surface's similarity to DecoTurf, the surface already being utilised by the US Open.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said the speed of the courts would continue to play in the medium to medium-fast range, would be firmer and would also have lower heat retention to reduce the chances of the event's extreme heat policy being invoked.
Tiley said the new surface would also have more consistent pace and bounce.
"The court characteristics for next year's Australian Open will be very similar to what we achieved in 2007, with the surface playing in the medium to medium-fast range," Tiley said in a statement.
"The annual review of the courts had to be more extensive this year because of their age and condition. Once it was established that a major rebuild was required, an exhaustive selection process was undertaken."
Tiley insisted the court was not classified as hard, maintaining its difference from the other grand slam events on the calendar, particularly the US Open at Flushing Meadow.
Former US Open and Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt has long been a critic of the Rebound Ace surface used at Flinders Park, saying a faster court would improve his chances of winning his home grand slam event.
Organisers used the extreme heat policy in Melbourne in mid-January when temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius on court, with several players forced to retire under the intense conditions.
HEWITT IN FAVOUR OF NEW AUSTRALIAN OPEN SURFACE
Lleyton Hewitt says the new Plexicushion hardcourts to be used at next month's Australian Open will help reduce wear and tear injuries for the players.
Plexicushion will replace Rebound Ace as the official court surface for this summer's Australian circuit, culminating with the year's opening grand slam tournament in Melbourne, starting on January 14.
The Australian former world No.1 was a strident critic of the Rebound Ace hard court surface and said heat was a major factor in playing on the surface.
Hewitt unveiled the new Plexicushion surface at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre on Thursday ahead of next month's Sydney International, the major lead-in tournament to the Australian Open.
"I think the biggest thing about the Plexicushion is hopefully it can take out the different variations in speed that we've had with Rebound Ace over the years," Hewitt said after cutting a ceremonial ribbon on centre court along with his new coach Tony Roche.
The world No.21, who missed the last month of this year's season with an ankle problem, said he hopes the new blue courts will reduce injuries.
"I think the heat was a major factor in Rebound Ace, not only the way it played but also how grinding it was on your body, your hips and lower back, areas like that," he said.
"We saw a lot of twisted ankles over the years and that's due to the amount of heat that was held in the court and how sticky it got.
"If you just put your hand on the Rebound Ace surface on a 35 (Celsius) degree day you're nearly blistering straight away."
SMEETS AWARDED AUSTRALIAN OPEN WILDCARD!
Queensland left-hander Robert Smeets has been rewarded for the best season of his career with a wildcard into the main draw of Australian Open 2008.
This year Smeets, 22, has lifted his world singles ranking from 391 to a career high 149 (it is currently 150), with a 53-25 win/loss record in the 34 events he has contested.
“Robert has had an outstanding year,” Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said. “He has massively improved his ranking, been our best performed under 23 player on the circuit and is close to direct entry into the Australian Open.
“Those achievements, in addition to our youth policy, means that Robert has already earned a wildcard, so it makes sense for him to get it now and begin preparations for the Australian Open.
“We’ve made this decision early because it frees up another position in the 16-man field for the Australian Open play-off and provides opportunity for another young player to get some valuable experience against the country’s best talent,” Tiley said.
A very happy Smeets said he was grateful for the opportunity to try and improve on his second-round appearance at Australian Open 2007.
“I got to play against (Czech) Tomas Berdych on Margaret Court Arena in the second round and I am really looking forward to coming back and trying to go further in 2008,” he said.
In 2007 the Queenslander won a Challenger in the United States and Futures tournaments in Great Britain, Spain, Kuwait and Australia (Wollongong). He credits a lot of his improvement to the AIS Pro Tour program, better scheduling and his AIS program coach, James Trotman.
“In the past I have gone along and won or lost and not really been able to analyse where I went right or wrong. Working with James has been fantastic and allowed us to really break down all aspects of my game and focus on what needs to be done to get better.”
Li plans Oz Open comeback!
Injury-hit Li Na will re-launch her Olympic ambitions at two events in Australia next month.
China's top-ranked women's player, who has been sidelined since May, will play the Australian Women's Hardcourts tournament and the Australian Open as she sets her sights on Olympic glory, the China Daily said.
"I am more motivated now and I feel my desire for the Olympics is bigger than ever before," the 26-year-old told the state-run newspaper.
Li was 16th in the world last January, her best ever position and the highest by a Chinese player, but suffered a rib injury during a pre-Wimbledon warm-up event.
That forced her to pull out of the Grand Slam tournament and sent her on a downward spiral that lasted months, seeing her drop 13 places to 29th in the rankings.
"I just cannot believe what happened to me in the summer," Li said in Guangzhou, southern China, where she is training.
"They were really dark days for me," she added. "I was anxious and just kept on asking people when I could come back. But what I got is just wait and wait."
The previous year's Wimbledon was the scene of Li's greatest triumph, when she became the first Chinese player ever to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam tournament.
That year Zheng Jie and Yan Zi also wrote their names in the record books by taking China's first ever Wimbledon title in winning the women's doubles.
Both Li and Zheng, who has also suffered a series of injuries this year, are on their way back. China's national team coach Jiang Hongwei said Li would need about six weeks to regain her form.
"I know I won't get back my form very soon, but I am not in a hurry," said Li.
Meanwhile Zheng, 24, has also been passed fit for Australia after winning the China Tennis Grand Prix doubles title last week with Yan, her first event since June.