The Age 
Picture by Wayne Taylor
13th January 2013
Tennis. Australian Open tennis practice sessions today. Lleyton Hewitt.

He's back … Australia's Lleyton Hewitt is over his injuries and in the sort of form that took him to the top in the last decade. He meets Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia on Monday night. Photo: Wayne Taylor

LLEYTON HEWITT is ranked in the 80s, not the top 10. He is 31, not 21. His body allowed him to play only 30 matches last year and on Monday night he faces an opponent ranked ninth in the world.

Yet, Hewitt is confident - about his fitness and the form that enabled him to knock off Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic - all ranked inside the top 15 - en route to winning Kooyong last week. Confident enough for a big statement: ''The last couple of matches I've hit the ball as well I remember when I hit it.

''I feel confident with where my game is at at the moment.''

Li Na. Click for more photos

Australian Open, Tennis Practice

Li Na. Photo: Wayne Taylor

  • Li Na.
  • Victoria Azarenka.
  • Sam Stosur.
  • Lleyton Hewitt's son Cruz plays in the sidelines as his dad practices.
  • Lleyton Hewitt.
  • Tony Roach and Pat Rafter at Lleyton Hewitt's practice session.

You're only as old as the player you're beating, it seems. Whereas Hewitt admits he entered last year's Open hurt - ''I wasn't close to 100 per cent coming in'' - this time he has no apparent afflictions. ''I'm feeling pretty good,'' said the South Australian, who says he has been hitting well in practice for his 17th consecutive Australian Open.

''So far I haven't put too many feet wrong. Yeah, you've still got to go out and do it.''

These positive portents are balanced by a difficult draw. Hewitt is to play Janko Tipsarevic, a thoughtful 28-year-old Serb who has finished the past two years ranked nine in the world.

Hewitt has beaten Tipsarevic in three of their four encounters, but they have not played since 2009 and the past truly is another country for these men; Tipsarevic's late-developing career - he was ranked 138 in the year Hewitt made the final at Melbourne Park - is almost the reverse of Hewitt's.

Where others might be peeved to draw a highly-ranked opponent, Hewitt saw opportunity. ''I don't care. I'll knock him off, try to take his spot in the draw.''

Kooyong isn't a tour event and, as such, results of the Open's local entree are sometimes discounted. But Hewitt felt that his victories over Del Potro (seeded six here), Berdych (five) and rising Canadian Raonic (13) were significant for how he curbed their immense power. ''They've got extreme big weapons. I was able to work around that, sort of open them up out there. I felt the way I was able to be aggressive with the bigger, stronger guys … I was not only able to get their service back but put them under pressure on their service games. So that gives me a lot of confidence.'' Hewitt says he has not given any thought to the notion that this might be his last appearance here. To the question of whether he could win the Open, he said: ''I just take it one match at a time. It's the same for anyone out there. To win seven best-of-five-set matches isn't easy on any surface. Obviously, I came really close in 2005.''

He would ''try to get through the first week''. ''You never know,'' he said. ''Strange things happen with draws, stuff opening up.''

Bernard Tomic has supplanted Hewitt, at least in media minds, as the Aussie most likely - if not to win, then to create havoc and headlines. Hewitt said the expectations of the Aussie pair, while heightened by last week's results, were not as high as when Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Hewitt himself were in the top 10 or 15.

''We're hitting the ball well, but we're both unseeded, too,'' he said of Tomic and himself. How far could Bernie go? ''In this tournament, I don't know. Obviously, he's got Roger in the third round. He's had good matches with Roger, but Roger has always been a class above … Bernie still has to get through one match at a time. He can't take anyone lightly.''

Two other locals, Matthew Ebden and John Millman, will compete on the opening day, Ebden playing seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny (23), Millman meeting Tatsuma Ito of Japan. They are playing on the show courts. On Monday, Hewitt is the show, and on his own reckoning, he has one.