Lleyton Hewitt poses for photographs with children on day two of the Brisbane International. Photo: Getty Images
FREE of pain for the first time in years and still with the kind of Jack Russell endeavour that spurs him to chase balls into the car park, Lleyton Hewitt begins another home summer with ambitions to rock the boat of some big names at the Australian Open.
But that plan could come unstuck on the first night of 2013, when the Australian veteran makes his Brisbane International debut against Radek Stepanek, the awkward Czech who seems to grow another leg on Pat Rafter Arena.
The meeting between Hewitt, 31, and Stepanek, 34, is hardly a collision of the bright young things of the men's tour. But for someone like Hewitt, Stepanek is proof in a polo shirt that the singles draw can remain a worthy pursuit on the wrong side of 30.
A canny craftsman on the court who has managed to upset the power games of any number of higher ranked opponents in recent years, Stepanek won the Brisbane event in 2009 before reaching the final in 2010, losing to Andy Roddick.
He made the semi-finals in 2011 and enters this year's event ranked 31 in the world, 50 places above an Australian opponent enjoying the freedom of training and playing without grimacing.
''He's probably the best shape he's been in in a long time, in terms of being injury free, which has enabled him to have a good month of solid practice,'' said Hewitt's coach, Tony Roche.
''He's been hitting the ball well and is looking forward to the summer. If he gets the right draw and can play his way into the tournament, he can do some damage.''
Hewitt's best guess since he felt this good was: ''Don't know. Few years.'' It's an indication of how long he's been on the roundabout of stunted play, surgery, rehab, repeat.
He's picked out the Australian Open and Wimbledon as his best two opportunities, or at least the ones where he can draw some seeds into extended contests.
''I think I've got my chance of playing my best tennis over five sets in those two majors with a little bit of luck with the draw as well. Then obviously Davis Cup,'' Hewitt said.
A few matches in Brisbane would be a handy start for Hewitt, who lost his most recent match against Stepanek despite some promising results overs the years.
''It's going to be a tough match. [I've] always played pretty well against him and then lost to him a couple months ago in Shanghai. He played really well. He's a tough competitor,'' Hewitt said.