WTA Considers Relaxing Age Eligibility Restriction
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
If Pete Sampras is true to his word about retirement, Lleyton Hewitt will be the last man to have beaten him at the United States Open. The tenacious Hewitt was too fresh, quick and accurate for Sampras in the 2001 final as he won his first Grand Slam singles title, but there was no question about who did the upstaging last night.
Sampras's teary farewell ceremony played out to a near-capacity crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, but the first-round match between Hewitt and the Romanian Victor Hanescu that followed did not attract nearly the same level of curiosity in its latter stages.
"It was a great ceremony," Hewitt said. "I was watching it in the locker room, in the gym. For us, and I think every tennis fan, to actually witness that tonight, I think is incredible. As everyone who went out there kept saying, a kind of guy like Pete Sampras only comes around once probably in our lifetime."
But the sport will move on, and last night looked like business as usual for Hewitt, as he won, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. But it only looked that way if you had not watched Hewitt at work for most of the summer. Victories have been surprisingly difficult to come by for the suddenly less combative man from Australia, who finished No. 1 in the world the last two seasons.
At Wimbledon, he provided the tournament with its most remarkable story of the year by becoming the first defending champion since 1967 to lose in the first round. In the final in Los Angeles, he squandered three match points before losing to Wayne Ferreira, and he followed that up with a second-round loss to Max Mirnyi in Montreal and a first-round loss to Xavier Malisse in Cincinnati.
That helps explain why he arrived here seeded sixth and why even longtime supporters have grown concerned enough to offer tips in public. The former Australian Davis Cup captain John Newcombe recently told Australian reporters that Hewitt's game had become too cautious and conservative.
But Hewitt, whose confidence is clearly not at an all-time high, was not prepared to concede too much weakness last night.
"I think when I've had little hiccups, I think I've bounced back from them pretty well," he said.
If Hewitt is no longer No. 1, at least he can still spend time with a No. 1. His longtime girlfriend, Kim Clijsters, took over the top ranking from Serena Williams earlier this month.
Clijsters, too, won last night in straight sets, beating Amber Liu, the N.C.A.A. singles champion from Stanford.
Good Luck: RENA, MATTEK, HAYNES, GULLICKSON, HARKLEROAD, RUBIN, GRANVILLE, LEE-WATERS, SCHNYDER, JACKSON, PERRY, KING, SUGIYAMA, PIERCE, TULYAGANOVA, IVANOVIC, KUZNETSOVA, MOLIK, DANIILIDOU, MEDINA GARRIGUES, PETROVA, PENNETTA, GOLOVIN, PEER, LI, SCHIAVONE, RAZZANO, ZVONAREVA, SPREM, SREBOTNIK, VINCI, & SAFINA