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Driven by competition, Hewitt fights on at U.S. Open; more mail

Walk the grounds here at the National Tennis Center and it's hard to escape images of former champions. Monica Seles with her faced scrunched up. Steffi Graf wearing a businesslike look and executing the perfect slice. A teenaged Pete Sampras, all arms and legs, hoisting the trophy from 1990. There are also images of a supernaturally intense Aussie, stroking his two-fisted backhand, his baseball cap turned backwards.

Lleyton Hewitt won the singles title here in 2001. How long as ago was that? It was pre-9/11, if only by two days. Since then, both Andre Agassi and Sampras would win majors. It was when Roger Federer was a talented head case, filled only with potential. Serena Williams had just one major to her name. "A long time ago," says Hewitt. "A long time ago, wasn't it?"

Hewitt, now 31, marveled about this after he won his first round match today, a classically Hewitt-ian ground-and-pound job on Tobias Kamke of Germany. He performed his handiwork on Court 13, far from the main show courts he once occupied as a matter of ritual. He was no longer wearing top-of-the-line clothes he was paid mightily to endorse. Not only was he unseeded; he needed a wild card simply to enter the main draw. He's lost a step of footspeed, the legacy of age and injuries, most recently toe surgery.

Still, he was out there. And that's all that matters to him. He was grinding and fighting and retrieving. He was deploying strategy -- always an underrated component of his success -- gradually pushing Kamke off the court. He betrayed superior poise on the important points. When Kamke sailed a return beyond the baseline on match point, Hewitt struck a familiar pose, flexing his arm and fist pumping.

When we spoke an hour after the match, he was still riding the competition high, the reason, he readily admits that he's still out here. Hewitt knows that, realistically, his days of winning majors are no longer. But if he wins a few matches and takes a set off of Novak Djokovic, as he did at the Olympics? If he can come to a Grand Slam and battle his way through a few matches? If he can put up a fight against his 2012 configuration, David Ferrer of Spain -- likely his third round opponent? So be it. Besides, he says, "Retirement is forever and that's a long time."

Based now mostly in the Bahamas, Hewitt brought his family to New York to watch him compete. That, too, is a reason to soldier on. But even they remind him of his age. Who's his son's favorite player?

"Oh," says Hewitt, laughing. "By far, it's Rafael Nadal."

Mail call

With all the money in the U.S. Open coffers, funded in part by the outrageous ticket prices, there is simply no reason why Hawk-Eye is not on all courts, no? -- Fernando, Valencia

? Why limit this to the U.S. Open? But yes, it is strange that a technology aimed at fairness avails itself to certain players and not others.

What was up with the fireworks on Monday night from Ashe? I was watching the Paul-Henri Mathieu/Igor Andreev match on Court 13 as they went off mid-point! We all thought there was gunfire or something similarly scary. I'm amazed the players didn't complain, especially when it happened TWICE MORE. Maybe a little heads up from the USTA next time? -- Geoff Hunt, Washington, D.C.

? It still doesn't compare the Australia Day pyrotechnics in Melbourne that cause play to be delayed.

Possibly bolstered by his victory in a hard-court match during the U.S. Open Series, Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo notched his first singles win in a major outside the French Open on Monday. He is almost 34 years and 8 months old. Is he the oldest player ever to win his first match at the U.S. Open? -- Scott Humphrey of Pflugerville, Texas

? Attention, Greg Sharko. Could you please assist with a clean-up?

Just a friendly word of advice: It might be an idea to stop touting Petra Martic every single Slam, or give us a "rational" explanation for this somewhat bizarre obsession. -- John Thompson, Manchester, U.K.

? Martic was clearly injured in her first match against Sam Stosur and, it's safe to assume, wouldn't have played were this not a Grand Slam event. (See: $23,000 check for first-round losers.) Watch her play at full strength, tell me you don't think highly of her game and then we can have a discussion.

If best-of-five matches were eliminated in the first of week of Slams the way you want it, we would already have missed at least three comebacks from two sets down at the current U.S. Open: Paul-Henri Mathieu vs. Igor Andreev, Marin Cilic vs. Marinko Matosevic, Philipp Petzschner vs. Nicolas Mahut. If those had been over after an hour and a half, spectators would have paid to see instantly forgotten encounters. Only the comebacks made them memorable and worthwhile. Furthermore, the confidence boost for the eventual winner more than neutralizes his putative weariness, especially if the match was a first-rounder and the player had had a week of rest beforehand. -- Anonymous

? This is ridiculous logic. In a best-of-three match, the players would have a different strategy, play with a different sense of urgency and bring different fitness levels to bear. Just because Player X won the first two sets in a best-of-five match doesn't mean he would have won a best-of-three affair.

What is so bad about Donald Young that everyone needs to pick on him? Of course he lost to Roger Federer. That puts him in respectable company. How many other first-round losers against Federer, ranked near or above 100, get so much scrutiny? He's had a hard year.Why pick on him while he's down? -- Nikki, St. Louis

? Total candor: I didn't see much of the match. But I bet I got a dozen emails and tweets basically saying, "I'm not even a Donald Young fan and I thought the McEnroe brothers were unnecessarily harsh."

Could you please update us regarding the election of the ATP Players Council officers? Thanks. -- Annette, Oakland, Calif.

? Here's the ATP's press release from June.

Not that there is any doubt at this point, but we saw so much evidence of how genuine and nice Kim Clijsters on Monday night. From giving the ball girl a low-five when she got on court, to hearing about her talk to her opponent in the locker room beforehand to share stories of her nerves, to taking pictures with her after the match, Clijsters is a class act all the way. And what about her telling the crowd that moms probably have a better core? Ha! -- Jess Hahn,Mauldin, S.C.

? Here's my best "Clijsters humanity" story this week: She scheduled her weekend practice and media sessions around watching her doubles player, Kristen Flipkens, try to qualify for the main draw in singles. It's hot. You are a wife and mother. It's the weekend before your final event, a Slam you have won three times. And you are sitting on bleachers supporting your friend? Wow.

And Ive Beeckmans of Belgium (@ivebe) tweeted to me: "Not only did Kim watch Flipkens, she arranged practice courts and transport, got her rackets restrung and made sports drinks!"

Pickleball. Do you know what it is? It's a great, fast-paceed game. Costs very little to play. You should promote it to YMCA's schools, etc. Can be played at almost any age. Why not look into it? Good book to start with is the Art of Pickleball. May be an Olympic sport by 2020. Thanks. -- Dominic Grillo , Dunedin, Fla.

? Love pickleball! I wrote this when I was still in school.

Shots, miscellany

? Welcome back, Bud Collins.

? Brian of Austin, Texas: "Longtime reader, thanks for all the great work. In case you haven't already heard: Andy Roddick to open sports, learning center in East Austin."

? An ATP statement regarding the alleged boycott action at a future Slam: "ATP Management and players remain committed to the diplomatic approach they have taken this year with the Grand Slams to address player compensation issues. The Grand Slams are important events that generate significant revenues, and all players who perform there should share in a more acceptable percentage of those revenues -- like they do on the ATP World Tour. ATP players are driving the huge popularity and commercial success of the game today, and this discussion is about total compensation coming back to the players as a group. We are focused on our active dialogue with the Grand Slams about player compensation for 2013 and beyond. ATP players at all levels remain unified and passionate about this issue."

? Atanas Entchev of New Brunswick, N.J.: "I have created maps showing the top 100 tennis pros by country -- men, women and composite. I have posted the maps on my blog. I thought this might be of interest to your readers."

? SI.com's Bryan Armen Graham bringing Pusha T into the discussion.

? Aaron R. of Bloomington, Ill., has long-lost siblings: Paolo Lorenzi and actor Steve Buscemi. (SI.com has some look-alikes here.)

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