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  Saturday, 31 August, 2002, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Hewitt faces test of nerve
Lleyton Hewitt
Hewitt has won all three meetings with Blake
Lleyton Hewitt's clash with James Blake at the US Open on Saturday should not need any spicing up.

The world number one takes on America's newest star in the intimidating atmosphere created by the New York crowd.


I come from a multicultural country, I'm not racial in any way at all
Lleyton Hewitt
With a contrast in styles and temperaments it looks set to be the match of the tournament so far, even without the hype.

But this is not the first time the two have met at Flushing Meadows.

Hewitt took on Blake in the second round of last year's event, and caused a storm of controversy by making a remark that many took to be racist.

He demanded that black linesman Marion Johnson be removed after calling two foot faults in the third set, and vented his feelings to umpire Andres Egli.

"Look at him," Hewitt said, gesturing at the linesman. "And look at him," pointing at Blake.

"You tell me what the similarity is."

The Australian later claimed that his use of the word "similarity" referred to both faults being called by Johnson.

Whatever the motivation behind his outburst, there is little doubt that Hewitt had been rattled by his opponent's ability.

James Blake won his first title in washington last week
Blake is a much tougher challenge this year
Without a Grand Slam title at the time, the Australian was desperate to finally make his mark.

But he fell two sets to one behind and Blake only faltered after suffering cramp in the latter stages, allowing Hewitt to come through in five sets.

"I don't think I said anything racial out there," Hewitt said after the match. "It was a conversation between me and the umpire.

"I come from a multicultural country, I'm not racial in any way at all."

Blake appeared as unconvinced by that argument as many other observers but refused to get involved in a row.

"He said there was a similarity between the line judge and myself," said Blake. "My reaction was to try to win the match.


We put it behind us the next day in the locker room
James Blake
"It did bother me a little bit but I figured that it was in the heat of the moment when he's fighting out there and not thinking about being politically correct.

"I hope he didn't mean anything derogatory by it but I can't speak for him."

Hewitt did not exactly boost his popularity in the US by going on to beat home favourites Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras on the way to the title.

The 21-year-old has since gone from strength to strength on court, but disciplinary problems continue to dog him.

The ATP Tour fined him over US$100,000 (65,000) at the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month for refusing to do a television interview, although he is appealing against the penalty.

It was not his first brush with the authorities.

LLeyton Hewitt argues with umpire Andres Egli during his match with Blake
Hewitt clashed with umpire Egli after his remark
Hewitt was docked US$1,000 (650) for calling a chair umpire a "spastic" at the 2001 French Open.

And he managed to upset fans in Adelaide by calling them "stupid" for rooting for his underdog opponent during a match in 2000.

If the crowd in his hometown gets on his back, it is nothing to the reaction he will get in New York if he steps out of line again.

Blake will provide an even stiffer test this time around as he comes off the back of winning his first career title last week in Washington.

But if there is one player who will not be intimidated it is Hewitt and, like McEnroe and Connors before him, there is a feeling that he positively enjoys the needle matches.

"You never look forward to your opponent getting all the support and you getting nothing but it doesn't worry me," he said on Thursday.

"Like I say, everyone wanted to see a Roddick-Sampras final last year and I pretty much screwed that up for them.

"I had all that last year here, I know how to handle it."

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