Fighting the pain barrier



SYDNEY ? An ailing Lleyton Hewitt revealed he was just moments away from pulling the pin on his Sydney International title defence yesterday before battling back from the brink to beat lowly-rated American Vincent Spadea.

Struck down by a stomach bug for the past two days, Hewitt overcame a sluggish start to triumph 2-6 7-5 6-3 over the world No.75 in one hour and 53 uncomfortable minutes. Afterwards, the 24-year-old revealed he considered ending his campaign for a fifth Sydney title when trailing 5-2 in the opening set of his first-round match. The clearly distressed tournament top seed remained hunched over in his chair for close to 10 minutes during an injury timeout, but eventually chose to fight through the pain.

"I actually thought it was get- ting a bit dangerous out there to try and keep playing on,'' said Hewitt, who suffered a shock second-round loss in the Adelaide International last week but has only lost once in five years on hardcourts here at Olympic Park.

"I was probably only a couple of points away from having to walk off the court. I was tossing up, was it really worth it, with (the Australian Open) next week.

"To my credit, I hung in there and tried to get through knowing that I had a day off tomorrow. That was a huge factor in the back of my mind. Hopefully it's at its worst today.''

Hewitt said the pain was similar to when he played a Hopman Cup tie in 2002 before being diagnosed with chickenpox.

Swedish third seed Thomas Johansson has withdrawn from the tournament.



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