Hewitt under fire
Australian fends off criticism after win over Blake
Updated: Friday August 31, 2001 8:38 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Lleyton Hewitt, caught in a five-set battle Friday at the U.S. Open against wild-card James Blake, complained about an official during the match but denied it was racially motivated.
Hewitt, seeded No. 4 in the season's final Grand Slam, complained after being called for two foot faults by a black linesman and requested that the official be moved.
"Look at him," he said, gesturing at the linesman. "And look at him," pointing at Blake, one of the few black players in the field.
After Hewitt, a semifinalist at the Open last year, won the match 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, he was asked about what he said.
"I don't think I said anything racial out there," the Australian said. "It was a conversation between me and the umpire. I come from a multicultural country. I'm not racial in any way at all. People can have their own opinions. That was between me and the umpire. There was nothing racial said out there at all."
Blake said he heard Hewitt's comment to the umpire.
"He said there was a similarity between the line judge and myself," Blake said. "My reaction was to try to win the match. I didn't want anything to cloud my judgment, cloud my thought process.
"I'm generally a positive thinker, I give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes maybe too much. But I'm definitely going to give him the benefit of the doubt this time because it's in competition," he said.
"Maybe whatever he meant by it, maybe he does feel bad about it now. You know you move on from that."
When confronted again over the exchange, Hewitt insisted it was innocent.
"I didn't say it in that [racial] way," he said. "I went out there and got two foot faults at one end. I asked if the guy could be moved. The umpire said, 'Yeah, we can move him.'
"They moved him, put him in a different position. I didn't care that the guy was staying on the court, not going off the court at all. Normally in the past I would ask for a guy to get moved totally off the court.
"I've hit thousands and thousands of serves in my career. I went the umpire with my argument. He said, 'We'll change him.'"
The linesman involved was identified by the USTA as Marion Johnson.
U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Early said the USTA and the International Tennis Federation "will review the videotape, speak with all parties involved and issue a statement at the appropriate time."
Hewitt was adamant the exchange was innocent.
"You can all think what you want," he said. "At the end of the day, I wasn't making a racial comment when I went out there and asked if the guy could be moved. I could have still got bad calls from the same person or other people who came on.
"If people took it the wrong way, then I apologize because it wasn't meant to be in that way."
Blake, who learned his tennis in Harlem and attended Harvard University, had Hewitt in trouble, leading 2 sets to 1 with the crowd cheering for the underdog. But the conditions began to drain his strength and Hewitt lost just three games in the final two sets.
It was the second time this week that racial issues were raised at the Open. Earlier, top-seeded Martina Hingis was asked about remarks she made in a Time magazine story, claiming that Venus and Serena Williams get more endorsements because they are black. In the same article, Martina Navratilova said the Williams sisters escaped criticism because comments against them might be perceived as racist.