It's a Sweetheart Deal

Times Staff Writer

It must be great these days being Lleyton Hewitt, tennis star.

You wake up Sunday morning in a Southern California desert resort hotel, where the rain that had waited until you finished your semifinal Saturday -- but disrupted your opponent's -- has cleared things out for yet another chamber-of-commerce day.

You get to the locker room in time to watch your girlfriend win $332,000 when her opponent hits 10 double faults and slaps a routine overhead wide on match point.

Then you go out shortly after noon, fresh as a daisy, hit your Brazilian opponent with a service break in the first game and catch him while he is still either coming up or going down from the emotions of the semifinal match he'd had to complete just a few hours earlier. You never let up, and in exactly one hour, you have won 57 points to his 33, have humiliated a player who has won three French Open titles, and have pocketed $400,000.

And, if you play fast, as one might expect Hewitt does, you still have enough daylight for 18 holes of golf.

The score of Hewitt's rout of Gustavo Kuerten in the Pacific Life Open men's final was 6-1, 6-1. Further details are not necessary. This one needed somebody to step in as they do in recreational softball and invoke the mercy rule. Kuerten should have been allowed to go off somewhere and cry in private, rather than having to stand around and thank volunteers and sponsors, always a deeply sincere moment from the players.

Much was made in the aftermath about Kuerten having to overcome playing two sets, starting at 9 a.m., to complete a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Rainer Schuettler of Germany. Kuerten had led, one set and 0-1, when the rains came Saturday.

Asked if he would have fared better than Kuerten had the tables been turned and he had needed to finish another match before the final, Hewitt ever-so-humbly said: "I hope I would have gotten more than two games."

Hewitt had to go some to outdo his 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of England's Tim Henman here last year, a match that marked the most lopsided final of the year on the ATP tour, 15 games. Up to the task this year, Hewitt sent Kuerten away in 14.

Hewitt has the best record of the year on the tour, 15-1, and looks unbeatable as he heads for the second of two consecutive Tennis Masters Series events, the 10-day Nasdaq tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla. The closest he came to showing signs of mortality here was in his first-round match against Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui. He faced three match points, and saved the first with a shot that just ticked the line. It could just as easily have been called out, but then, that's not how things are going these days for Hewitt.

Especially in the desert.

"For me, this is one of the nicest tournaments of the year," Hewitt said. "It is always nice to come back to somewhere you played well.... I have good memories about this place."

As well he should. Nearly a million good memories.

With Sunday's $400,000 prize added to $392,000 from last year's title and $111,200 semifinal money from 2001, Hewitt has removed $903,200 from Indian Wells in the last three years. Presumably, area golf courses have recouped some of that in greens fees, since he has had both the time and money to play a lot.

However, at day's end, all was not totally wonderful for the Hewitt-Kim Clijsters consortium.

About the time Hewitt should have been on the 10th hole somewhere nearby, girlfriend Clijsters and her partner, Ai Sugiyama, were losing the doubles final to Lindsay Davenport and Lisa Raymond. That meant that the Hewitt-Clijsters joint financial effort, with an opportunity to add another $45,500 to the kitty, had to settle for $22,750.


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