TOWNSVILLE, Australia, April 10, 2008 (AFP)

Former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt will aim to help favourites Australia secure an early stranglehold on their Davis Cup Asia-Oceania group tennis playoff against Thailand here Friday.

The one-time Wimbledon and US Open champion, now ranked 21, has been troubled by a hip injury but rarely turns down an opportunity to play for his country at the Davis Cup.

Hewitt, 27, is the most successful singles player in Australian Davis Cup history, boasting 31 wins while helping his country to the title in 1999 and 2003. He also guided Australia to finals in 2000 and 2001.

Hewitt, Australia's designated top-ranked player, will play Thai No.2 Kirati Siributwong, ranked 957 places below him at 978, while left-hander Chris Guccione, ranked 67, takes on Thailand's top player Danai Udomchoke, ranked 204.

"If 'Gooch' can get us off to a good start and put us 1-0 up, it would be nice going out there to put a lot of pressure on them going into the (Saturday) doubles," Hewitt said.

Danai carries Thailand's hopes after former world No.9 Paradorn Srichaphan made an ill-fated comeback attempt from a wrist injury, which has prevented him from playing for a year.

Danai's preparation for the tie was interrupted last month when he spent 15 days living as a monk in a Buddhist monastery. But ranked 77 last year, Danai defeated Guccione three months ago in China.

"On paper, the second singles match involving our second-ranked guy against their first-ranked guy (Danai) is a big one," Australian team captain John Fitzgerald said.

"If we can win that match, it might open the tie up. Yeah, if we can get two matches on the first day, it just busts it right open."

The winners of the tie will progress to a playoff in September for entry to the World Group in 2009.

"This tie is important for the team, as a win would give us the opportunity to compete in a playoff to make it back in the World Group, where I believe Australia belongs," Hewitt said.

Australia, second only to the United States as Davis Cup champions winning the team event 28 times, are playing Thailand for the first time.



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