Wanted man [on court & off]
There are competing demands on the Aussie champ Lleyton Hewitt, writes Darren Devlyn
‘‘I want to get married on a giant computer keyboard so I can stand on the alter.’’ Simon Taylor @MrSimonTaylor
HE’S articulate, insightful and can shock you with his brutal honesty. No wonder Channel 7 reckons bullishly confident Lleyton Hewitt has a bright future as a commentator.
On the eve of the 2013 Australian Open, Seven set out to ensure Hewitt would play a significant role in its coverage.
For the third successive year, the network has done a deal with Hewitt where he will take a position in the commentary box if he is knocked out of contention during the course of the tournament.
Four-time grand slam winner Jim Courier, a regular in Seven’s Australian Open box, says Hewitt offers some of the most insightful and current thinking on the game.
‘‘ There is a lot going on in a commentator’s ear that people wouldn’t be aware of,’’ Courier says.
‘‘ Lleyton had no experience in that. There is no school you can go to. You just get in the deep end and he was swimming at a very high level from minute one.’’
Hewitt’s demeanor and experiences on court make him the perfect fit for a commentary role.
He has long been renowned for a steely-eyed grit that has won him a legion of fans, and a few detractors, in his 15-year professional career.
One of the most defining moments for Hewitt came in 2000, when as a 19-year-old he went to war in a Davis Cup final in Spain.
The crowd at Palau Sant Jordi arena was feral and as Hewitt’s match against Albert Costa began slipping away, Hewitt’s ‘‘ whole body was quivering’’.
Team captain John Newcombe told Hewitt, who’d been battling illness, that the scrawny South Australian was ‘‘ the strongest b------d who ever lived’’.
Newcombe then watched one of the most heroic deeds in Davis Cup history as Hewitt plumbed the depths of endurance and spirit over four hours to claw his way to a 3-6, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Hewitt says it’s no surprise that some of his most indelible tennis memories are the result of crowds being either supportive or hostile.
‘‘ In terms of crowds being against me, Spain in 2000 was brutal,’’ Hewitt says.
‘‘ As far as crowds being for me, the semi and the final of the Davis Cup against Switzerland (Hewitt came from two sets to love down against Roger Federer to win in five sets) and Spain in 2003 (won by Australia in Melbourne) were pretty amazing.
‘‘ Melbourne Park is a very special place for me. I’ve been going there since I was 11 and watching it (Australian Open) so I get this real buzz just by walking through its grounds.
‘‘ To be playing in a grand slam in your home country, it’s a pretty amazing feeling I get out there.’’
Hewitt was the youngest man to hold the No.1 world ranking, at age 20.
In 2001 he beat Pete Sampras to win the US Open and claimed his second grand slam singles title the following year at Wimbledon.
His last appearance in a slam final was 2005 in Melbourne, but the 31-year-old father of three has lost none of his streetfighter spirit.
Last September, at the US Open, he played with ravaged feet and aching knees in sweltering heat to beat Gilles Muller in five sets.
There are no ‘insiders’ talking. It’s rubbish
A toe that was so damaged he needed injections before every match, is now pain-free following surgery, and as he prepares for his 17th Australian Open, Hewitt is doing everything in his power to prove he’s far from a spent force.
‘‘ My ball-striking is always pretty good, so if my footwork is right I feel sharp on the court and it’s easier for me to put my opponent under pressure,’’ he says.
‘‘ If I can take care of my service game then I’m going to give anyone a bit of trouble out there.
‘‘ My body has been through the grind . . . but I have a really good group of people behind me who are at the top of their game in their field and I can trust them (for advice on training, nutrition and tactics).’’
Hewitt has at times had a strained relationship with the media. In the past, there was a feeling, reinforced by the close-knit, insular entourage around him, that you were either with him, or against him.
He still guards his privacy fiercely, so few really know what makes him tick away from the heat of battle.
‘‘ I’ve always kept close to peo- The fact Hewitt has been so reticent to share details of his home life has not stopped gossip magazines from speculating about his relationship with his wife.
Every couple of weeks there’s something different (fabricated family drama stories) so we just sit back and
Bold move: Lleyton Hewitt proposed to
actor Bec Cartwright (below) after
they’d been dating for six