Wanted man [on court & off]

There are com­pet­ing de­mands on the Aussie champ Lley­ton He­witt, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

‘‘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

weeks.

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