He­witt de­ter­mined that fi­nal farewell will be fit­ting fi­nale


IT could be Rusty’s last stand. Lley­ton He­witt will walk out on Court No 2 to­day de­ter­mined that this won’t be his fi­nal sin­gles match at Wim­ble­don. He faces fel­low vet­eran Jarkko Niem­i­nen of Fin­land as he com­pletes a grand farewell tour of the ten­nis Grand Slams which is fated to end in Mel­bourne in Jan­uary but a mid-af­ter­noon match on one of SW19’s lesser courts seems like far too hum­ble an exit for the 2002 Wim­ble­don win­ner. The Cen­tre Court meet­ing with Novak Djokovic which would pre­sum­ably fol­low has a far bet­ter ring to it.

He­witt is ac­tu­ally en­tered in the dou­bles too, with his coun­try­man Thanasi Kokki­nakis, and should it be the 34-year-old from Ade­laide’s South Lon­don sin­gles swan­song at least he would have the con­so­la­tion of know­ing he leaves Aus­tralian ten­nis in as rude health as it has been for years. A bur­geon­ing new wave of An­tipodean tal­ent is wash­ing across world ten­nis, with its stan­dard bearer Nick Kyr­gios in ac­tion im­me­di­ately be­fore him on that court, and his other coun­try­men Kokki­nakis and Luke Sav­ille also in ac­tion. In fact, there are 11 in all Aus­tralian men in the main draw this year, enough for a football team and Aus­tralia’s big­gest con­tin­gent at Wim­ble­don for 15 years.

He­witt, who plays here with a wild card, is now res­i­dent in the Ba­hamas, a suit­able des­ti­na­tion in which to rest his bat­tered body af­ter the rav­ages of a ca­reer scam­per­ing around the base­lines of the sport. This is the 34-year-old’s 64th Grand Slam and while things haven’t ex­actly panned out the way he might have hoped af­ter beat­ing David Nal­ban­dian to take the 2002 ti­tle, he has won all five pre­vi­ous meet­ings against the Finn. Wim­ble­don 2015 will hope to have him a while longer.

When it comes to grass courts, few in this era have been bet­ter. In­deed, He­witt is the sec­ond most suc­cess­ful ac­tive player on grass, be­hind Roger Fed­erer, hav­ing won 128 matches on this sur­face to the Swiss man’s 136. He has won eight ti­tles on it too, enough for joint fourth place with John McEn­roe, but 2015 thus far has been a chore. In six tour­na­ments, he has won just one match, his first round en­counter against Zhang Ze at the Aus­tralian Open.

There were kind word from Fed­erer, the man who ef­fec­tively stole his man­tle as the dom­i­nant grass court player in world ten­nis for most of the last decade. This pair of grizzled vet­er­ans had even shared a quiet prac­tice ear­lier in the week.

“I mean, I have played him in some places,” re­called Fed­erer. “I have played him at Wim­ble­don. I played him on grass as well in Davis Cup in Syd­ney.

“And it’s been al­ways tough against him on this sur­face. He was the first guy re­ally from the base­line to have such a ma­jor im­pact. Plus he’s a smaller guy. It was dom­i­nated by the big servers for a while. Back then, [Ivan] Lendl, [Jim] Courier, they had to re­ally volley to have suc­cess. They did it very well.

“But with Lley­ton, re­ally ev­ery point was from the base­line,” he added. “For him to win Wim­ble­don and have the ca­reer he had on the grass is quite un­be­liev­able.

“It showed an en­tire gen­er­a­tion how it can be done.

“I prac­tised here again with him and it just shows why he’s so tough. He hits that flat ball, helps his serve, has an un­be­liev­able slice, is good at net, fast and low to the ground. He’s got so many things go­ing for him.

“I’ve al­ways en­joyed watch­ing him. Play­ing against him has been cool at times, but not al­ways so much fun. He is a feisty com­peti­tor, one of the tough­est I al­ways had to play against. I hope he can play a good match, and have a good tour­na­ment, so that he can en­joy Wim­ble­don for what it is. I’m sure he will.”

Niem­i­nen is a flinty com­peti­tor him­self, who will keep his op­po­nent hon­est, but his best re­sults have come on clay, not grass. In any event, win or lose, you can ex­pect to hear chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” and “Waltz­ing Matilda” float­ing into the South West Lon­don air some time around mid af­ter­noon.

He­witt is the sec­ond most suc­cess­ful ac­tive player on grass, trail­ing only Fed­erer, hav­ing won 128 matches on the sur­face against 136 for the Swiss

FANS’ FAVOURITE: Lley­ton He­witt signs au­to­graphs at Wim­ble­don

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.