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
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