He­witt goes out swing­ing, leav­ing a knock­out legacy

Aus­tralian fights fe­ro­ciously to the very end in farewell to stage he owned in 2002


IT was the way he would have wanted to go. Lley­ton He­witt was a war­rior to the last, the Aus­tralian’s last stand in his 17th and fi­nal ap­pear­ance in the sin­gles draw at Wim­ble­don com­ing to an end, 11-9 in the fi­nal set af­ter an almighty scrap with his fel­low vet­eran Jarkko Niem­i­nen. He didn’t quite make it to face Novak Djokovic in the sec­ond round. But there was never the re­motest pos­si­bil­ity of the 34-year-old walk­ing off qui­etly into the sunset.

“That pretty much sums up my ca­reer, I guess,” said He­witt af­ter this 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 11-9 de­feat. “And my men­tal­ity. Go­ing out there and hav­ing that never-say-die at­ti­tude. I’ve lived for that the 18, 19 years I’ve been on tour. It’s not some­thing I work at. I’m for­tu­nate that I have a lot of self mo­ti­va­tion to go out there and get the most out of my­self, whether it’s in the gym, be­hind the scenes, or what­ever. So I’m proud of my­self that I went out there and left it all out there.”

It isn’t strictly He­witt’s very last ap­pear­ance at Wim­ble­don. He still has the dou­bles to com­pete in at this year, along­side Thanasi Kokki­nakis, but the vet­eran loves all the tra­di­tion of SW19 and said it still hadn’t quite sunk in that he would never again grace the com­pe­ti­tion which he won back in 2002.

“At the change of ends, I was al­ways serv­ing to stay in the match,” said He­witt. “I was more try­ing to al­ways think about hold­ing serve and get­ting those first cou­ple of points. So it never en­tered my mind that this could be the last time you serve or play a game in the Cham­pi­onships.

“It’s a kind of strange feel­ing in a lot of ways,” he added. “Ob­vi­ously you’re so fa­tigued out there as well. But, you know, with the crowd and ev­ery­thing, it was fan­tas­tic. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

While He­witt rages vainly against the dy­ing of the light – his farewell tour of the world’s Grand Slam tour­na­ments will fi­nally come to a halt in Mel­bourne in Jan­uary – there is a bright new dawn un­fold­ing for Aus­tralian ten­nis. The 34-year-old from Ade­laide was one of 11 Aus­tralians in ac­tion at SW19 to­day in the men’s and women’s draws com­bined, while the na­tion has an en­tire football team in the men’s com­pe­ti­tion alone. While the likes of Nick Kyr­gios, Bernard Tomic and Kokki­nakis may have some weapons that he didn’t have, his fi­nal SW19 wish was for them to in­herit that cru­cial will never to give up.

“A lot of these kids that are com­ing up, the Aus­tralians es­pe­cially, have a lot more fire­power than I had,” said He­witt. “They’re for­tu­nate they can rely on fin­ish­ing points quickly and hav­ing those big serves they can go to when they need to. But I think one area I’d ob­vi­ously push the young Aus­tralian guys on is that never-say-die at­ti­tude. There’s cer­tain ar­eas they can work on to be­come more of a com­plete player.”

The sec­ond most suc­cess­ful ac­tive player on grass, be­hind Roger Fed­erer, He­witt had lit­tle trou­ble dredg­ing up his hap­pi­est mem­o­ries of this place, ob­vi­ously topped off by his vic­tory against David Nal­ban­dian in 2002, not to men­tion the semi-fi­nal vic­tory against Tim Hen­man which took him there. His main re­gret is the fact he was never able to land the Aus­tralian Open.

“It’s hard to beat win­ning, ob­vi­ously,” He­witt said. “You work your whole life to have an op­por­tu­nity to play on the fi­nal Sun­day here in Wim­ble­don, to have a chance of hold­ing up that tro­phy. Noth­ing can re­ally com­pare to that in ten­nis. I lost first round the next year. But I could have lost first round ev­ery other year, and I couldn’t care less, I still won it. You can never take that away.”

While the Court Two crowd, led as ever by the vol­u­ble group of Aussie fa­nat­ics, sent their hero on their way, the feel­ing was clearly mu­tual. “For me, this is the home of ten­nis,” said He­witt. “I don’t get the same feel­ing walk­ing into any other grounds in the world, no other ten­nis court, no other com­plex, than I do here.”

This was a mixed bag for the 11 Aussies on show, with five wins and six losses. While Kokki­nakis, who has been suf­fer­ing from ill­ness and re­cently lost a grand­par­ent, went down 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Leonardo Mayer of Ar­gentina, and Tomic won in five sets against Jan-Le­nard Struff of Ger­many, Kyr­gios was through in dou­ble-quick time 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 against Diego Schwartz­man of Ar­gentina, but still man­aged to em­broil him­self in con­tro­versy.

Caught by mi­cro­phones say­ing the words ‘dirty scum’ af­ter a dis­pute with the um­pire and ref­eree, Kyr­gios in­sisted he had been re­fer­ring to him­self. “I wasn’t re­fer­ring to the ref at all there,” he said. “It was to­wards my­self.” Mi­los Raonic, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori were among the day’s other main seeds who pro­gressed into the sec­ond round.

You work your whole life to have an op­por­tu­nity to play on the fi­nal Sun­day here in Wim­ble­don, to have a chance of hold­ing up that tro­phy

Pic­ture: Getty

WITH A BANG: Lley­ton He­witt in his fi­nal sin­gles match at Wim­ble­don, against Jarkko Niem­i­nen of Fin­land.

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