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