Remembering Lleyton Hewitt – New York State of Mind

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsLleyton Hewitt still has several things to play for before his career ends in January 2016.  Australia is alive in the 2015 Davis Cup competition in no small part due to Hewitt and Sam Groth rescuing the Aussies in July.  Hewitt has his home country’s Grand Slam to play in early 2016 on his way out of the game. Hewitt’s remaining active tennis goals are embedded in his Australian patriotism.

Mentally, I always associate Hewitt with the US Open.  Hewitt’s career Grand Slam match winning percentage is 70%, but it is 77% at the US Open.  The US Open was by far Hewitt’s best big event.  In 2000, Lleyton Hewitt showed the world that his success in smaller events was not his ceiling as a player.  He reached the US Open semifinal round and pushed Pete Sampras hard despite losing in 3 sets.  In 2001, Lleyton Hewitt won his first Grand Slam title by beating Sampras in straight sets after handling Yevgeny Kafelnikov in straight sets in the semifinal round. Hewitt’s career also survived an ugly action he undertook in a battle with James Blake.

Entering Cincinnati 2002, Hewitt was #1 in the world and had just claimed the Wimbledon title.  Hewitt refused an interview with ESPN that led to fines and consternation with the ATP Tour.  Lleyton managed to reach the Cincinnati final, but lost to Carlos Moya in 2 tight sets.  Hewitt jilting both the press and the ATP Tour coupled with Hewitt’s me-against-the-world attitude led many to believe he was a bad seed. I like many people who follow tennis thought of Hewitt in the early 2000s as a dogged fighter who was fairly immature if not outright hostile as a human being.

These two went to war in 2001

As Hewitt’s career progressed, his dedication to competition mixed with glimmers of increased maturity turned the tide in how he is perceived in the tennis world.  Lleyton Hewitt’s final New York match ended with an appreciative crowd saying goodbye. Hewitt’s grit always meshed well with the personality of New York.  I found myself sadder than I expected to be when Hewitt bowed out tonight.   

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Lleyton was never going to win this event or even reach the quarterfinal round. However, from 2001-2006 Hewitt posted a 36-6 record at Flushing Meadows and was a fixture of the second week of US Open tennis.  Even when his skills had declined, Hewitt pulled off a big upset by defeating Juan Martin del Potro in 5 sets at the 2013 US Open.  Toppling the 2009 champion was Hewitt’s last big win in new York.

I miss Delpo and I will miss Hewitt

Hewitt had his share of big name collisions in New York.  As noted, he faced Sampras and del Potro, but Hewitt also had US Open tilts with Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Roger Federer.  The Swiss was effusive with praise of Hewitt tonight during his post-match interviews. Marat Safin also praised Hewitt when the big Russian was on tour.  Safin and Federer are both more naturally gifted tennis players than Lleyton Hewitt, but each man tipped his cap to Hewitt’s competitive drive.  In a world where people make a living based on winning and losing, Hewitt’s willingness to give everything he had on court has always been admirable.  The man, husband, and father we’ve seen emerge over the last decade is so admirable in large part because Hewitt kept giving everything he had on court but proved one could be a humane and a relentless competitor all at once.

PS – I am surprised by how much I felt when Hewitt’s US Open career came to a close tonight.

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