Lleyton Hewitt

Born: February 24, 1981 in Adelaide (South Australia)
Height: 1.78 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
I distinctly recall the moment I read in the newspaper about Hewitt’s victory over Andre Agassi in the Adelaide ’98 semifinal. At that instant, I thought he would ascend to become the best player in the world – a prediction that came true, albeit without the decade-long dominance I anticipated. He was just shy of 17, ranked at 550, and secured his place in the event through a ‘wild card’ entry. Although Agassi was recuperating from a notably poor 1997 season, during which he suffered a significant drop in rankings, his name alone could be intimidating for a kid. Thus, when this inexperienced Aussie teenager triumphed in two tie-breaks (repeated it in San Jose ’02 in much more dramatic encounter) against a player who had firmly established himself as the second-best of the ’90s, I foresaw remarkable achievements in Hewitt’s future.
The following day, Hewitt navigated a tense match against his future coach, Jason Stoltenberg, becoming the lowest-ranked champion in ATP history (the third youngest, following Aaron Krickstein and Michael Chang). Hewitt’s career unfolded in two phases: a period when he was a top-tier player, the standout in the first half of the 2000s, and a later phase comprised of ten years when his momentum waned, leading him to countless five-setters against inferior opponents (32-25 record in the end… began with 0-3, finished with 0-6).
Contemplating why the Australian, lacking a dominant shot, was exceptionally successful at a young age (two major titles: US Open and Wimbledon and two “Masters’ titles 2001 / 02), I believe two factors were pivotal:
– at that time, serve-and-volley players still held sway in men’s tennis, albeit declining, and Hewitt found a winning formula against them;
– Hewitt matured earlier than the more naturally gifted players born in the early ’80s (Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin… none of whom achieved impressive results as teenagers)
Drawing a parallel between Hewitt and another legendary champion, Jimmy Connors comes to mind. Like the American icon, Hewitt played with flat strokes, wasn’t naturally inclined to serve-and-volley, but in line with Australian tradition, regularly engaged in doubles, allowing him to confidently approach the net during rallies. Another similarity lies in their incredible competitiveness – they’re the kind of players who leave everything on the court, relentlessly fighting until the last point, utilizing every legal tactic to mentally intimidate opponents.
Hewitt’s records against serve-and-volleyers a decade his senior in the early 2000s were significant: 9-1 against Tim Henman, 5-4 versus Pete Sampras, 4-3 facing Greg Rusedski, 3-1 against Patrick Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Todd Martin, 3-0 versus Goran Ivanišević, and 1-0 against Richard Krajicek. These records underscore his phenomenal reflexes, the ability to maintain a solid return against opponents who earned numerous points directly behind their serves, compelling them into volleys and exploiting opportunities with passing-shots or lobs – Hewitt’s distinctive strokes, particularly effective against attackers but less advantageous against defensive players.
One of these grinders, Tommy Robredo, defeated Hewitt in five sets at the French Open ’03 (it was followed by a shocking loss to Ivo Karlović at Wimbledon), marking the beginning of the end of Hewitt’s reign in men’s tennis. The early 2000s witnessed a notable transformation in tennis dynamics: the introduction of improved racquets empowered players to generate more topspin and craft tighter angles in their game, thus the serve-and-volley technique declined in popularity while an increasing number of players adopted double-handed backhands. This period saw a strategic shift towards patiently waiting for an opponent’s error or seizing opportunities to attack with groundstrokes. It became evident that Hewitt’s energetic style wasn’t as effective against the diverse range of baseliners dominating the scene. The shift in tactics was particularly highlighted in Hewitt’s rivalry with Federer. Initially, the Australian held a 7:2 advantage in their meetings. However, when the Swiss opted to alter his strategy, the change in approach led him to winning 15 consecutive matches, starting with their Australian Open ’04 encounter. Hewitt’s dominance on the men’s tour, initiated with his US Open ’01 triumph when he dismantled Sampras’ potent serve like no one before on hard courts, endured for approximately two more years. “He returned and passed about as well as anyone I’ve ever played,” remarked the 14-time Slam champion. “He’s got the best return and the best wheels in the game.”
Throughout his peak years, Hewitt’s serve was also formidable; he took significant risks with his second serves, perhaps more than any other player of his stature. I think he enjoyed a beautiful career given his technical skills, and it would have been thoroughly fulfilled if he had won the Australian Open once. For some strange reasons, he was playing below expectations in his home Slam, surpassing the fourth round only once in twenty appearances; it happened in 2005 when he had an exceptionally tough route to the final and ran out of gas facing Safin.
Career record: 616–262 [ 271 events ]
Career titles: 30
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 2005)
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 2001 & 2004)
Wimbledon (champion 2002; semifinal 2005; quarterfinal 2004, 06 & 09)
US Open (champion 2001; runner-up 04; semifinal 2000, 02; quarterfinal 2003 & 06)
Davis Cup champion 1999 & 2003 (in both editions he highly contributed as a singles player)
Masters champion 2001-02
World Team Cup champion 2001
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