Brutal moment made Lleyton Hewitt a man
There’s a reason after more than 20 years wearing the green and gold, Lleyton Hewitt still can’t get enough.
The Aussie tennis legend won two grand slams — at the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002 — but for him, the pinnacle has always been Davis Cup.
Now captain of a young team yearning for the glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hewitt is intoxicated by the allure of team success so rare in a sport where individuals and egos reign supreme.
His young charges — the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson — would do well to emulate their spiritual leader, who yells encouragement from the sideline after every point with the same vein-bulging intensity he yelled “C’mon!” and pumped his fist on centre courts around the world.
Hewitt won two Davis Cups as a player — in 1999 when Australia defeated France in the final and 2003 when he and Mark Philippoussis reunited to topple Spain on home soil.
Admitting he was too young to appreciate the enormity of how big an achievement that win on the eve of the new millennium was — he was only 18 — Hewitt quickly learnt Davis Cup was a different beast, and one he was determined to dominate.
The Australian team holding the trophy after winning Davis Cup final in 1999.Source:AP
With more appearances, more team victories and more singles wins than any other Australian, he did just that. It’s why Hewitt has been selected as one of five candidates on the ballot for the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s class of 2021.
“Davis Cup was something that I held awfully high as a priority and it was mainly because guys like John Newcombe and Tony Roche were the leaders of my team when I first started,” Hewitt tells news.com.au.
“They taught me what it meant to play for Australia and have that opportunity.
“I loved the team environment as well, which is so different to tennis 10 or 11 months of the year.”
The fire lit inside Hewitt burned ferociously. A quarter-final tie against Brazil in 2001, facing then-world No. 1 and reigning French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in front of a hostile crowd in his home town of Florianopolis, was the making of Hewitt in the Davis Cup.
On the 45-minute drive from the team hotel to the courts, a 20-year-old Hewitt learnt what life is like as the enemy. And it only made him hungrier.
“We had a police escort and basically Brazilian fans along the line the whole time just throwing stuff at the van as we drove,” Hewitt recalls.
“For me as a young kid, that was something that I enjoyed though, that underdog mentality and going out there and doing it for our country but putting in the hard yards as well, being a close-knit team.
“For me, those were the special moments, bonding together with your teammates in tough situations where a lot of people back home, you watch the match on TV and take it for granted but it was a pretty brutal environment over there playing him.”
Hewitt defeated Kuerten in straight sets to ensure Australia advanced to the semis, where it crushed Sweden only to fall short against France in the final.
Two years later, Hewitt wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. An incredible come-from-behind win over Roger Federer in the semi-finals — one of the most memorable in his career — saved the Aussies from certain elimination vs Switzerland and they faced Spain in the final in Melbourne.
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Lleyton Hewitt celebrates his Davis Cup victory over Roger Federer.Source:News Corp Australia
Hewitt beat superstar Juan Carlos Ferrero in his second consecutive five-setter, and the doubles pairing of Wayne Arthurs and Todd Woodbridge came good in the third rubber after Carlos Moya beat Philippoussis to give the hosts a 2-1 lead.
Philippoussis then played through the pain of a torn pec to beat Ferrero in a memorable reverse singles rubber and Australia was a Davis Cup champion once again.
A little older and a little more mature, Hewitt invested in the final like few others would. He took more than two months out of the ATP Tour to practice on grass — the surface the final was played on — giving up the chance for more titles and his world ranking all in the pursuit of glory for his country.
“I don’t think many people know … I actually took the next 10 weeks off just to prepare on grass at Kooyong,” Hewitt says.
“I pulled out of the Tour finals, I pulled out of three Masters Series events just to get ready for that Davis Cup final and I lost my top 10 ranking — for me that was one of my proudest moments.
“All that effort and I ended up beating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who was world No. 1 at the time, in five sets in the first match and that opened up the tie for us.”
Exact recollections of specific matches or off-court interactions have faded over the past two decades, and details of his celebrations in 2003 probably aren’t suitable for public consumption, Hewitt says, but the pride he felt every time he represented his country remains front of mind.
Australian coach Lleyton Hewitt celebrates with James Duckworth and John Peers.Source:AAP
It’s why he’s so determined to nurture the next generation and instil in them the significance of representing Australia — because when the sport is gone, trophies will lose their shine but memories won’t.
“When you win slams, you get to the end of the tournament and there’s not many people around, so it’s really just you and your tight-knit group and maybe some of your sponsors,” Hewitt said.
“But that’s the great thing about winning Davis Cup, it’s a true team effort and you realise the person out on the court may get the result, but there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that are doing just as much to help the team over the line and that’s where you can enjoy it all together.”
From October 1-25, fans can vote on which nominees that would like to see inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can vote for Hewitt or any other of the other candidates at vote.tennisfame.com
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