In the latest installment of “Down The T”, where we talk to people in and around the sport, Tennis Frontier’s Owen Gigg catches up with Mark “Scoop” Malinowski. Scoop began covering tennis in 1992 at the Pathmark Classic in Mahwah, NJ. He has written about tennis for Tennis Frontier, Tennis Magazine, Tennis Magazine Australia, Ace Tennis (U.K.), Tennis Week, Tennisweek.com, CBSsportsline.com, ESPNzone.com, Boxing News (U.K.) and TheBiofile.com.
Today, we pay attention to Scoop’s new book – “Facing Hewitt: A symposium of a champion”
Question: What inspired you to do a book about Lleyton Hewitt?
It started out as a magazine feature idea that was eventually published in the Australian Open program in January. The feature was well received and I decided to develop it further into a book.
Question: Was it a challenge to get interviews with ATP players and were they willing to discuss their matches and experiences with Hewitt?
Most players are very accessible and seemed happy to talk about the unique experience of what it’s like to Face Hewitt. The challenging part is the time factor, most players are busy and always off to do something so I wish I could have had a lot more time with many of the players. But the ones I approached were quite generous with their time and memories and shared many interesting anecdotes and stories. Another obstacle is that it’s very difficult to get one on one time with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic but that’s just the way it is.
Question: Can you share a memorable example of a story that a player told you about Hewitt?
The one that pops in my head first is from Guillermo Canas. Canas said he was practicing with Marcelo Rios in Stuttgart, when Rios was top five in the world and Hewitt was still very young and ranked around 50. Canas and Rios were practicing next to Hewitt and during a break Rios said to Canas, “See that kid over there? That’s the future number one player in the world.” Canas said he was like, “No way.” But Rios turned out to be right, Rios saw something special in Hewitt and a few years later he did indeed fulfill the prediction of Rios. I thought it was interesting how Rios could see so clearly the special talents in Hewitt and give him such high praise to a fellow competitor.
Question: What did you learn from the experience of writing Facing Hewitt?
Well I followed Hewitt’s career closely because he rose to prominence in the later 90s and that’s when I first really got into tennis myself. I vividly remember watching Hewitt a lot on TV and live at the US Open a few times. So I remember Hewitt well from an outsider view. This book is from an insider view, from the players. It was interesting to hear players discuss Hewitt and it was very enjoyable to learn this firsthand information. It was a bit surprising how much respect and admiration the players have for Hewitt and his example. Rivals like Alex Corretja, Jeff Tarango, Gael Monfils, Juan Martin Del Potro, Greg Rusedski, Jan Michael Gambill, Rafael Nadal spoke very highly of Hewitt.”
Question: When and where did you speak with Nadal about Hewitt?
At the Sony Open this year, at Nadal’s press conference before he was scheduled to play Hewitt in Miami I asked him just to talk about how it feels to face Hewitt and some of his memorable matches with Hewitt. Nadal played Hewitt several times, they had some great battles in Australia when Rafa was still a young gun. Nadal spoke reverently about Hewitt to the point that I got a sense Hewitt’s example and fighting spirit were a big influence on his career.
Hewitt is one of the great champions of the sport and he should be remembered for more than just being a guy between the Sampras and Federer reigns. Like I said, Hewitt was a tremendous champion, who pulled off so many miraculous wins. He was a different kind of player and it was a different experience to compete against him and also to watch him.
He was a fascinating champion in many ways, he was a smaller guy who overcame all the giants and dominated the sport for two years. Also, Hewitt changed the sport and took it to another level. As Ivan Ljubicic pointed out, Hewitt was the first baseline counterpuncher guy to conquer the big servers like Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic. Since Hewitt was number one in the early 2000s, tennis has primarily been a baseline game. Historically speaking, Hewitt is a big part of tennis history and this book pays tribute and paints a portrait of Hewitt from the direct perspective of the players.
Question: Anything else you’d like to add?
In Newport this summer I personally gave Hewitt a copy of the book after his quarterfinal win against Steve Johnson. I think the book might have pumped up and inspired Hewitt, to read about how favorably and positively players spoke about him, because Hewitt went on to win the singles and doubles titles in Newport, the only time in his career that he swept both singles and doubles at an ATP event.
Thank you Scoop for your candid interview and we wish you the very best with the new book.
Readers can buy “Facing Hewitt: Symposium of a champion” on Amazon.