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Book Excerpt: “Facing Hewitt”

 

Lleyton Hewitt

Here’s an excerpt from my book “Facing Hewitt” which is now available at Amazon.com.

“It just blew my mind.”

Taylor Dent: “I saw him in the juniors. We grew up playing in the juniors. My first memory is kind of out of nowhere. He was always a good junior player but out of nowhere he got a wildcard into Adelaide and he ended up winning the thing. And he beat a lot of good players on the way to the title. It just blew my mind.” Describe what it was like to play him? “It was tough for me. It was a disaster of a match up. I played him a lot of times. I only ever got him once. Actually in his hometown of Adelaide. And he was just tough. I liked attacking. And he was very accurate with his shots. He was able to dip it down at my feet. When I came to the net, he was able to lob it over my head. It posed a lot of problems for my style of game.” You must have played extremely well the day you beat him? “You know what? It’s interesting. The courts were quick and I kind of changed the tactics a little bit. I ended up staying back at the baseline and just kind of chipping and waiting for a golden opportunity to come in. And he was a little bit off. He didn’t pass quite as well as normal. And that’s kind of the way how it goes.” Do you have a memory or anecdote that captures Hewitt’s essence, on or off court? “Off court, for me, he was always great. There was the stage when I was – I was getting good enough coming up to where I was being considered for Davis Cup. And so obviously with my background – my dad’s Australian – he gave me a call up to try and lobby for me to come play for the Australian team. And he was very nice on the phone and that’s kind of how he was. A good guy, a straight-forward guy. He doesn’t really beat-around-the-bush too much and I appreciate that.”

Hewitt leads series 5-1

2001 – Wimbledon – R64 – Hewitt: 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3
2001 – Indianapolis – R32 – Hewitt: 6-2, 7-6(3)
2003 – Scottsdale – S – Hewitt: 6-2, 6-4
2005 – Adelaide – Q – Dent: 7-6(4), 6-3
2005 – Wimbledon – R16 – Hewitt: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-3
2005 – US Open – R32 – Hewitt: 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(2), 6-2, 7-5

“I expected to steamroll the kid.”

Vince Spadea: “I played against Hewitt in the 1998 quarters at Adelaide, his hometown in the south of Australia, when he was a sixteen year old wildcard. Everyone was wondering how he got a wildcard in the first place, because he was like No. 500 in the world at the time and nobody had ever heard of him. Some of the other Australian players were mystified. He had just played a Satellite, which is an even lower pro tournament than a Challenger, that has since been mostly phased out in favor of Futures, the week before Adelaide, and he had lost to a nobody. Our match was a night match, center court. I see this little guy with long blond hair who looks like a surfer, walk out on the court. I figure: ‘I’m in the semis. This kid is sixteen and he looked weak, inexperienced, unrehearsed, and unpolished.’” “The match begins and he’s holding his own. He keeps on hitting balls in the court. I wasn’t playing strongly enough or consistently enough to overpower him even though I’ve got him outweighed by about forty pounds. I end up losing the first set 7-5. Now I’m thinking: ‘What does this kid think he’s doing?’ He didn’t miss one shot long the entire set. My dad, who was coaching me, said after the match, ‘He missed into the net and he missed wide but he never missed past the baseline.’ Whenever Hewitt won a big point he screeched out, ‘COME ON’ and punched the air with his fist. I thought that was a little annoying and cocky of him but I didn’t let it bother or intimidate me. I won the second set 6-3. I had been working with Jim Pierce (coach and father of Mary Pierce), so I was in great shape. I had been killing myself in training. I expected to steamroll the kid in the third set. But instead, he put his game into another gear and beat me soundly 6-1 to win the match.” “The next day I was sitting eating breakfast with my dad in the player’s cafeteria and Brad Gilbert, coach of Andre Agassi, walked up to us and completely ignored me. He approached my dad and said, ‘Your son had Hewitt last night but he choked. Andre will show you how to handle the kid tonight.’” “Of course, Hewitt straight-setted Agassi 76 76 and then went on to win the tournament. Hewitt has gone on to win almost twenty million in his career, along with a Wimbledon and U.S. Open title. He’s a true warrior on the court. He doesn’t get fazed by disappointment or failure. He doesn’t worry about if he’s hitting the ball great or if he’s winning or losing, he just enjoys the battle. The only other player who battled as successfully as Hewitt was Jimmy Connors. Hewitt will never give up and he doesn’t mind if he has to win hard or easy. He’s one of the greatest competitors in tennis.”

Hewitt leads series 7-0

1998 – Adelaide – Q – Hewitt: 7-5, 3-6, 6-1
1999 – Lyon – S – Hewitt: 6-3, 6-3
2003 – ATP Masters Series Indian Wells – S – Hewitt: 7-6(5), 6-1
2006 – Sydney – R32 – Hewitt: 2-6, 7-5, 6-3
2006 – San Jose – S – Hewitt: 6-3, 6-4
2006 – Washington – R32 – Hewitt: 6-7(3), 7-6(5), 6-4
2007 – Las Vegas – RR – Hewitt: 6-3, 6-3

“He was a lion on the court.”

Davide Sanguinetti:  “I played him when he was No. 1 in the world. He was the best. I remember once in Cincinnati and I retired. Because my daughter was gonna be born so I had to leave. So I found an excuse and I run away with it. But I don’t think I had a chance with him that day [smiles].” What was it like to play Hewitt at his best (in previous round of Cincinnati match with Sanguinetti, Hewitt beat Robby Ginepri 6-0 6-0)? “I think it was tough to make a point because he was such a fighter on the court, which he still is, but before he could run a little faster than now. And to make a point you had to sweat because of the pain. He was all around. You cannot say he had like unbelievable forehand, backhand, but he was an all around player. That he put all his heart out on the court. He was a lion on the court.”

Hewitt leads series 2-0

2001 – ‘S-Hertogenbosch – R32 – Hewitt: 6-2, 6-1
2002 – Cincinnati Masters – R32 – Hewitt: 5-0 (Ret.)

“Turning point in tennis history.”

Ivan Ljubicic: “When I played Hewitt he had just won Wimbledon. He was at the top of his game. I remember that I qualified and I think it was quarterfinals so for me it was a great week anyway. And it was 7-6 6-7 and he ended up winning 6-4. I was 5-1 down and I came back to 5-4 and he won it. But it’s incredible that we played only once and we were around together on the Tour maybe fifteen years. And not ever close – I can’t remember like even being close to playing him. So it’s unbelievable. But obviously he is a great fighter and I think the way he managed his career – we would love that he played more. For so many years after U.S. Open he would take a break and prepare for Australian Open. I feel like, with all the injuries that he had, and he had many, the type of game that he played, he managed his tennis incredibly well. To be able to be still on the Tour at 33 and still fighting and playing at this level.” Did anything surprise you about him? “No, not really. The thing is that he’s an unbelievable fighter. But what I say – it doesn’t mean he’s only saying ‘COME ON’ – he finds the way to win matches. He’s always very, very difficult to play. Obviously, with now, it’s different than it was ten years ago. But to win Wimbledon, to win U.S. Open with the game that he had, back then, it was a turning point in the history of tennis. Because he was the first one really to win Wimbledon from the baseline, like playing this way, not like Agassi, because he was still hitting the balls. He was the first one to really, like, demolish Sampras’ serve in the final of U.S. Open. So he is, let’s say, the first one of this new generation of really, really solid players.” Did you get along well with Hewitt off court? Ever practice together? “We practiced a few times. He’s really shy, actually, you know, incredibly. Off the court he’s kind of calm, doesn’t really talk to anybody, really shy.  We obviously, being of similar age, we got along because we spent so much time together on the Tour. So I like him a lot, actually.”

Hewitt leads series 1-0

2001 – Cincinnati Masters – QF – Hewitt: 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4

Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis

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About Scoop Malinowski

Mark 'Scoop' Malinowski 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. Mark "Scoop" Malinowski 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. Scoop is also the founder of Tennis Prose - an excellent read. www.tennis-prose.com You can contact Scoop via: admin@tennisfrontier.com
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