Queen’s 2015: Lleyton Hewitt’s fond farewell
Lleyton Hewitt loses to South Africa's Kevin Anderson in the first round of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club
This most historic of tennis venues, the Queen’s Club in the heart of well-heeled Kensington, was about to bring down the curtain on one of the Open era’s most famous sons, Lleyton Hewitt.
The spirited, hustling, bustling Australian is the youngest man to be ranked No1, at the age of 20, he won the 2001 US Open, he went on to win Wimbledon in 2002, and the Masters Cup in both years. And he is one of just five active players to reach 30 titles.
But this year, after a career littered with injuries, and with surgery to hips and ankles several times over, he is calling it a day. He is in the midst of his final season, and there are few places in that long career that have shone as brightly on his honours board as Queen’s.
This will be his 16th visit to Queen’s, a tournament he has won four times—he was unbeaten from 2000 to 2002—and where he has reached the quarters three times and the semis three times more, a 41-11 record.
He has played more singles matches here, 52, than anyone else. And in his career, Hewitt has compiled 128 grass-court wins, second only to Roger Federer among active players.
Perhaps it seemed a shock decision when he announced after his second-round loss in his 19th consecutive Australian Open that he would end his career at his home Major next season. After all, he finished 2014 in the top 50 for the first time since 2009 and won multiple titles for first time since 2004, in Brisbane and Newport. But he knew it was time, as he explained after this match.
“The motivation obviously for the Australian Open, Wimbledon, these tournaments now, and Davis Cup, the motivation is always there. That’s what I will miss about hanging them up. But just being at home with the family, and not have to always think about training and getting your body right and hold those one percenters that you have to do to keep playing on the tour.
“It does get harder without the match practice and playing a lot of matches, as well, just to come out and expect to play well against the big guys straightaway. But I’ve tried to train exceptionally hard so that I give myself the best chance.”
He arrived here ranked just 117 and with only one win from six matches played. What made his Queen’s visit all the more bitter-sweet was that, drawn against the towering No17 Kevin Anderson, he initially looked every inch the former champion—wiry, nimble and determined—in taking the first set in a tight tie-break, with a signature ‘C’mon’ and pumped fist.
Then in the second, he fought off a break point in the second game and went on to break the huge Anderson serve to love in the seventh. He served for set and match at 5-3, held match point, but by now Anderson was finding his feet against the slice and angle of Hewitt on this slick, low-bouncing grass. The South African cranked up the aces, broke back, and then broke again to take the set, 7-5.
Hewitt’s lack of match-play and, perhaps, the unparalleled stamina and fitness of old, began to tell. Anderson broke straight away and after more than two hours of play, led 3-0. Hewitt had a glimmer of hope with a break-back chance at 1-4 but Anderson’s serving and forehand were just too powerful. Another break, and Hewitt bid farewell to Queen’s, 6-2, for the last time.
Not quite the last time: He plays doubles with one of the new generation of Aussies who promise to take his place on the international stage. Like Hewitt, the teenage Thanasi Kokkinakis, already up to 70 in the rankings, got a wild card to the singles draw, and he will tower over his future Davis Cup captain when they play doubles together.
But Hewitt failed to score the one match-win that would take him ahead of other illustrious four-time Queen’s champions John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Andy Roddick.
Not that such thoughts would linger for long: He said he would remember this tournament as one of his all-time favourites, and he had brought his wife, children and parents to share the moment. And he would he helped to remember the moment by a replica small Queen’s trophy.
His favourite memory here? Well it was, as a teenager, beating the reigning Wimbledon champion, Pete Sampras, to win his first London title.
Anderson goes on to play the winner between second seed Stan Wawrinka and the other half of the Aussie army coming up on the rails the charismatic Nick Kyrgios, age 20 and already inside the top 30.
With their height, power and talent, both Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have the makings of future champions. If they bring just a fraction of Hewitt’s fighting heart with them, look out.