After winning the all-important doubles rubber of the Davis Cup tie against Switzerland on the weekend, Lleyton Hewitt made an important statement. It was along the lines of his grand slam winning ways coming back during Davis Cup ties, where national pride was the first thing on players minds.
Most of the Seven Network commentators agreed that during the match, Hewitt (who had gone down to Roger Federer in four the previous day) was playing vintage tennis. But on the decisive day, when Hewitt had to beat journey-man Stanislus Warwinka, ranked 19, to ensure Australia went through against the team featuring the best player of all time, he couldn’t do it. Yes, Hewitt is only ranked 199 now, and yes, he’s been injury ravaged for years now. But Australia expected more. Purely because he is Lleyton Hewitt. And there’s the problem. We, as Australian tennis fans, are expecting more than he can produce, based on history alone.
It was Bernard Tomic’s brave first day defeat of Warwinka that set up the possibility for Australia to win the tie. Federer was always going to win his two singles rubbers, and the Aussies were confident they could muscle past the Swiss in the doubles. That just lead Hewitt to look for gold against Warwinka. If the 18-year-old wonder kid could do it, surely the dual grand slam winner could too. It was looking so good it lead Aussie legend John Newcomb to proclaim he was “confident” that match up would see Australia win the tie. The match drew to five sets, light ended play on Sunday with the Swiss one game away from the match. On resumption of play on the Monday Hewitt lasted just three minutes.
So if not even the Davis Cup can get Hewitt firing enough to knock off top 50 players, and if Bernard Tomic is becoming the man to bring Australia the gold when it counts, is it time to admit defeat with Hewitt? He is still a legend, but will no longer be gracing the centre court of any major on the last day. That’s the reality that both Australia, and Lleyton himself, has to face. Should he retire? No. On his day he can still cause and upset and rattle some top players, but just like the rest of the top guns from the time of Hewitt’s reign (think Nalbandian, Bagdhatis, Grosjean, Roddick), the sun has set on their time as real contenders.
Hewitt will be remembered as a tough competitor, fiery at times, over the top at others, but someone who Australia was still proud of even through the trials. It’s Tomic time now – strap in!
Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men’s Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney’s North Shore with his girlfriend.