As Lleyton Hewitt regains the mantle as Australia’s highest ranked player, and we rejoice in the renaissance of a champion, one must ask what makes him tick?
After all, if Marion Bartoli retired upon winning Wimbledon, couldn’t Lleyton just go and retire today, after defeating his greatest rival, Roger Federer, in an an ATP Final?
Will he in fact retire at a time of his choosing or rather, driven by an irrepressible spirit that not even father time will respect, be seen led kicking and screaming from the Tour, maybe on crutches or worse after another inevitable setback?
I think neither is likely.
This is a man who loves records…..the youngest male to qualify for the Australian Open (age 15), the youngest winner on the ATP Tour (age 16), the youngest #1 (age 20), the most matches won by an Aussie in Davis Cup (still counting), just to mention a few.
So one could surmise he is driven to make history again in some way, pining for yet another opportunity?
I think not.
His great colleague and foe Roger Federer, also now 32 years of age, the man who succeeded him as #1, is still in the top 10 and a force at Grand Slams. Federer shows little sign of putting up his feet in a pool room full of trophies. Is Lleyton too proud to retire before Roger?
Again, I demur.
No, Lleyton Hewitt has unfinished business.
2013 was the beginning of the endgame for Hewitt. He worked around the body scars and got back into shape, as good as one possibly could with his long list of war injuries.
For the first time in years, he could play consecutive weeks, but he couldn’t back it up.
After a stunning win over in-form Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon, he meekly fell to Dustin Brown in the next round.
Same thing at the US Open. After an upset win oner Juan Martin del Potro, he lost in the fourth round to Mikhail Youhzny, after leading two sets to one. Very sad to witness.
To be competitive enough to beat top 10 players in majors, then lose to players he used to dominate, is the ultimate frustration. It would have rankled Lleyton no end.
His response? To take those wins for what they were…an indication he still had it, and to work even harder to be able to back them up. As an unseeded player must.
I think he got what he could out of 2013, especially helping Australia return to the World Group of Davis Cup, after six years in the wilderness. This was key.
You won’t hear Lleyton echoing the tiresome refrain from senior Australian tennis figures by bagging Bernard Tomic. He’s too wise for that.
He now sees Tomic for what he is…a young guy who’s just not ready in himself, who needs patience and space and, importantly, someone who can help Lleyton.
Tomic has an impeccable Davis Cup record (comparable with Lleyton’s at the same age) and together they make a formidable duo.
A rejuvenated Hewitt and a rising Tomic can do serious damage in the Davis Cup, whether this year, next year or even the year after.
This is a critical component of the Hewitt endgame, of completing unfinished business….against the odds, of making a real charge once again deep into the business end of a Grand Slam or Davis Cup, where Australia belongs.
Where Lleyton belongs.
Come Monday, he gets his first real chance for a long time.