It's time Lleyton 'became an adult'
Chip Le Grand
January 16, 2007
WHEN Lleyton Hewitt walks onto Rod Laver Arena tonight to begin his campaign against American Michael Russell, he will have a new coach in his corner, a new manager on his payroll and unprecedented criticism from a celebrated, Davis Cup team-mate ringing in his ears.
In a remarkably candid interview on Melbourne radio on the opening morning of this year's tournament, Todd Woodbridge yesterday urged Hewitt to become an adult, distance his father Glynn from his tennis affairs and start making the important decisions in his professional life that will decide whether he can again challenge the world's best players at major tournaments.
Speaking on Radio 927, the retired doubles maestro and former Davis Cup player and coach questioned whether Hewitt could rejoin the game's elite while he had so many distractions.
Woodbridge referred to the abrupt resignation of coach Roger Rasheed, the sacking of former manager Rob Aivatoglou and legal wrangles with one-time friend and Adelaide footballer Andrew McLeod as examples of distractions incompatible with Hewitt playing his best tennis.
"With Lleyton, he is a bit of an angry young man and when he was younger he used to put that energy into the court and winning matches," Woodbridge said.
"Now all of that energy is being expended around his outer life and when he gets on court he often looks flat.
"You just cannot have all this stuff going on in your life of sacking managers, and coaches walking out, and law suits here and law suits there, and really have enough energy left to focus on playing your best tennis. I really do think it does sap him.
"I don't think he looks as sharp on the court as what he used to and it is probably time where he has got to bite the bullet and say to himself: 'Do I want to get back to the top of the game? Do I want to win major championships?' If that is the case, he has got to do something about his life outside the tennis court."
Woodbridge's comments reaffirm the view many in Australian tennis privately hold. But he is the first member of the Davis Cup brethren to express this view so clearly in public. While the pair retains a civil relationship, they fell out over comments made by Woodbridge prior to last year's Wimbledon tournament, when he said Hewitt was not spending enough time on tour. Woodbridge was subsequently dumped from the coaching staff of the Australian Davis Cup team.
Tonight's line-up on centre court has a strong Australian flavour, with Hewitt favoured against Russell, a qualifier ranked outside the world's top 100 players, and Alicia Molik returning to the tournament she missed last year because of the effects of a rare middle-ear infection.
But Woodbridge's comments will leave a sour taste in the mouth of Hewitt and his family, who are unused to public criticism from within the Australian tennis establishment.
Woodbridge described Hewitt as "very social and relaxed" when away from tennis and a "good companion." But he questioned why Hewitt continued to rely so heavily on his parents. "A lot has been written about his father Glynn and I think that, perhaps now, he has got to realise that he is 26 years of age and he has got to make more decisions by himself and not rely so heavily upon the family.
"He has got his own wife and child and he has got to start doing some of those things by himself.
"You become an adult at some stage. I remember with my own self that at about 20 years of age, I had to say to my mum and dad I want to get married and you have got to let me make my decisions and my choices so I can become a better person and learn throughout my life.
"I think that he doesn't make a lot of his own decisions.
"They are made by other people for him. And so far, as it is turning out now, they are not really all that good."
Last year was one of the more difficult in Hewitt's nine-year professional career. With the exception of a good run and loss to eventual champion Rafael Nadal at the French Open, Hewitt laboured in his other major championship appearances and had his hard court season interrupted by a nagging knee injury.
He drifted in the world rankings to finish on the fringe of the game's best 20 players.