Game, Set and Match
Long before her beau popped the question, Home & Away starlet and singer Bec Cartwright had turned her thoughts to the perfect wedding. "My wedding would definitely be held outdoors," she told Bride to Be magazine (published by Who's parent company, Time Inc) in February last year. "My labrador and kelpie would have to be at my wedding," she said, laughing. "I'd put my dogs in bow-tie collars to make them feel included!" And the rest of the wedding party? "My sister Kristy would be a bridesmaid, and my brother Shaun would be a groomsman." Cartwright's castmate and boyfriend of three years, Beau Brady, was at that stage a shoo-in to be groom. But life, like a prime-time soapie script, can be unpredictable.
On Jan. 30, less than two months after splitting with Brady, Cartwright, 21, agreed to marry the man who took his place: the world's No. 2 tennis player, Lleyton Hewitt, 23, catapulting her from Summer Bay to CNN without so much as a change of clothes. "As much as anyone's talked about timing, we all know how happy Bec is," says a spokeswoman for Seven's Home & Away, who did not want to be named. "She's always happy, always energetic. (Now) there's a contentment about her."
Hewitt, who proposed to Cartwright less than a week before he was due to walk down the aisle with his former fiancée, Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters, 21 (who has also moved on, but more on that later), is "very happy about it," says Hewitt's Adelaide-based grandmother Dawn Hewitt, who got a call from her "gorgeous" grandson on Monday afternoon. Though Dawn hasn't met her grandson's girlfriend of seven weeks, "I think it's the best thing for him."
And a joyous end to an otherwise bad day. Shortly before he dropped to one knee and surprised Cartwright with what some have described as a "boulder" - reportedly a $200,000 diamond from Tiffany & Co - Hewitt had dropped the match of his career, losing the Australian Open final to Marat Safin, a chain of events that unwittingly added two big ticks to Cartwright's wedding wish list. The perfect proposal, she told Bride to Be, should be "unexpected" and "I'd love an engagement ring that's really sparkly!"
Quiet, please. According to a joint statement from their reps, Hewitt first met Cartwright at a tennis day for the Starlight Foundation five years ago. On Dec. 9, both fresh out of long-term relationships, they were reacquainted at a party and became, said the statement, "instantly committed to each other." Like her old friend Delta Goodrem, whose nine-month relationship with Mark Philippoussis fizzled in October, Cartwright soon became a fixture in the player's box at the Australian Open in Melbourne. With Cartwright attracting almost as much TV camera– time as her impressively cut, millionaire boyfriend, some cynics had described the romance as "a match made in Seven."
Given their respective romantic histories, it didn't seem an obvious pairing. Late last year, Cartwright, who grew up in Sydney's Hills district with a love of horses and creative dance, was still living on Sydney's Northern Beaches with Brady, affectionately known to her as "pumpkin head." Her only similarity to Hewitt's ex seems to be a sweet nature and a fondness for dogs. In Clijsters, a fan of horror movies, mountain biking and Australian Rules football, Hewitt had a built-in practice partner, regular racquetball opponent and, said Clijsters last year, "best friend in everything." "It didn't surprise me one bit that Lleyton got engaged," Hewitt's mum, Cherilyn (who was 19 when she married Glynn Hewitt, then 20), told Tennis magazine last March, "though I didn't know anything in advance. He's very caring and loving, and he always looks out for people. You don't see that side of him on a tennis court." When the wedding was cancelled in October, a "friend" quoted by Fox Sports said Hewitt was "angry, embarrassed, devastated and distraught." Added the friend: "He's been kicked in the guts ... it came as a huge shock."
Nevertheless, by Dec. 9 - days after Cartwright's split with Brady was announced - Hewitt and the actress were an apparent item, stepping out at a Sydney party hosted by Virgin boss Richard Branson. Their romance seemed sealed when Hewitt took Cartwright on a Sydney Harbour cruise - the backdrop, coincidentally, for his 2003 proposal to Clijsters. The bling he chose for both engagements is similar, too. Cartwright's ring is "one huge diamond, about as big as a 20-cent piece," says Michael Miziner, the partner with whom Cartwright won last year's series of Dancing with the Stars. "It is just beautiful."
As for Clijsters, to update the score: love all. For two months, the Belgian tennis pro has been dating Luc Opdelocht, 25, a 1.92m, blue-eyed, brown-haired electronics teacher and former holder of the Mr Limburg title, a pageant in the region from which both he and Clijsters hail. "He's a handsome guy," says Bart Bijnens, sports editor for local newspaper Het Belang van Limburg. I would say he is (better looking than Lleyton Hewitt)." Bijnens says about a week before Clijsters announced the split with Lleyton on her website, she was at discos and concerts, signalling for many a change of lifestyle for the hitherto homebody. "She is," says a representative for the Clijsters family, "very happy."
What the future holds for all parties is as tantalising as a Summer Bay surf break. Will Clijsters settle down with Opdelocht? Will Cartwright leave Home & Away for the tennis tour? Before she does, will Hewitt make good a threat to appear on the soap? "If Lleyton at some stage would like to appear, as he says, in the diner in a booth drinking a milkshake, we will, I'm sure, welcome him with open arms," says the show's spokeswoman.
For now, it's business as (un)usual. Cartwright is back at work - her character, Hayley, is dealing with the death of husband Noah, who was played by Cartwright's real-life ex, Beau Brady - and Hewitt is taking a break before Sydney's March 3 Davis Cup tie. Stay tuned.