Lleyton Hewitt looks forward to retirement and spending time with family
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/lleyton-hewitt-looks-forward-to-retirement-and-spending-time-with-family/story-fnpp4dl6-1227416826662LLEYTON Hewitt has a vision of a world without alarm clocks, pain, rehabilitation, airports and expectation.
At 34, Hewitt is a worn, remodelled version of the ruthlessly single-minded tyro who burst on to the international tennis landscape at 16.
Almost two decades on, Hewitt is ready for a new life. When he leaves his rented house sandwiched between the Wimbledon Village and All England Club at tournament’s end, it will be for the last time as a player.
If all goes to plan, Hewitt will help Australia to Davis Cup success before retiring at January’s Australian Open.
As with the majority of athletes who have been lauded and cosseted for their excellence, Hewitt has pondered the inevitable question: What happens next? How will he handle the void; the slow beat of normality after almost 20 years of gallivanting around the globe?
Surprisingly for the meticulous South Australian, renowned for knowing precisely where, when and with whom he has a practice session months ahead, the future is decidedly, and refreshingly, vague.
In response to the question of what he is most looking forward to, he says: “Just being at home with the family.
“Not to have to always think about training and getting your body right and all those one-percenters that you have to do to keep playing on the tour.
“Yeah, I haven’t fully prepared for it,” he acknowledges.
“Now I can just sit back and just chill out for a bit; enjoy not having to set an alarm and go to the gym, and do all the small things.”
Hewitt’s new world will initially revolve almost totally around wife Bec and children Mia, 9, Cruz, 6, and Ava, 4. The family will continue to live in the Bahamas.
Beyond that, Hewitt will indulge his passion for golf and beyond that, perhaps more television commentary. But nothing is assured.
He’s been called Australia’s Davis Cup captain-in-waiting, and it’s a role he wants, but he recognises that tennis politics is a strange beast.
“Yeah, we will wait and see,” he says. “Obviously I’ll be helping out Australian tennis in some way at some stage. I have tried to help out Bernie (Tomic) the last couple of years as much as possible.
“I have a good relationship with Nick (Kyrgios) and know Thanasi (Kokkinakis) really well, and we are playing doubles here and at Wimbledon, as well. I feel like I have a really good connection with those guys. They are quality players.”
Hailed by Andy Murray as one of the great modern era champions, Hewitt wants Australia’s vagabond tennis tourists to use his island home as a training base.
More immediately, though, Hewitt has unfinished business.
In 2002, as the world’s dominant player, Hewitt simultaneously held the US Open and Wimbledon crowns.
Boris Becker predicted a long and glorious reign for a baseliner who traded on lightning speed, deadly counter-punching and chilling instinct.
Then Roger Federer, six months Hewitt’s junior and a former doubles partner, happened along.
Since that unforgettable afternoon when Hewitt rode roughshod over Argentine David Nalbandian in 2002, Federer has proceeded to 17 major titles while Hewitt failed to add to his tally of two.
Injuries that would have ended the careers of others years earlier nearly stopped Hewitt — but never did.
The most serious was a foot operation in 2012, which required the reconstructive fusion of bones and the insertion of screws and a plate.
Then 31, Hewitt had to learn to walk and run again on a battered left foot. It almost beggars belief that he wanted to keep playing, let alone that he could win two tournaments last year.
The first of those came in Brisbane with victory in the final over Federer, no less.
It is a story of steely defiance and unshakable self-belief that continues to resonate even now, when it is obvious Hewitt no longer has the fleetness to combat stronger opponents.
With a 17th main draw appearance at Wimbledon in the offing, Hewitt has been a picture of snarling intensity on the practice court.
As ever, there is no margin for sentiment.
“I don’t think it will be that emotional,” he says of the curtain call.
“You know, just try and enjoy it as much as possible.
“I’m fortunate that not many people in sport get to go out on their terms, and I have always said that I wanted to, if the body held up and the opportunities were there.
“I would love to go out, obviously, on my terms. And, you know, so far it looks like I’ll be able to do that.”
How Hewitt copes outside the bubble remains to be seen.
He is a complex character who was as quiet as a church mouse at school but raucously funny around trusted company and the AFL footballers he admires.
Hewitt’s challenge is to find a new outlet for his passion.
“The motivation obviously for Australian Open, Wimbledon, and Davis Cup — yeah, the motivation is always there,” he says. “That’s obviously what I will miss about hanging them up.”
His career has earned him a place not just in the Australian but also the global sporting pantheon.
The youngest man to finish the season as world No.1 (he was 20 in 2001), he was twice world champion, won two majors, and holds just about every meaningful Austral-ian Davis Cup record.
For all that success, his abrasive on-court personality — which is completely at odds with his off-court nature — irked some Australians.
His trademark “C’mons” and fist-pumping spawned a generation of imitators, but were a jarring distraction for those more used to the measured gentility of Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver and Margaret Court.
Over time, and especially as injuries dulled his effectiveness, that perception changed: Australians began to glimpse another side of Hewitt’s persona and warmed to him.
Commentary with Channel 7 has helped Hewitt convey more of that natural personality, not to mention knowledge, with which those close to him are familiar.
Hewitt, the 12th Australian man to scale the sport’s highest peak with his victory 13 years ago, says that regardless of what happens next week he will leave the All England Club with pride.
“It’s kind of just a massive satisfaction at all the hard work over the years,” he says, reflecting on his landmark triumph.
“Even though I was young (21), I made a lot of sacrifices up until that point as well, to try and be the best tennis player I could be. It’s a relief, I guess, in some ways, too, that you can go out there and enjoy that, yeah. You’re a former winner of probably the biggest tournament there is in the world.
“To me it doesn’t really matter if you win it once or five times. And going back there as a member — it’s a pretty special place.
“This year, being my last, I’ll take more time to suck up the atmosphere, to take everything in,” he says. “I love going to Wimbledon. I always have.
“Being able to use the members’ locker room, to go there to practise, and to use the facilities is a privilege. The tradition and the sense of history is always there.
“I’ll go there to compete this year, and I still feel as though I can do some damage.
“But there’s no doubt this is a very special time for me and my family.”
Slated to succeed Wally Masur as Australian Davis Cup captain, Hewitt intends to return as often as he can.
“I look forward to coming back many times in the future — firstly as Australia’s Davis Cup captain,” he says.
“As a champion, you can come back for the rest of your life and have access to two seats on centre court.
“It’s an amazing privilege. This is the one tournament I wanted to win from the moment I started playing tennis. To be able to do that is an incredible feeling, and something that I will never take for granted.”
Revered for his aggression, speed and laser groundstrokes, Hewitt had no peer as he bridged the generational gap separating Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi from Federer.
HE spent 80 weeks at world No.1 and seemed certain to waltz to the 2002 Wimbledon title without the loss of a set — until encountering the road hump of Sjeng Schalken.
“I should have won the Schalken match in straight sets,” Hewitt recalls of four unconverted match points in the third set, after which he slumped to 2-4 in the fifth.
“It was the wake-up call I needed. I’d had pretty straightforward wins up until then against Jonas Bjorkman, Gregory Carraz, Julian Knowle and Mikhail Youzhny. I was in cruise control and it was the same for the first two sets and almost all of the third set against Schalken.
“I was killing him in the third set and had so many chances to get through in straight sets. Somehow, I lost the third set and then the fourth, and then I was down a break in the fifth.
“I remember hitting an unbelievable forehand winner on the run to break back and ended up breaking again before winning 7-5 in the fifth set. It was the turning point. I hadn’t looked like dropping a set, and I could have lost that day. It was a massive match.”
With Nalbandian and Belgian Xavier Malisse due to contest the bottom-half semi-final, Hewitt and Tim Henman were drawn to face off for a place in the decider. Hewitt says both players — who are good friends — knew exactly what was on the line.
Going into the match against Tim Henman, I was treating the match as a final because I knew the crowd would be on Henners’ side and he was in great form,” Hewitt says.
“I’d just beaten him in the Queen’s final and he was the most dangerous grass-courter left in the draw. The winner had to play Nalbandian or Malisse so there was a pretty good chance whoever won our semi would win the title.
“I returned unbelievably, my passing shots were perfect.
“And once I won a tight first set, it took the crowd out of the match. Henners threw everything at me — he was a bloody good player, especially on grass.”
Hewitt’s recall of the final, and the events leading to it, is characteristically precise.
“It was a strange preparation because Nalbandian and Malisse had to finish their semi-final on the Saturday of the women’s final and I was practising on Court 19 while they were playing next door on Court One,” he says.
“They were both really talented players and it was tough not knowing which one of them I’d play.
“Nalbandian won and I started to prepare to play him.
“On the morning of the final, I thought I warmed up terribly but ‘Stolts’ (coach Jason Stoltenberg) said I hit the ball pretty well. Before the match Newk (triple champion John Newcombe) came in and wished me luck and I think, by then, I’d got rid of most of the nerves.
“When the match started, I felt like I couldn’t put a foot wrong. I won the toss, chose to receive and broke him straight away. I went out there with the mindset that I wasn’t going to miss and it was pretty much a faultless match.
“I went up 5-2 in the third set and kept on telling myself at the changeover: ‘This is not over, this is not over’.
“I got to 40-love match point and for some reason tried to serve-volley first and second serve and double-faulted. I went back to the baseline for the next point and he hit a ball long and it was over. The feeling was unbelievable.
“I remember there were two rain delays — and a streaker. The chair umpire had to grab her. That was pretty funny. Overall, winning the title you’d always dreamt about was surreal,” he says.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago and it is something that will stay with me forever.”
10 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT LLEYTON
1. Proposed to actor Bec Cartwright the night he lost the 2005 Australian Open final to Marat Safin. The couple met five years earlier at a Starlight Foundation charity tennis function. The Hewitts now have three children.
2. Regularly used Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger as pre-match motivational music. Jimmy Barnes’ No Second Prize is also one of his favourites.
3. Is a fan of the Ocean’s movie trilogy featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Also likes American Gangster with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.
4. Counts Michael Clarke, Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist among his favourite Australian cricketers. Also enjoys watching India play.
5. Ten pin bowling, golf and paddle tennis are among his sporting outlets away from tennis.
6. Supports several charities including the Starlight Foundation and McGuinness-McDermott Cancer Foundation. Also was ambassador for the Special Olympics.
7. Would have pursued a career in AFL — ideally as a player or in a fitness-related role — if not for tennis. He is No.1 ticketholder at the Adelaide Crows. Former Crow Tyson Edwards and his wife, Mandy, are godparents to Hewitt’s eldest daughter, Mia.
8. His nickname, Rusty, stems from the National Lampoon series. The nickname was first coined by coach Darren Cahill who called the Hewitt family the Griswalds. The boy in the Griswald family is called Rusty. Hewitt’s parents, Glynn and Cherilyn, are both former top athletes. Sister Jaslyn was once ranked No.1 in juniors.
9. Often invites his friends from school days — he went to Immanuel College in Adelaide — to attend tennis tournaments. Several will be at Wimbledon. Hayden Eckerman, one of Hewitt’s schoolmates, was best man at the Hewitt wedding in Sydney.
10. Plays golf off a low single-figure handicap. Has previously played rounds with Greg Norman and Aaron Baddeley. He caddied for Norman at the Australian PGA.