Why Hewitt deserves more respect
Lleyton proves there is still fight in the old dog yet. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Many people like to call him a spoilt brat. Some prefer the ‘bad sport’ line, but others think he is extremely arrogant. Meet Lleyton Hewitt, who for all the wrong reasons is one of Australia’s most hated sportspeople.
Raised in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1998 the now 31-year-old was touted as Australia’s next tennis superstar after capturing the Australian Hardcourt title at the tender age of 16. On the way to his shock tournament triumph, he knocked out eight time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi in a match that shocked the tennis world unlike no other.
Hewitt proved that he wasn’t a one hit wonder when in 2001 he smashed 14 time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras in straight sets in the US Open final to record his first Grand Slam victory. Later that year he claimed the world number one ranking, which came after his victory at the Tennis masters in November which was played in Sydney.
In July 2002, Hewitt confirmed his status as World No.1 when he defeated David Nalbandian in straight sets to win his first Wimbledon crown and his second Grand Slam in just 11 months.
After a lacklustre 2003 which was highlighted by a first round loss at Wimbledon, Hewitt did not make it to another Slam final until the US Open in 2004 where he was smashed by Roger Federer, in three one sided sets.
This was succeeded by an impressive run to the final at the 2005 Australian Open, which included an incredible victory against the often fiery, Argentine David Nalbandian 10 – 8 in the fifth set. That colossal Quarter Final was followed by a crowd lifting four set victory against long time rival and friend, American Andy Roddick.
Unfortunately for the Australian, there has been a long time between drinks for Hewitt. In the years that followed he hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final and the Australian public have lashed out with common calls of ‘bad sport, or the popular ‘tennis brat’ remark.
These ill thought out remarks have startled and confused me to the point of no end. Hewitt is widely known around the globe as one of the toughest competitors in sport who never gives up no matter the circumstances. The man has rebounded from countless surgeries, always holding out hope that he can make a successful return to his tennis career.
His mental toughness is unprecedented, as he pointed out on Sunday on Fox Footy’s EMT: “The last two years, year and a half I’ve been playing on painkillers.” To me that shows Lleyton’s burning desire to compete no matter what, as well as proving how incredibly tough the South Australian really is.
Many people also forget his courageous fightbacks where his back has constantly been pinned to the wall. How many times have we seen Hewitt come back from what’s thought to be the impossible, and then go on to win the match? The evidence is overwhelming, yet we refuse to recognise it.
Another strong point is that Hewitt has always given his all to his country no matter what. A fantastic example of this occurred last September, in Sydney. At the time Lleyton was warned by medical experts that if he played in the crucial Davis Cup tie against Switzerland it could set him back 3 months in his recovery from a knee surgery.
Nevertheless Hewitt ignored doctor’s instructions and played in the tie where Australia heartbreakingly lost 3 – 2, to fall agonisingly short of a place in the coveted world group for 2012.
Conversely, it was a gallant performance by Australia, which was highlighted by Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione’s fantastic doubles win over 16 time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and Swiss number two Stanislas Wawrinka.
This fine example of Hewitt’s commitment to his country should be widely commended – he sacrificed three months of his individual playing career so he could represent his country. I don’t know many players who would do that.
In spite of all of this, most people would still regard him as a bad sport, and consider him a blight on the great game that tennis is. Just because Hewitt says a huge ‘C’mon’ once in a while doesn’t mean he is a bad sport. His passion should be admired by the Australian public, which has no doubt helped him on his quest to greatness.
Hewitt has never committed an incidence of terrible sportsmanship, and nothing that was remotely close to David Nalbandian’s horrible kicking incident that happened earlier this week.
On the hotly debated issue of retirement, Hewitt should be able to make the decision himself for when he wants to retire – not millions of other Australians who like to get involved in other people’s affairs.
So, I implore you to let Lleyton finish his career on his terms. I also urge you to give the man the respect that he certainly deserves.
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