[Ed. Note: Pete's gone to Andes for the weekend. In his absence, we are proud to present programming by various members of the TW Tribe. Today, for your perusal, we offer two opposing viewpoints on the same man's current career outlook. Which side will you weigh in on?]
Lleyton Hewitt: Past His Prime or Ready to Shine?
This year, things have been hard because I've had so many niggling injuries and that's hard on anyone, especially in my style of game. I was number one or two only a year and a half ago, so I feel like I can still get back up there. --Lleyton Hewitt
What do we make of Lleyton’s words? He seems to have the confidence; Does he have the skills in his current game to rise back up in the rankings?
Hewitt doesn’t have the natural talent that most former No.1 players possessed at the height of their careers. When you look at his shots, you can only respect what the Aussie has accomplished. His forehand is decent, but nothing spectacular; the same goes for his serve. The only above-average shot in Hewitt’s arsenal is his backhand. So how did this guy make it to the number one spot, years ago?
Simply put, being a brat helped a great deal. Hewitt needs to be as pumped up as he can be in order to compete with more talented players across the net.
I admire Lleyton for coming this far almost solely on attitude and his unequalled fighting mentality (although Nadal comes close). By the sound of his words, the competitive fire is still burning. Something which has, rightfully so, been in question this past year.
Hewitt married in July of 2005 and became a father that November -- two good reasons to spend a little less time on your tennis and a bit more on your personal life. Now that a year has passed, winning trophies might become important again for the two-time Slam champion. Or are these recent expressions merely a charade? When it comes to Hewitt, that’s hard to imagine.
I was number one or two only a year and a half ago, so I feel like I can still get back up there..
Still, things aren’t quite the same, currently, as they were at that time. Let's take a look at the rankings:
ATP Top-20 as of July 4, 2005
1. Roger Federer
2. Lleyton Hewitt
3. Rafael Nadal
4. Andy Roddick
5. Marat Safin
6. Andre Agassi
7. Nikolay Davydenko
8. Guillermo Canas
9. Thomas Johansson
10. David Nalbandian
11. Tim Henman
12. Mariano Puerta
13. Gaston Gaudio
14. Joachim Johansson
15. Guillermo Coria
16. Radek Stepanek
17. Richard Gasquet
18. Fernando Gonzalez
19. Ivan Ljubicic
20. Tommy Robredo
ATP Top-20 as of October 9, 2006
1. Roger Federer
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Ivan Ljubicic
4. David Nalbandian
5. Nikolay Davydenko
6. Andy Roddick
7. Tommy Robredo
8. James Blake
9. Marcos Baghdatis
10. Fernando Gonzalez
11. Thomas Berdych
12. Radek Stepanek
13. Mario Ancic
14. Tommy Haas
15. David Ferrer
16. Novak Djokovic
17. Juan Carlos Ferrero
18. Lleyton Hewitt
19. Jarkko Nieminen
20. Andy Murray
Hewitt is 25 years old and will turn 26 in February. Note the young fellows in blue. They will likely improve over the next year and Hewitt will have his hands full playing against these guys. Will he be able to keep up with them?
Trashing Djokovic at this year’s US Open sends out a message but you can bet the young Serb won’t be such a pushover the next time the two square off. And, oh yeah, that Swiss guy's game hasn't exactly been in decline.
Lleyton Hewitt will have a tough task ahead of him when he rejoins the circuit in 2007. However, one should never write off a fighter; being behind the eight ball tends to bring out their best.
Lleyton Hewitt Will Never Win Another Slam
Recently, Lleyton Hewitt’s coach, Roger Rasheed, said that he felt Lleyton had at least two more Grand Slam victories ahead of him. Was Rasheed serious? Anyone who has watched Hewitt's fire slowly being extinguished by domestic bliss knows that this feat would be near impossible.
While it has been nice to see Hewitt transform from an embittered, possibly racist, definitely antagonistic competitor to the mellower, slightly more media-friendly version today, it has definitely not helped his tennis game.
Lleyton has only won one title (Queen's, 2006) since his marriage and the birth of his daughter. One only has to look back as far as his match vs. Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open this year to see the damage that has done to Hewitt's game. Previous to 2006, Roddick only beat Hewitt once in their first seven meetings and that was on what is arguably Roddick’s best surface, the grass at Queen’s Club (2004).
Since his marriage to Bec, Lleyton has lost his last two match-ups against Roddick, including that match at the Open where there were no “c’mon’s” or fist pumps heard or seen.
From what I have seen over the past year, I am starting to believe that off-court drama helps Hewitt focus on what is going on between the baselines.
Lleyton somehow channels whatever he is experiencing, whether it is a major break-up shrouded in mystery (did anyone ever find out if there was any truth to those Tatiana Golovin rumors?) or a feud with the head of Tennis Australia. His run to the finals of the Australian Open in 2005 coincided with all of these developments in his personal life (it is worth mentioning that Hewitt was dating Bec at that time but his break-up with Clijsters happened only a couple of months before). Lleyton showed so much passion and drive during that AO run that Chela actually spit at him.
Where has that Lleyton Hewitt gone? This year, it felt like he barely showed up at the Australian Open at all, losing to Chela in the second round. Would the Lleyton Hewitt of the prior year ever have let that, and the rest of this year's disappointments, happen?
Consider, also, all of the drama surrounding Australia’s semi-final Davis Cup match-up with Argentina. David Nalbandian (a notoriously unlikeable player) and Jose Acasuso took shots at Hewitt daily, questioning his need for extra security during the tie while at the same time taunting him about being the most-hated athlete in all of Argentina.
Instead of refusing to go to Argentina to play or trading shots in the media, Hewitt quietly showed up, played (and was defeated) without any drama, and returned home. In contrast, last year in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup, Hewitt and Guillermo Coria played what had to be one of the most contentious rubbers ever contested. Both men accused each other of unsportsmanlike conduct throughout the match. Guess who won that match? Hewitt, of course.
The new and improved(?) Lleyton Hewitt has been discussed many times. The current question up for debate has to be this one: what can Hewitt do to get his old game back? He has been suffering from various injuries, over the past couple of years, that have made it more difficult to compete at the pro level. This, coupled with the emergence of players as diverse as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, makes dominating the sport not quite as easy as it once might have been (and it was never easy). Hewitt is a counter-puncher, not a shotmaker. Should he try changing his game or training regime this late in his career to remain competitive?
Maybe, instead of sitting for all of those photo sessions for Woman’s Day magazine, Lleyton could work on rehabbing his various injuries?
At the very least, he could get involved in a bitter rivalry with someone. Perhaps trading potshots in the media with someone really likeable (a Marcos Baghdatis or Paradorn Srichaphan) could reignite the fiery spark of competition within Hewitt.
The way things appear right now, it does not look like Lleyton Hewitt is able or willing to bring his game and mind up to the level it takes to win another Grand Slam. Which is unfortunate; I, for one, miss the old Hewitt. For all of his faults, he was always an exciting player to watch.