HIGHLIGHTS: Kyrgios the first Aussie man to contest a major singles final since Hewitt

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Right from the start of Lleyton Hewitt’s career, he proved himself a remarkable competitor. In 1998, at the age of 16, the 550th-ranked Hewitt upset Andre Agassi in the semifinalsof an ATP event played in the Aussie's hometown, Adelaide. Rapidly, he reached the elite, swiftly posting the tremendous results that come Saturday, July 16, will earn Hewitt a spot in the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF). Across the length of his career, Hewitt won 616 matches, including a pair of Grand Slam singles finals—the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon. Here are three gems from the glittering crown of a first-rate mate:


Hewitt's US Open triumph was Australia's third in five years following Patrick Rafter's 1997-98 title runs.

Hewitt's US Open triumph was Australia's third in five years following Patrick Rafter's 1997-98 title runs.

2001: King of Queens

On September 9, 2001, the final Sunday afternoon at America’s Slam, destiny seemed to favor native son Pete Sampras. His run to the men’s singles final had been highlighted by victories over the last three men who’d won the US Open—Patrick Rafter, Andre Agassi, Marat Safin. Surely, the stars were aligning for the 30-year-old Sampras to earn a fifth US Open title.

But Hewitt had other plans. He’d fought through five-setters versus James Blake and Andy Roddick. In the semis, he’d handily beaten former world number one Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

An hour prior to the match, I came across a former pro in the US Open player’s lounge. “I think Pete should be OK in this one,” he said, noting such factors as Sampras’ vast experience—13-3 in Slam finals coming into the final—and the fact that this was the 20-year-old Hewitt’s first appearance in a major singles final.

Soon enough, little of that mattered. Hanging comfortably with Sampras throughout the first set, Hewitt’s concentration and movement were superb. Still, as the first set went to a tiebreaker, it was hard to imagine Sampras losing it. After all, in the quarters versus Agassi, he’d played great clutch tennis to win three straight tiebreakers.

But this one was different, Hewitt winning it 7-4. From there, Hewitt was off to the races, completing dominating Sampras. He sprinted through the second set, 6-1, and the third by the same score, capping off the victory six minutes short of two hours. The final shot was fitting: a backhand return winner. All told, Hewitt had hit 36 winners, Sampras only five.

“The harder I served, the more I put into it, the better he returned,” Sampras said.

"I got better with every match I've played over the last two weeks," said Hewitt. "It's unbelievable. I've dreamed of this moment and being out here and playing in a Grand Slam final. It hasn't sunk in yet."

"The kid is so quick it's unbelievable," Sampras said. "I wish I had some of those legs for this old guy. I lost to a great champion. You're going to see this Lleyton Hewitt guy for the next 10 years like you saw me."

Hewitt’s then girlfriend, Kim Clijsters, was also elated by what he had accomplished. “I’m just so proud he was able to win against such a good player as Pete,” she said. “He has known for a year he was good enough to win a slam, but the way he did it, the way he kept his nerves - I was so happy.”


Hewitt and Agassi finished with an even 4-4 head-to-head series.

Hewitt and Agassi finished with an even 4-4 head-to-head series.

2002: The Agassi & the Ecstasy

It’s one thing to reach the top. It’s another to stay there. Having finished 2001 ranked number one in the world, Hewitt was eager to continue proving himself against the very best.

An early chance came in March 2002, when Hewitt took on Andre Agassi in the final of an ATP event in San Jose, Calif. Agassi had won this tournament four times, the medium-slow indoor hard-court a perfect for his laser-sharp groundstrokes. I’d been present for all of those matches and was keen to see how Hewitt would fare on this occasion.

Earlier in the tournament, Hewitt had saved four match points versus Paradorn Srichiphan, a dangerous shot-maker with a lively one-handed backhand.  Likely Hewitt was still shaking off rust, as earlier in the year he’d been sidelined for six weeks with chickenpox.

With neither Hewitt nor Agassi particularly dominant with his serve—and each among the best returners in the game—the rallies were scintillating. These were long, physical exchanges, Hewitt and Agassi each forced to cover one ball after another. Agassi hit harder, but Hewitt was faster. Soon enough, spellbound by the quality of tennis, the crowd was thoroughly engaged. If familiarity made Agassi a slight favorite, what most earned applause was the way each continued to fight.

Agassi won the first set, 6-4. The second set went to a tiebreaker, Agassi taking a 5-2 lead. Surely now, it would end soon enough. But Hewitt’s tenacity reached fever pitch. He caught up and at 6-all, hit an ace, followed by a backhand winner.

"It's something you are born with and something I've gained from doing it time and time again,” Hewitt said after the match. “I go for my shots and have that never-say-die attitude."

Hewitt revealed further persistence in the third set, rallying from 3-1 down to take it into another tiebreaker. He won this one too. In a match that lasted nearly three hours, Hewitt had saved two championship points and won, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4).

Hewitt considered it one of his finest efforts to date. "It's right up there,” he said, “with my Davis Cup wins over Gustavo Kuerten and Albert Costa and beating Pete Sampras at the US Open.

"He's a great competitor, his game is consistent and when he's down he plays big situations aggressively and takes control of the point, said Agassi. “That's the sign of somebody who's ready for big moments. He has great skill and is earning his place with the best of us.”


During a decorated career donning the green and gold, Hewitt helped his nation clinch two Davis Cup crowns. He's served as captain since 2016.

During a decorated career donning the green and gold, Hewitt helped his nation clinch two Davis Cup crowns. He's served as captain since 2016.

2003: For the Love of Country

Nothing meant more to Hewitt than the chance to represent his country. And of the 80 Davis Cup matches Hewitt competed in, none sealed his legacy for unsurpassed tenacity more vividly than one he played in September 2003 versus a lifelong rival, Roger Federer. Australia led this semifinal tie 2-1, Hewitt hoping to clinch it versus Federer inside Rod Laver Arena.

Though by the end of 2002, Hewitt had once again finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world, one major story of 2003 was Federer’s ascent. After half a decade as a pro, the Swiss maestro had at last broken through, winning his first Wimbledon singles title. That same fortnight, Hewitt, the defending champion, had been upset in the first round. Said Hewitt years later, “So he was the form player in the world at the time.”

Born within six months of each other, Hewitt and Federer had dueled since childhood. In the early stages of their pro careers, Hewitt had won six of their eight matches. Federer had risen to No. 3 in the rankings. Hewitt was seventh.

Federer started strongly. He won the first two sets and broke Hewitt at 3-4 in the third. But with Federer serving at 5-3, 30-30, Hewitt broke back and held for 5-all. That set would go to a tiebreaker, Hewitt winning it 7-4. The fourth set was also tight. Hewitt again prevailed, 7-5. By the fifth, the Aussie was thoroughly in control, dropping just one game, on match point striking an untouchable overhead.

“This beats the hell out of winning Wimbledon or the US Open,” said Hewitt following his 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-1 victory.

While naturally discouraged by the outcome, Federer in 2014 recalled all he’d learned from the match and how it aided his career. “It really proved to me that I could play great tennis not just for a set, two sets, but three sets or maybe even longer against the toughest guys out there,” he said. “Lleyton at that point was probably the toughest to beat in the best-of-five set match also physically and mentally. And for me to be able to not just do it tennis-wise but physically and mentally gave me the big belief that I could hang with the best, and especially with him. Then I went on a run like I did.”