Roger Federer has revealed how Lleyton Hewitt dumped him as a junior doubles partner at the Australian Open way back when.
Career-long friends who first clashed as 15-year-olds at the 1996 World Youth Cup in Zurich, Federer on Saturday recalled how “big shot” Hewitt had eyes on much bigger prizes when their pro careers were just beginning.
“We were supposed to play the juniors here, the doubles together, in ’98,” Federer said ahead of Hewitt’s 20th and final Open tilt at Melbourne Park.
“I played Traralgon (juniors). He won Adelaide. That was the difference. He got a wildcard in singles, doubles and mixed here in the pros.
“I played the juniors, lost in the semis in the singles and the doubles. We were supposed to play here in the juniors. He dumped me. It was a big shot after winning Adelaide. I understood.”
Federer and Hewitt instead paired up at Wimbledon as teenagers on the rise in 1999 before sharing a special men’s rivalry in which the Swiss master leads 18-9 overall.
“We always got along well. It was sometimes feisty on the court, but it was always respectful,” Federer said.
“I always admired his work ethic, his on-court fighting spirit, even though it annoyed me sometimes because in the beginning it was more crazy than now.
“Until I found myself as well on the court, took me a while, but it was more because of me, not because of him, I’d say.”
Federer has often credited Hewitt for helping transform his game after growing tired of charging the net and watching the baseliner continually pass him while losing seven of of his first nine meetings with the South Australian.
Almost two decades on and the 17-times grand slam champion maintains that Hewitt and Roddick were his fiercest rivals early in his career.
“It was different with Lleyton. I had to turn around the series because he got the better of me many times in the beginning, whereas with Andy I started on the better side and kept that up throughout,” Federer said.
“But I really enjoyed playing them. Also (Juan Carlos) Ferrero and (Marat) Safin, I thought. But Lleyton was something special. No doubt about it. Same as Roddick.
“Lleyton made me figure out my game and made me definitely a better player, as well.
“I enjoyed the battles with him. I wish him well here.”