Lleyton Hewitt says it’s impossible to split talented trio Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis and anoint an obvious heir apparent as the future king of Australian men’s tennis.
While Hewitt will make a token appearance at next year’s Australian Open to farewell home fans, the unofficial changing of the guard took place on Monday when the former world No.1 made his Wimbledon swansong and Tomic and Kyrgios lived up to their newfound seeded status to progress to the second round.
After more than a decade carrying the torch, Hewitt will wind down his playing career and continue to mentor Australia’s exciting band of youngsters as Davis Cup captain-in-waiting.
The retiring champion believes the game is in good hands as he bids to crown his career alongside Tomic, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis with one final Davis Cup triumph in 2015.
But he refused to separate the triumvirate when asked who Australian fans should pin their faith in as the country’s next genuine grand slam hope, saying they each “have something special”.
“They all have different strengths,” Hewitt said after his 17th and last Wimbledon appearance ended in a gut-wrenching 3-6 6-3 4-6 6-0 11-9 first-round loss to Jarkko Nieminen.
“I’ve said the last couple years, a lot of people were quick to write Bernie off after he had the hip surgeries, and I still think he’s going to be a contender the next couple years.
“(US Open junior champion) Omar Jasika is on the way up as well. Might take him a bit longer just because of his game style.
“A lot of these kids that are coming up, the Australians especially, have a lot more firepower than I had.
“I had to work on other areas of my game, being mentally tough, different strengths, to get the most out of myself.
“They’re fortunate they can rely on finishing points quickly and having those big serves they can go to when they need to.”
Tomic has been dubbed “Tomic the Tank Engine” in the past after admitting to not putting in maximum effort in matches.
But the 22-year-old former dual grand slam junior champion has risen to a career-high ranking in 2015 and credited Hewitt’s influence for the transformation after his spirited five-set comeback win over German Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday.
“He’s helped me a lot and he is a true mentor to me and to a lot of people,” Tomic said following his 6-3 3-6 2-6 6-2 6-3 victory.
“He changed me, gave me that attitude of wanting to fight more and believing more in matches.
“Growing up and watching that sort of player compete, digging himself out of matches like that, has motivated me a lot.
“He’ll always be a great champion to me. If he can be around as much as he can, it’s going to be huge for us over the next 10 years.
“We need him. We need him around.”
Tomic said watching the final stages of Hewitt’s gallant loss to Nieminen, when he saved three match points, “gave me goosebumps”.
“I would have loved for him to win but, unfortunately, he didn’t,” Tomic said.
“He would have given Novak (Djokovic) a good run (next round), but he lost.
“Always when Lleyton plays, you learn a lot.”
Tomic’s rich praise, after also practising with Hewitt on Sunday, raises hopes that the Australian No.1 will reconsider his decision to boycott next month’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan.
Tomic has made himself unavailable as his coach-father John remains at loggerheads with Tennis Australia over their lack of funding for his 17-year-old daughter Sara.