Lleyton Hewitt will forever be remembered as one of tennis’s greatest warriors, but he’s proud to be known as a game changer too.
Among the many legacies he leaves behind, Hewitt’s special role in the making of Roger Federer ranks only behind his Davis Cup and grand slam triumphs and historic rise to world No.1.
Federer, his career-long friend and foe, credits his gut-wrenching five-set Davis Cup semi-final loss to Hewitt at Melbourne Park in 2003 for giving him the belief he could match Australia’s relentless baseline slugger from the back of the court.
Even in defeat, the Swiss master learned in snaring the first two sets that he needn’t charge the net to bring Hewitt down.
After losing seven of his first nine career meetings with Hewitt, Federer won the next 16 straight in a decade-long domination of the rivalry, while capturing another 16 more grand slam crowns to go with his breakthrough title at Wimbledon earlier in 2003.
“Guys playing from the back of the court obviously started believing once they saw that I was able to do it, especially on all surfaces,” Hewitt said after closing his career with a second-round loss at the Australian Open.
“It was really kind of the total changing of how tennis was played in a lot of ways, especially on grass.
“Apart of the likes of especially Agassi in ’92, there wasn’t a lot of guys that would stay back and play from the back of the court.
“I think in that, a lot of guys learnt or believed that they could do it playing that way. That was probably my biggest thing.
“Obviously I think the other guys came in, and Roger and that took it to a totally new level.”
Despite Nick Kyrgios’s glowing praise of Hewitt, hailing his Davis Cup captain and mentor as “still the best player in Australia”, the 34-year-old is convinced it’s time to call it quits.
“I got the most out of my body. I’ve pushed myself to the limit,” he said.
“I look forward to the next phase in terms of work-wise, in terms of helping these next guys coming through, and the likes of Nick as well.”
Hewitt would love to have won the Open, his four-set final loss to Marat Safin in 2005 remaining a painful near miss, but he farewells with no regrets.
The 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion said his grand slam and Davis Cup glories wearing the green and gold in 1999 and 2003 were impossible to top.
“Especially at this place. The Davis Cup semi (against Switzerland),” he said.
“But also the (2003) final against Spain where I beat Juan Carlos Ferrero in five sets on day one.
“Some of my greatest memories doing it with the team, Mark Philippoussis, and it’s obviously pretty special times.
“But obviously the two majors.”
LLEYTON THE LEGEND – HEWITT’S CAREER IN A SNAPSHOT
Born: Adelaide, South Australia, Feb 24, 1981
Lives: Nassau, The Bahamas and Sydney, Australia
Height: 178cm. Weight: 74kg
Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Career-high ranking: 1 (2001-2003)
Career prize money: $30.11 million
Career titles: 30
Grand slam titles: 2 (Wimbledon 2002; US Open 2001)
Career win-loss record: 616-262
Australian Open win-loss record: 32-20
Best Australian Open performance: runner-up 2005
French Open win-loss record: 28-14
Best French Open performance: quarter-finalist 2001, 2004
Wimbledon win-loss record: 41-16
Best Wimbledon performance: champion 2002
US Open win-loss record: 47-14
Best US Open performance: champion 2001
Davis Cup ties: 41 (1999-2015) – Australian record
Davis Cup win-loss record: 58-20 (42-14 singles, 16-6 doubles)
Davis Cup champion: 1999, 2003 (runner-up 2000, 2001)