x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Body is failing a gritty Lleyton Hewitt

He is known for the trademark Australian tenacity but the exit door looms large.

Lleyton Hewitt is due to play in Shanghai next month but his form is a worrying sign.
Lleyton Hewitt is due to play in Shanghai next month but his form is a worrying sign.

John Arlott, the late voice of BBC's Test Match Special, once described Australianism as the "single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them.

It means where the 'impossible' is within the realm of what the human body can do ..."

The iconic cricket commentator was, of course, talking about a different sport, but in his heyday, Lleyton Hewitt defined Australianism as well as any sportsman of the past or present.

Tenacious and in your face, he was a gritty, fist-pumping shot maker, who reached the peaks of men's tennis.

Hewitt, 31, occupied the No 1 ranking for 80 weeks in the early 2000s, winning two grand slams and a horde of other titles.

Even his critics were forced to grudgingly acknowledge his indomitable spirit.

Quitting was not a part of his vocabulary back then and that word has still not crept in, despite all the setbacks and injuries that saw his ranking slip beyond 200. It now stands at 105.

The Australian has carried on fighting, though, beating Roger Federer on grass for the 2010 Halle title in Germany, reaching the Newport, Rhode Island, final in July and showing signs of resurgence at the US Open, despite the steel plates inserted into his left big toe to support the deteriorating bone and cartilage.

But after a disappointing Davis Cup week, the exit door seems nearer than Hewitt would have liked.

The most capped player in Australian Davis Cup history, he lost both his singles matches against Germany in Hamburg and John Fitzgerald, a former Australia captain, conceded, "he's like a worn-out warrior".

Todd Woodbridge, a former doubles ace and the director of Australian men's tennis, is hoping Hewitt will "go away and really have a heart-to-heart with himself about how he performed".

Patrick Rafter, the Australian captain, said after the 3-2 defeat that it is probably time to look beyond Hewitt.

That probably suggests Hewitt might have played his last game for Australia.

The mainstay of their four finals in five years between 1999 and 2003, he has appeared in 33 cup ties over the past 13 years and boasts a 50-16 record.

Walking away from the Australian team will be tough for him, but Hewitt is certainly not ready to walk away from the game

Asked about his retirement plans at the US Open, he said: "Retirement is forever and that's a long time."

Hewitt is clearly not ready for it yet, and he will be in action at the Shanghai Masters next month after accepting a wild card. And you can be certain, he will stretch himself to the limit there.

He is the embodiment of Australianism.


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