x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Time for Lleyton Hewitt to listen to his body and stop

For every Rocky Marciano, the heavyweight boxing champion who retired unbeaten, are a thousand athletes who stay too long - Lleyton Hewitt is one of them.

Sportsmen tend to always be the last to know when they are washed up. For every Rocky Marciano, the heavyweight boxing champion who retired unbeaten, are a thousand athletes who stay too long.

On one level, the resistance to concede to time or injury is admirable. Taken to an extreme, however, it can damage a reputation and lead to fans wincing at the sight of a former great hanging on by his fingernails.

Which brings us to Lleyton Hewitt, a comet of a talent who streaked across the sky early in the century.

The Australian won the US Open in 2001 and, in November of that year, became the youngest man, at age 20, to be ranked No 1 in the world. He was a bulldog on the baseline, a player nearly impossible to pass or ace, and the idea a decade ago of what he might achieve was mind boggling.

But then came a series of injuries, followed by annual announcements of a return to form, none of which have been quite true. Since 2007 he has won two second-tier tournaments.

Hewitt is now 30, an age when most players begin to consider a career in television, and ranked No 64 in the world. His record this year is 4-4, but he refuses to go away. He will play at Eastbourne in June, and then will attempt to replicate his 2002 victory at Wimbledon.

Perhaps he loves the game too much to quit. But Hewitt long ago reached the point where we would prefer to be left with our memories of the player who was.