Hewitt: 2 hip surgeries in 2 years have slowed him, but the cagy veteran is still the quintessential grinder.
Talk about determination.
Lleyton Hewitt, six months beyond his second hip surgery in two years, and at the not-so-young-anymore age of twenty-nine, has risen to heights that not even an eternal optimist such the typically red-faced Aussie could have expected at this juncture of his career.
With a win over Roger Federer at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, Hewitt, a former No. 1 who was voted the ATP's third best player of the decade, has put the kabosh on what must have been a painful and demoralizing streak of fifteen losses to the Swiss maestro, by handing Federer only his second loss on grass in the last seven years.
There have been times - particularly over the last few years, when injuries wreaked havoc on his training and results - that it seemed a foregone conclusion that Hewitt's best days were behind him. But after this inspiring week on grass it appears that Hewitt's got more than enough gas in the tank to keep his motor at a fever pitch for the upcoming Wimbledon fortnight.
Hewitt, who has reached the fourth round or better at Wimbledon in every year since 2004, has has had his momentum stifled by Federer on three of those occasions (2008 4th round, 2004 semifinal round, 2004 semifinal round).
But he's only lost to one player (Baghdatis in 2006) at Wimbledon who was ranked outside of the top six in the last six years.
He's a perennial player to watch at Wimbledon, but after his shocking over his arch nemesis Federer today, he may once again be a player to fear.
The Australian No. 1, who leads all active ATP players with 98 career grass court wins, can now continue his preparations for the fortnight without the imperious spectre of Federer's domination weighing on his mind. It doesn't guarantee him anything, but it can't be a bad thing for Hewitt to be heading to London on such a high.
"It's fantastic," said Hewitt, who was keen to remain humble after the match. "Roger is a hell of an opponent and everybody knows how good he is on grass. His record speaks for itself and I just got lucky."
Perhaps it wasn't the deleterious effects of age, but the absence of luck that has kept Hewitt from advancing past the semis at Wimbledon for the first time since he defeated David Nalbandian for the title in 2002?
After his come-from-behind upset in Halle, might Lleyton be ready to live the charmed live in London again?
Possibly, but the surprising result might be more of an indication of the lack of punch in Federer's game than an indication of the presence of punch in Hewitt's. Given that Federer has given back ground to many of his fiercest competitors over the course of this season (Soderling, del Potro, Berdych, Gulbis, Montanes, Baghdatis), Hewitt is definitely not be the only player who is feeling his oats at the moment.
Still, grass is his mecca, and his first title of the year has come at the perfect time for the Aussie.
It's true that Hewitt isn't the player that he was when he was winning Grand Slams and holding the No. 1 ranking for seventy-five weeks at the turn of the century, but certain things about him haven't changed a bit.
He's still a fiery competitor whose competitive nature hearkens back to a time when players were concerned more with winning than they were with their own well-being, and he's still going to make you work up a monster sweat to beat him by playing a solid, spunky brand of tennis that is fueled by emotion, even if he is outmatched on a certain day.
And, as his first victory over Federer in sixteen tries alludes to, he's not going to go away - not mentally, not physically, and most of all, not spiritually.
While Hewitt's boldness and bravado may have come off as arrogance in the early years of his career, that same single-minded lust for battle and testosterone-fueled exuberance are the things that make seeing Lleyton Hewitt compete special these days.
Today it was more than special. In winning his 28th career title, Hewitt proved that he's not only a hungry dog - he's also got some pretty sharp teeth to boot.