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Sports

Hewitt bows out from circuit with gutsy performance

media Lleyton Hewitt was playing in a record 20th consecutive Australian Open. Reuters/Thomas Peter

Just six months older than Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt was the first of his generation to win a grand slam when he bamboozled Pete Sampras in the 2001 US Open final. Hewitt added Wimbledon to his collection the following year. But Federer went on to become the dominant force.

Au revoir then Lleyton. After nearly two decades on the tour, there'll be no more fist-pumped cries of: "C'mon" or defiant rejoinders of: "Bring it on".

The 34-year-old Australian bowed out from the senior singles circuit in the second round of the Australian Open, the tournament where he announced his genius to the world in january 1997, just a month shy of his 16th birthday.

The lad from Adelaide came through the qualifiers for that tournament and within four years, he progressed to be at 20 years and nine months, the youngest world number one on record. He held the position for just over a year as he collected the 2001 US Open at the expense of Pete Sampras and Wimbledon in 2002.

That was as good as it got for the Hewitt in the majors. Grand slam crowns became the seemingly jealous preserve of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - though Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have latterly broken that duopoly.

Hewitt eventually collected 30 titles and though his on-court persona of perpetual bristle and rile was not everyone's cup of tea, he was a player's player.

Federer led the tributes in a video that was played out on the Rod Laver Arena after Hewitt's loss in straight sets to the eighth seeded Spaniard David Ferrer.

"Lleyton, thank you for everything you've done for tennis," said Federer. "And thank you for the great rivalry we've had. I've loved every moment of it - the good and the bad. I've enjoyed my time on court with you. I wish you all the best with your family. Enjoy and see you soon."

World number two Andy Murray was also on the video.

"You are an idol of mine," said the 28-year-old Briton. "You have always been unbelievably nice and kind to me growing up on tour. Enjoy your retirement," he said.

Former world number one Rafael Nadal said: "You are a big inspiration for my tennis and my mentality. Your love and passion for tennis is a great inspiration for the next generation;. thank you for all the great things you have done for our sport."

Hewitt's three children, Ava, Mia and Cruz, joined him on court as he lapped up the plaudits. He hailed his wife, Bec, in the stands with his parents, as the rock.

"I came out and gave everything I could as always," said Hewitt as fans roared their approval. "I can be proud that all throughout my career I have given 100%. It is not hard in front of great spectators like these on the Rod Laver Arena. I am lucky to have done this for 20 years," he added.

Though the post match accolade appeared designed to make the gritty veteran crack, he held his emotions on check. Some spectators were less measured, openly weeping in the stands.

"I don't think it will sink in until later this week," added Hewitt. "I have had a fantastic last month on tour - playing in nearly every major city in this country. It means so much for me."

Last year, Hewitt was part of the Australia Davis Cup team that reached the semi-finals of the men's team tournament before losing to an Andy Murray inspired Great Britain team who went on to claim the title for the first time since 1936.

Hewitt, who won the trophy twice during his career, added: "Playing for Australia has always been the greatest honour for me and it is great to finish it all here in Melbourne."

 

 

 

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