MELBOURNE, Australia — In one of his final media conferences as a player, Lleyton Hewitt told everyone on Saturday what they already knew – that’s he’s never lacked for motivation during a career which spanned three decades.
And also no surprise that the motivation part is what he’ll miss most when he concludes his injury-hit career at the Australian Open, his 20th appearance in his national championship and one which he’s never managed to win.
“That’s what’s pushed me the last few years: I don’t struggle for self-motivation, to get up early and do the hard work that no one sees,” Hewitt told a news conference also attended by his wife, Bec, and their three children.
“There’s no crowds or cameras around there. It’s just you in the gym or on the practice court. That’s one of the things I will miss, not having to go out there and push yourself day in and day out.”
Hewitt always pushed himself on court, and early in his career it sometimes got him into trouble with officials and opposing players. But the 34-year-old Hewitt has mellowed in his later years – he’s become a mentor to some of the younger Australian players, does a credible job as a television commentator and recently became Australia’s Davis Cup captain.
He’ll lead Australia into a World Group match against the United States in Melbourne in March, the first time the two-time Grand Slam winner (2001 U.S. Open, 2002 Wimbledon), hasn’t taken a racket on to the court in the team competition. When he did, he did his country proud – Hewitt had a 54-18 record in the Davis Cup, including 40-14 in singles, and holds Australian records for most singles wins, overall wins, matches played and years played in the Davis Cup.
He won his first tournament title in his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, in 1998 at age 16 and went on to capture 29 more titles, including the two majors. Hip and foot injuries hobbled him over the past several years and he hasn’t been past the fourth round at a major since the 2013 U.S. Open.
At the Australian Open, where he’ll play his first-round match against fellow wild-card entry and countryman James Duckworth on Tuesday, he hasn’t made it past the second round since 2012. He lost the 2005 final to Marat Safin, the only time he’s made it past the fourth round.
Hewitt said he’s gained his most inspiration from 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, saying “I think it’s very hard to ever have a better ambassador than Roger for our sport.”
Federer, who lost to Hewitt seven of their first nine meetings but now holds an 18-9 career edge, returned the favor.
“I learned a lot from him,” Federer said during the Brisbane International last week. “How feisty he was, how tough he was. It’s definitely one of the reasons I’m the player I am today.”
Federer said then that he hoped to avoid Hewitt at the Australian Open, and he likely got his wish. As they’re on opposite sides of the draw, they could only meet in the final, an unlikely scenario for Hewitt, who became the youngest No. 1 at the age of 20 but is now ranked 306th.
“I’ve played Lleyton enough, I don’t need to play him again,” Federer said. “I’d rather see him giving his absolute best from now till the end of his career. I’ve been a big fan of him throughout.”