Lleyton Hewitt, ultimate ‘competitor’, inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame

When asked for one word to describe how he wanted to be remembered in tennis, Lleyton Hewitt paused for a moment: “Competitor,” the 41-year-old replied.

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Adelaide boy, and youngest ever ATP world No 1 (at 20 years, eight months and 26 days) said his famously counter-punching, never-say-die style was his greatest legacy.

“For me, someone that loved to lay it on the line day after day, and got the most out of themselves, I competed as hard as I possibly could on the court every time I took to the court,” Hewitt told Associated Press. “The fans deserved for us to give everything and go out and compete, and that’s something I prided myself on.”

Hewitt was elected into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class, but due to travel restrictions because of the pandemic, was unable to attend the enshrinement ceremony last year. There was no one elected for 2022, so the moment was his alone. He is the 34th player from Australia to be inducted.

The enshrinement ceremony was held on Newport’s grass side courts after the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Open. Eight Hall of Famers, including Andy Roddick and Tracy Austin attended the event, as did Hewitt’s wife Bec and their three children Mia, Cruz and Ava. Hewitt was honoured with video tributes from other Australian tennis greats John Newcombe, Tony Roche and Pat Rafter as well as famous rivals and legends of the sport.

“I feel fortunate that I was able to play across different generations, that I was able to be on the same court as my heroes that I looked up to like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and then go on and compete against three of the greatest tennis players our sport has ever seen in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic,” he said.

Hewitt and 20-time grand slam winner Federer played each other on 27 occasions. Initially, Hewitt dominated the Swiss, winning seven of their first nine meetings, including a famous victory from two sets down in the 2003 Davis Cup semi-final, for Australia to defeat Switzerland. However, from 2004, Federer turned the tables, winning 16 of the last 18 meetings to finish with an 18–9 overall head-to-head record.

A two-time grand slam champion, Hewitt finished 2001 and 2002 as the No 1 player in the world and spent 80 weeks top-ranked. During his career, he won 30 singles titles and was a part of two Davis Cup championship teams in 1999 and 2003.

Hewitt is the sole holder of several Australian Davis Cup records, which include most wins, most singles wins, most ties played and most years played. Since 2016 he has been Australia’s Davis Cup captain, shepherding the next generation of local heroes.

Hewitt said one of his most memorable moments was his first Davis Cup team in 1999. “I was only 18 at the time. I had Pat Rafter as our top singles player and I was playing No 2 behind him,” he said. “For me that was a really proud moment, to be standing beside all those great Australians that I always idolised.”

Hewitt won his last ATP title at Newport in 2014. It was then that the thought of being elected to the Hall flickered into his imagination as a possibility. “A lot of people that I would bump into me would say: ‘I can’t wait to see you back here in a few years’. That was probably the only time that you actually start thinking about it,” he said.

Hewitt was a runner-up at the Australian Open in 2005. Despite having no regrets – “there’s nothing that I would change,” he said – a slam title in his own country was the only thing missing in his career. Yet perhaps the Hewitt name may grace that trophy in the years to come – Hewitt’s twelve year old son, Cruz, is something of a tennis ace himself, winning the Australian junior tennis clay-court title in Canberra last year.