Are The Updated FedEx ATP Rankings A Gift To Roger Federer? - UBITENNIS
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Are The Updated FedEx ATP Rankings A Gift To Roger Federer?

Pospisil, Djokovic, Isner and other US tennis players are among those who do not believe in the good faith of the association. Young up-and-comers like Musetti and Alcaraz will have to wait a little longer for a breakthrough.

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In this long and painful period, the ATP is coming up with more new rules relating to the rankings, which, needless to say, have produced controversies and confusion among players who feel penalized by these changes. 

 

MUSETTI AND ALCARAZ: THE FUTURE CAN WAIT

Before going into the details of whether this reform is fair or not, we could honestly say the Next Gen will have to wait even longer to take over. Even promising guys, like the Italian Musetti (N.116) and the Spaniard Alcaraz (N.131), seem destined to toil more than expected to join to the tennis élite. Until a week ago, the outlook was more positive. The world of tennis is divided in two groups: who think that this is a just and equitable reform and who find it completely unfair. It is likely that among those who support these modifications are to be found players such as Lopez, Kyrgios, Fognini and also His Majesty Roger Federer as well as Rafa Nadal – the Spaniard has always been a proponent of a bi-annual ranking.

VICIOUS RUMOURS SPREADING (ABOUT FEDERER AND NADAL)

Some people suggest that “it isn’t by accident that Roger Federer’s ranking will be safe until he’ll turn 41! The same goes for Nadal.” I am not one of them, but the rumours were so prevalent that I felt compelled to report them. Roger, who will make his comeback in Doha this afternoon, could eschew playing or even lose all the matches until August 2022 and still remain in the Top 100. In short, many people thought that the latest “idea” of the ATP is bespoke for Federer. Furthermore, the ATP is not the only association wishing to have Federer around for as long as possible.

As everybody knows, the ATP is made of professional tennis players and tournament directors. Each group represents 50% of the association. Guess which side the directors are on. All of them, the tournament directors, dream about having Roger Federer in their line-ups, even when Roger will be 45 years old. I think some of them would be ready to sell their 250 ATP licenses and host an event of the Senior ATP Tour just to have him! 

A SUMMARY OF THE MOST RECENT ATP CHANGE

The ATP ranking system had been modified for the first time a few months ago. The ATP chose a “best of” approach to how a player’s ranking is calculated. In relation to a tournament played twice between March 2019 (from Indian Wells onwards) and March 2021, only a player’s best result is taken into account. Points obtained in tournaments that didn’t take place in 2020 (such as Wimbledon), or in those that could be cancelled in 2021, were retained. With the recent change made by the ATP, on the other hand, the players will now be able to keep 50% of the points they obtained in tournaments that didn’t take place in 2020, and also in those that did take place but in different timeslots than usual, such as the French Open or Rome.

THE 12 PLAYERS FAVOURED BY THE RANKING UPDATE (AND MAYBE OTHERS, SUCH AS NADAL)

Feliciano Lopez, Kyrgios, Fognini, Lajovic, Isner, Querrey, and Simon are those who more than others will benefit the most from this update of ATP Ranking System, and the same goes, to a lesser extent, for Federer, Paire, Monfils, Goffin, and Nishikori. Rafa Nadal could also benefit from these changes in the unlikely event that he loses in the first round (or did not play) at Roland Garros in 2021 – he would still retain 1,000 of the 2,000 points he won in 2020. Many of the other players found this update a little suspicious. Both Federer and Nadal are among the strongest PTPA opponents, and their support for the ATP policies is important, not just in the public eye. By the way, the Spaniard will also take a minor hit due to the new rules, since on March 15 he will be overtaken by Medvedev as the world N.2 due to the expiration of half of the 360 points he notched in Indian Wells in 2019.

Rafael Nadal (image via twitter.com)

TSITSIPAS OVERTAKES FEDERER IN THE RANKING

Thanks to a semi-final run in Rotterdam, and despite his defeat against Rublev in the semifinals, Tsitsipas has overtaken Federer, but the Swiss is still ranked 6th in the world. In the last year he played, the Swiss reached a final and two Grand Slam semi-finals (2,640 points); in addition, he won a Masters 1000 in Miami (he also reached the Indian Wells final, for which he will lose only 300 points) and three ATP 500 events (2,800 points).

FEDERER GOT QUITE THE GIFT! WAS IT PURELY COINCIDENTAL?

We will see how Federer is doing in Doha and (perhaps) in Dubai, but one thing is certain: the latest changes do him a great favour. I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve it, but let’s be honest, he couldn’t have picked a better time to stop and have surgery twice. While unfortunately reeling from nagging knee issues, he can still profit from the extraordinary results he achieved in 2019.

Considering Miami (where he will not play this year), Madrid, Halle and Wimbledon, Roger can retain 1,440 points without playing. Furthermore, the 1,020 of the Australian Open and Indian Wells (720 effective plus 300 frozen) are in the bank, and they will stay with him well into 2022. This means that, even without playing any match, he would have 2,460 points, a Top 20 score. A small caveat to be kept in mind: the Race to Turin will only consider the points earned in 2021.

Now, it should be recalled that the changes made during this exceptional period were introduced because the ATP decided to support players that didn’t feel comfortable to travel during the pandemic. But how justifiable is this attitude?

AN EQUILIBRIUM THAT DOESN’T EXIST 

Finding the right balance is not always easy, but even the regularity of a competition should be safeguarded, particularly in relation to its ranking systems and for players, especially young people, who make sacrifices for years to achieve their goals and are not helped by the tennis establishment. I am referring to the few points awarded in the ATP Challenger Tour compared to the points that top players easily get even if they obtain results only in a few tournaments per year.

I confess that, despite the wrong manner (and timing) chosen by Novak Djokovic to support them, I generally understand the grievances that players ranked outside of the Top 20 have! We are referring to the majority of tennis players, constantly relegated to a backdrop role and suffering discrimination from tournament directors, who, compared to these players, enjoy a much bigger role within the ATP.

VASEK POSPISIL: “THE ATP IS A COMPLETE DISASTER!” 

Former board member of the ATP Players Council Vasek Pospisil was asked by his colleague to comment on the men’s association’s latest decision: “The ATP is a complete disaster! The only way to deal with these problems is to have a players-only association. We are trying to create it. The ATP Tour will never work in the best interests of the players. The role of tournaments promoters is relevant. Our executives are influenced by powers-that-be such as IMG (owner of the Miami tournament and of the TV rights of several tournaments) and the other Masters 1000 events. The Tour is in the hands of those who control and manipulate it. We must look after each other, and the PTPA will be the beginning of a new story. It is difficult to imagine the path towards a positive solution without the PTPA.”

Vasek Pospisil (image via twitter.com)

THE ATP IS TRYING TO STIFLE DISCONTENT BY OFFERING MONEY TO THE PLAYERS

The ATP board fully realized that the association has received a lot of criticism. Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and CEO Massimo Calvelli, with the help of President of ATP Player Council Kevin Anderson (who replaced his predecessor Djokovic) are trying to earn the players’ trust by offering additional financial contributions to assist them in covering for the losses they have suffered in the past year. The players will receive a payment of $5,040 in order to cover travel costs and other expenses. The criteria are the following: eligible players will be those ranked 31-500 in the year-end Singles ATP Rankings or 1-200 in the year-end Doubles Rankings who earned less than 150,000 in prize money throughout 2020. Tennis players with a protected ranking who meet the abovementioned criteria and have competed since March 2019 will also be eligible to receive the financial contributions. This is the message sent to the players: “We are pleased to inform you that as part of efforts to support players affected by COVID-19, the ATP has made additional contributions to further assist players with the expenses and travel cost in 2021through the ATP Year-End Player Relief “

More good news came for players who were ready to play the Indian Wells tournament a year ago. The tournament was canceled at the last minute when players had already faced travel and accommodation expenses. Now all of them will receive $10,985: “We would like to inform you that a compensation of $ 10,985 for the 2020 edition of Indian Wells will soon be paid to eligible players, once the ATP has received the funds.”

Previously, a $6 million relief funds had been created by the ITF and the four Grand Slam. The ATP and the WTA split the amount equally to distribute it to the players depending on their ranking and on whether they had featured in the four Grand Slams. Initially, it was set up only for Top 10 players, whereas now the hope is that the funds will be distributed to those who are struggling. At this time, however, no official statement regarding the distribution system has been disclosed.

TOP AMERICAN PLAYERS ARE READY TO PROTEST AND BOYCOTT THE CIRCUIT

Wealthier American players are some of the most bitter detractors of the current ATP establishment. Isner and Querrey, in solidarity with Pospisil and Djokovic, stated that the ATP’s “financial aid” is more akin to a small handout when compared to the thriving budget of the association, which hasn’t been heavily affected by COVID. What incenses them the most is that some tournaments, like Miami, have reduced the prize money by 60%. In fact, a good number of tennis players would even be in favour of a boycott to fight for a higher prize money. The argument is that “If we never stand up to this situation, we will always be subjected to the will of the tournament promoters” – however, several others are already claiming that they cannot afford to stop playing (particularly those from South America).

CAN THE TENNIS ESTABLISHMENT AFFORD TO BE THIS SHORT-SIGHTED?

In short, it is a period of turmoil. Players argue and criticise the association. The tennis establishment has always safeguarded the top players because, as always, it is money that makes everything go round. However, even taking into account the completely unpredictable circumstances caused by the pandemic, it is also necessary to have a plan to support second- and third-tier tournaments (Challengers and Futures) as well as lower-ranked players. Players who are over 30 are still fighting for their positions in the ATP ranking and have no intention of giving them up to younger guns, but the tennis establishment must not discourage those young people from striving for their goals.

We know well that in European football tens of thousands of players earn more than €100,000 per year, while tennis players ranked outside the Top 120 struggle to make ends meet. Someone with a forward-thinking vision should find a solution that ensures economic sustainability to at least 200-250 players. In particular, we should bear in mind that, nowadays, with the exception of top Next Gen prodigies, players face a decade of financial losses until they turn 22 or 23. Does anyone who oversees the promotion of tennis find this situation convenient or fair?

Translated by Giuseppe Di Paola

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US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major

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Serena Williams - US Open (photo Twitter @usopen)

After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.

 

The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.

That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of  Shelby’s biggest fans.

LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?

Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.

Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.

Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.

WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN

The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.

Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.

But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.

With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played  in the last 19 games Monday night.

WHO’S NEXT IN LINE

So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.

And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.

Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.

WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!

Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep. 

The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.

At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.

So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.

NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE

Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.

And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.

Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.

And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.

My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.

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James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.

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Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.

 

First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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Steve Flink On Lleyton Hewitt’s Induction Into The International Tennis Hall Of Fame

Five years after being inducted himself for his services to tennis, the veteran commentator reflects on Hewitt’s achievements as a player.

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Having attended every International Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony since 1995 in Newport, Rhode Island, I have grown familiar with and fond of the surroundings in that idyllic setting.  It is less a three hour drive from my home in Westchester, New York. It is a place made for summertime activities, and it is where the first U.S. National Championships were held in 1881. In 2017, I was fortunate to be inducted as a contributor at the Hall of Fame.

 

Every single Hall of Fame ceremony is staged with a deep and enduring reverence for the sport and the greatest players who have ever stepped on a court. This year was no exception to that rule. Lleyton Hewitt became the 34th player from Australia to be inducted at Newport. This indefatigable competitor was elected to the class of 2021, but with travel in and out of his country complicated by Covid, Hewitt was unable to make the trip a year ago to join his classmates (the late) Dennis Van Der Meer and the “Original Nine” of women’s tennis which included Billie Jean King.

It was sad that Hewiitt could not make it to Newport a year ago. But no one who appeared on the ballot for 2022 was elected. That was unprecedented. And so the fans and the tennis community were grateful that Hewitt could make the journey from the land “Down Under” this year to accept the ultimate honor of his career at the age of 41. Being there for all of the festivities— including a dinner the evening before and a brunch on induction day— it was strikingly apparent to me that Hewitt fully recognized the magnitude of the accolade and took nothing for granted. He relished the chance to take his place among the elite performers in the history of his profession, and conducted himself with unmistakable grace and dignity. 

https://twitter.com/TennisHalloFame/status/1548013640313278466

Hewitt celebrated a multitude of soaring achievements in his time as a top flight player, winning the US. Open in 2001, taking the Wimbledon title in 2002, leading Australia to victory in the Davis Cup twice. He concluded 2001 and 2002 as the No, 1 ranked player in the world and competed in at least one major tournament for twenty consecutive years (1997-2016). He secured 30 career titles in singles, but was also a first rate doubles player, capturing the U.S. Open alongside Max Mirnyi in 2000. Hewitt must be regarded as one of the most resilient competitors of his or any era. His courage and unflagging commitment to the game were commendable.

Presenting Hewitt to the fans in Newport—and those sitting in their living rooms watching on television at home— were, fittingly, John Newcombe and Tony Roche. These two Hall of Famers formed one of the greatest doubles partnerships of all time, winning Wimbledon five times. Roche won one major (Roland Garros in 1966) in singles while Newcombe garnered seven Grand Slam singles titles, securing three crowns at Wimbledon in 1967, 1970 and 1971.

But I digress. Newcombe and Roche were seen on video saluting Hewitt because they played critical roles in the evolution of this inimitable individual as a player. Newcombe was Hewitt’s Davis Cup captain, while Roche was his coach in the 1990’s and beyond. They contributed mightily to Hewitt’s technical and tactical understanding of the game. Moreover, both men were loyal and unwavering friends of Hewitt’s. Roche even made an unannounced trip to Newport to be there in person for Hewitt, a magnanimous gesture that was very well received.

Roche recalled his introduction to a 12 or 13 year old Hewitt at a charity event in Adelaide. Newcombe recollected Hewitt coming to his tennis academy in Texas. Hewitt was 14 and asked Newcombe if he could interview him. Newcombe agreed to do it immediately, and the precocious kid had 25 questions prepared for one of his heroes. As Newcombe reflected, “That [gave me] a good idea of how organized he was.”

Both Newcombe and Roche vividly remembered Hewitt’s spectacular Davis Cup debut at the Longwood Cricket Club outside Boston. Hewitt was replacing an injured Mark Philippoussis in the Australian lineup. Hewitt upended Todd Martin on the opening day and led the way for the Australians to topple the U.S. in the quarterfinals during the celebratory centenary year for Davis Cup in 1999. Later that season, he took apart Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov as Australia defeated Russia in the semifinals, and then the Aussies took the Cup by ousting France in the final.

https://twitter.com/TennisHalloFame/status/1548352647530287105

Four years later, Hewitt was instrumental again as the Australians were Davis Cup victors once more, defeating Spain in the final at home in Melbourne. His Davis Cup record was astounding. Altogether, Hewitt won 59 of 80 matches playing for his country, prevailing in 42 of 56 singles matches and 17 of 24 doubles contests.

Roche summed up Hewitt’s competitive days succinctly, saying, “What a remarkable career Lleyton has had. He was one of the youngest players to ever win an ATP Tour event in his hometown of Adelaide[  early in 1998 when he was still 16] He’s still the youngest ever No. 1 ATP ranked player at the end of the year [2001, when he was 20]. He won two year-end Masters tournaments, two Grand Slams, and his Davis Cup record is the greatest in Australian history. He’s played more ties and won more matches than any other Australian, and we’ve had some great Davis Cup players.”

That, of course, was a deliberate understatement. Among the many standouts Roche was referring to are Frank Sedgman, Roy Emerson, Neale Fraser, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and, of course, himself and Newcombe. In any case, Newcombe and Roche covered the spectrum of Hewitt’s career and got to the essence of Hewitt as a human being impeccably in their tribute. Newcombe concluded with these poignant words: “Yeah, we’re proud, Lleyton, to have known you and to be able to spend some time with you. It was an honor for us.”

Now it was time for Hewitt to step up to the microphone, and he was not at a loss for words. In nearly all International Tennis Hall of Fame ceremonies, honorees largely try to keep their remarks relatively short because there are generally multiple Hall of Famers in any given year. But Hewitt had the luxury when he took his turn up at the rostrum to speak expansively without worrying about going on too long. He could relax and convey his thoughts deliberately in front of an attentive and appreciative audience early on the evening of July 16.

Hewitt delivered his impressive speech passionately, authentically and self-deprecatingly. He was much more interested in saluting those who had played leading roles in allowing him to realize his largest dreams than he was in patting himself on the back. He thanked the Hall of Fame for the honor, paid tribute to his 2021 classmates Dennis Van Der Meer and the Original Nine, and then became philosophical as he reflected on his exalted status.

He said, “The Hall of Fame seemed like something that was so far away from me ever being a part of. It was never something I thought about as a player, and it was always, I thought, for the people who were my idols growing up and the absolute legends of the sport…. To think that it all began for me on junior courts in the middle of nowhere in Adelaide in Australia, with no one watching, no TV cameras, and then to make the full tennis journey and now be coming into the Hall of Fame [is very special].”

Following up on that theme and displaying his gratitude for competing for so long against formidable rivals from different eras, Hewitt pointed out, “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 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.”

What Hewitt left out was that he celebrated some immensely rewarding moments against all five of the aforementioned players. He finished with a 5-4 career winning record against the redoubtable Sampras, including a 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, 6-1 triumph in his first major final at the 2001 U.S Open. Hewitt was 4-4 against Agassi. He was 9-18 against Federer after taking seven of their first nine duels, but it must be mentioned that Hewitt stunned the Swiss Maestro in their last appointment ever at Brisbane in 2014. Although he lost seven of eleven duels versus Nadal, Hewitt toppled the Spaniard at the 2004 and 2005 Australian Opens. Even then, Nadal was awfully tough to beat. Finally, Hewitt was 1-6 against Djokovic, but achieved his lone victory over the Serbian at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Be that as it may, Hewitt next spoke of his affection for Newport, a place he performed many times. As he recounted, “You feel the history and tradition of tennis as soon as you walk in here. I first came here as a 17-year-old playing the Newport event back in ‘98…. Later on in my career I came here quite a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it. I came close a couple of times, losing in the final in 2012 an 2013. That just made me more desperate as the kind of person I was. I wanted to get my name on the trophy here and actually win where the Hall of Fame [tournament] was played. I was able to do that in 2014. It was so perfect. It ended up being the last title of my career, which I look back on and I’m so proud of. Believe it or not, in my 20-odd-year career I had never won the singles and doubles at the same tournament ever, but that particular week in 2014 in Newport I did it.”

Hewitt was flowing freely now, relieving his entire life in many ways, thoroughly enjoying the chance to reminisce. He retraced his youth playing AFL (Australian Football League), the highest level of Australian Rules football. As he mentioned, “It’s a tough, true Australian team sport. My Dad, my grandfather and my uncle all played it professionally. That was my dream to one day follow in their footsteps.” He spoke of his transition to tennis as a kid and the sound advise he received from his earliest coach, Peter Smith, who started working with Hewitt when the youngster was six.

Naturally, Hewitt soon sent some praise in the direction of Darren Cahill, the coach who boosted him immeasurably during the heart of his career. As Hewitt explained, “I had a few coaches during my career and I want to thank all those tour coaches, but especially Darren Cahill…. It wouldn’t be until the end of 98’ that I started traveling with Darren as my tour coach.  We had plenty of things in common, but the biggest thing was our family’s connection with AFL football, even though we absolutely hated each other’s AFL teams. But it was really special that I could win my first Grand Slam in singles and doubles and get to world No. 1 with my coach from my hometown of Adelaide, Darren Cahill.”

Hewitt was leaving no stone unturned as he reflected on years gone by, milestones met and people who inspired him along the way. One of them was Sweden’s dynamic Mats Wilander. As Hewitt said, “ I became known for my ‘c’mons’ on the court and my celebration sign. Not many people knew, but Mats was the one that started it. It was called the ‘vicht’. He did it from Sweden.”

https://twitter.com/TennisHalloFame/status/1548482648405790726

After lauding Davis Cup captains John Fitzgerald and Pat Rafter, he then offered some well deserved praise for Newcombe, who was so inspirational in a multitude of ways. “Thanks, Newk, for all of your support over the years, mate. I loved nothing more than going into battle with you.”

And it would not be long before Hewitt would let it be known just how critical a role Roche had played in his life. 

“I wouldn’t be receiving this honor if it wasn’t for this bloke,“ he said of Roche. “Rochey, mate, you mean so much to me that you made the effort to make the long trek over from Australia to be here with me today. I’ve been so fortunate to have you as a coach, mentor  and more importantly to call you a mate. What you’ve done for Australian tennis is second to none. In my opinion you are the greatest coach, but it’s the culture you’ve created through the Australian Davis Cup team that sets the tone for future Australian tennis. You’ve done it for decades now. We’ve been through a lot together, mate, on and off the court. We’ve helped each other through some really tough times and celebrated the great moments.”

Hewitt paid homage to many others, including his parents, wife and three kids, before concluding with this: “I want to thank all the past Hall of Famers for being here this weekend. It wouldn’t be the same if you guys weren’t here and I didn’t have people to look up to that had done it before me. It’s been an unbelievable experience for me, the whole buildup the last couple of years, but especially this weekend. I think it’s fitting for me to be inducted here in Newport at such a special place.”

Afterwards, a number of Hall of Famers from other classes assembled not far away from where the ceremony took place to pose for photographs together. Afterwards, a group of Hall of Famers including 1992 inductee Tracy Austin and 2017 honoree Andy Roddick circled around Hewitt and shared some congenial banter. I was delighted to be a part of that because I had never seen anything like it. As the sole Hall of Famer on the stage this year, Hewitt was deservedly showered with considerable affection and respect from those who had been there before him. They wanted to share their thoughts with him, and Hewitt was happy and humbled to hear what they had to say.

The next day, I made the three hour drive home with my wife, and found myself reflecting on what made Hewitt the champion he was. It started with his unshakable psyche and his towering qualities as a competitor. Another significant factor was his magnificent return of serve. Across the last fifty years— at least in my view— Djokovic’s return of serve has been the very best, with Jimmy Connors right behind him. But in my view Hewitt’s return must be regarded as the third best of the last half century. Some experts believe Rafael Nadal’s return of serve belongs up there with Djokovic and Connors, but I in my view Hewitt’s was better than the Spaniard’s.

Hewitt might have achieved even more if his career had not been plagued by so many injuries over his last ten years on the circuit. But the fact remains that Hewitt made the most of his opportunities and fought with astonishing ferocity to accomplish everything he did. He need not look back with any regrets. In the final analysis, Lleyton Hewitt was an exemplary professional, a fellow who never made excuses, a player who was as professional as anyone in his trade, and a man who landed fittingly in Newport to put a capstone on his sterling career. 

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