In 1997, a 15-year-old Lleyton Hewitt qualified for his first ever Australian Open. He was the youngest qualifier in the history of the event. Twenty years later, the former world No.1 decided to compete in one last Australian Open before bowing out of singles tennis.
Hewitt had won 30 ATP titles, including championships in Wimbledon and the US Open. He was regarded by many as one of the greatest fighters in the history of men’s tennis. And the never-say-die Aussie didn’t just inspire his own country, he inspired the tennis world.
“I think he is one of the greatest competitors of all time. You see what he’s done for the sport, for Australian tennis, the Davis Cup, he loves the sport. He’s done so much for me.” Remarked Nick Kyrgios as he shared well wishes to Lleyton.
“I always had something special with you. You are a big inspiration for my tennis and for my mentality, and I think your love and passion for this sport is a great inspiration for the next generation.” Rafael Nadal also said of the once-brash tennis legend. "Thank you for everything you have done for tennis and thank you for the great rivalry we’ve had. I loved every moment of it – the good and the bad, but mostly the good.” Commended Roger Federer in his tribute to Lleyton.
Hewitt’s run came to an end with an emotional second-round exit to David Ferrer. After the match, he received a standing ovation from an adoring Rod Laver Arena and was surprised on court by his three children.
With his children beside him and wife Bec crying in the stands, an emotional Hewitt stood on centre court for the last time and thanked the whole of Australia. “I’d just like to thank everyone. I’ve said it before but the support I’ve had over the years means so much to me… I just felt like this was the perfect place to finish, and playing in front of you guys, I was getting goose bumps out here tonight. I really appreciate it, thank you.”