If and when Lleyton Hewitt bids adieu to the world of tennis, his professional epitaph will read about his gutsiness, the unquenchable fire that he brings to every game and most of all about his never-say-die spirit. And amongst all the other qualities, perhaps it would be this last one that would be much discussed and opined about.
For, from the very first time that Lleyton Hewitt burst into the tennis scene, most of his acquired fandom is because of the last facet of his personality alongside his much lauded about talent. His first win at a major – at age 19, at the 2001 US Open – that hurtled the crowds towards him in droves was testimony to that fact. His victory at Wimbledon, the very next year resonated with even more fervour for him inspiring not just the Aussie fanatics but millions of tennis lovers across the world to join in on the ‘Rusty band-wagon.’
Fierceness with an edge that has insofar been incomparable – by any player – Lleyton Hewitt’s has been quite the trend-setter in all these years. Injuries and the resultant loss of form may have shaped his career in a different way than what it ideally should have been, but amidst these upheaving waves his fierceness has provided more than a speck of constancy. And it is for this particular reason that the legions of followers that the Australian commanded under his titular acclaim during his heydays still continue to linger about, as if nothing were changed; in spite of all the changes that are as visible as the word can amount to.
Speaking of words and their meanings, ferocity is quite a dicey concept. It can connote everything positive about a person when used in the right sense as it can flay a person’s verbal description, when employed in negative. Often used synonymously with aggression and even anger, ferocity is however has hidden implications more than these two synonymous usages. The word denotes passion, a propellant like none other and most of all is a quality that makes everyone want to believe in the person possessing it. As regards aggression and even anger, while these two may fade with age – as seen in several professional athletes – the latter never do die or get obliterated. On the contrary, they remain as intact as ever, undisturbed to age and all talks of maturity but undergoing a transition further enhancing the player’s inherent character trait.
In the ensuing years between the start of the new millennia – when Hewitt was at his peak – and now, it is this transition that has marked and shaped the Aussie. The fist pumps and the yells, the roars and the glares thus, as effervescent as they were in the years previously, yet contain unmistakable changes. His number in the rankings may have dropped, his form may have endured countless troubles and problems and his health may not have always been in the pink; but his ferocity continues to linger, moulded by the various adversities that he has had to face. But these changes today make Lleyton Rusty Hewitt as great a player as he was then without subtracting or taking anything away from him.
In the most realistic world, Lleyton Hewitt may have the slimmest chance of making it to a grand slam final, let alone win it; his rankings may slump further with very little possibility of resuscitation and his injuries may set him back when the world least expects it. But it isn’t winning or rankings that drive Rusty’s fans to egg him on more. They live for the moments when they can roar alongside their idol, stoked by the finesse of his game and his unique brand of ferocity – as he did against Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round of the 2013 US Open. It was an upset, in the truest sense of the word; a battle of champions past, that went the older player’s way paved with excitement and thrill that only a Lleyton Hewitt match can spring on the unsuspecting.