Hewitt dances into exclusive club of teenage masters

Australian teenager on the brink of becoming only the eighth player under 20 to qualify for end-of-year championship

Three weeks today, barring ill fortune, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt will take his place in Lisbon as one of tennis's young masters, gaining membership of a club that numbers Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras as players who qualified for the year-end tour championship as teenagers.

Three weeks today, barring ill fortune, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt will take his place in Lisbon as one of tennis's young masters, gaining membership of a club that numbers Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras as players who qualified for the year-end tour championship as teenagers.

Blessed with a competitive spirit to galvanise his talent, Hewitt, 19, is the type who will already have overcome the disappointment of losing his first Masters Series final in five sets to the experienced Wayne Ferreira, of South Africa, last Sunday here, and be ready to use lessons learned to advantage.

Hewitt's list of victims en route to the final - Richard Krajicek, the Dutch former Wimbledon champion, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski (Britain's entire task force), and Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Olympic gold medallist - was more impressive than the notches on the racket of some players after winning a Grand Slam title.

"He's a great player," the 29-year-old Ferreira said, overjoyed after securing his first singles title for four years. "He's the kind of player that you have to beat. He's never going to let you win."

That may be true, but the turning point in Sunday's match was a stamina-sapping third set, which Hewitt failed to serve out at 5-1 and was dragged into a tie-break, which he won, 7-5, on his seventh set point. Ferreira, fresher at the finish, prevailed, 7-6, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, after four hours and 11 minutes.

"It's strange," Hewitt said, "because my whole life I've had to rely on a lot of fitness. With my game, I can go sort of all day. It just wasn't there today. The main reason is because I haven't been able to put in the work as usual because of a virus."

Hewitt, an early leader in the inaugural ATP Champions Race after winning back-to-back titles in January in Adelaide, his home town, and Sydney, has remained among the contenders, adding titles in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Queen's Club, London, and reaching semi-finals at Masters Series events in Key Biscayne and Rome.

This week he is resting between engagements before going to the Paris Indoor event seeking the points that will assure him of one of the eight places in the Masters Cup in Portugal, after which Barcelona beckons for Australia's Davis Cup defence in the final against Spain on an indoor clay court.

"I have to go out in Paris and give everything I've got," he said. "If everything matches up well, hopefully I'll be there in Portugal. I think Davis Cup is the biggest worry because it is over five sets and it is on clay, as well."

Hewitt is so versatile that hopping from surface to surface would not normally be a bother. "I think my game is suited pretty much to all surfaces if I'm playing well," he said. "I'm probably a little bit different to a lot of the other guys. I don't need a hell of a lot of play on a particular surface, because I've done so well on all surfaces this year.

"I'll pop back on clay, and after a few days I'll hope that I'll be ready to go. You look at [Pat] Rafter [his Aussie team-mate], I think he's a different kettle of fish. I think he needs to be out there grinding and hitting a lot of balls. I'm sure he'd say the same thing."

Hewitt's rapid progress since January 1997, when he became the youngest-ever men's singles qualifier at the Australian Championships (15 years, 11 months) has impressed observers and opponents alike. In Adelaide in 1998 he became the youngest winner of a Tour title (16 years, 10 months) since the American Michael Chang in 1988.

Pete Sampras likens Hewitt's fleet-footed style to Chang's. Rusedski sees shades of Jimmy Connors, "The way his attitude is out there, and the way he works. His mind is very strong. He's there from the first ball to the last ball".

"I've always believed that I've been mentally tough, even when I was in the juniors," Hewitt said. "It's nice to know that your opponents think like that as well. When you get in a tough situation, they know you're not going to give them too many cheap points. I think that's a big thing to have in my favour."

Kafelnikov has questioned whether anyone in the emerging group of young players, including his compatriot Marat Safin, the United States Open champion, has what it takes to join Andre Agassi as a "marquee player".

"Obviously, everyone has potential," the 26-year-old from the Black Sea said. "It's a question of winning. Sport is not about making interviews, having your own website. It's about winning the matches, winning tournaments. I'm sure if Lleyton would win a few Grand Slams he can feel that way. It's a question of if. There's a lot of ifs."

Hewitt is aware of that. "I've had a very consistent year without doing something spectacular, I suppose, like winning a Grand Slam, which would be nice."

A sagacious tennis journalist pointed out that you can't win it all the first time around; you have to have something to go for next time.

"I can go for another one," was Hewitt's response.


Born: 24 February 1981, Adelaide. Height: 5ft 11in. Weight: 10st 7lb. Plays: Right-handed. Turned professional: 1998. Coach: Darren Cahill. Highest Champions Race placing: 1 (17 January 2000). Current placing: 6. Ranking: Year-end 1997: 722. Year-end 1998: 113. Year-end 1999: 22. Singles titles: 6 (1998: Adelaide; 1999: Adelaide; Delray Beach, Florida; 2000: Sydney; Scottsdale; Queen's). Career earnings: $1,426,922 (£1,012,000).

Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments