Former champion Hewitt bows out in typical style
Published 30/06/2015 | 02:30
With a fist pump, both thumbs raised and a round of applause to all four corners of Court No 2 to acknowledge a rousing standing ovation, Lleyton Hewitt made his final bow from the Wimbledon singles tournament.
The player who, when he won the Championships in 2002 as a 21-year-old, appeared set to dominate the game for years, departed at the first round in what he had insisted would be his last appearance here.
Dignified, generous, spirited, he was defeated by his fellow veteran, the Finn Jarkko Nieminen, after a four-hour, five-set epic. As Hewitt made his exit, as he walked from court for the last time after 17 years of association with SW19, it was clear his shirt was clinging to his back, drenched with the sweat of effort. This is a man who scrapped to the very last.
"I was always going to leave everything out there, I certainly did that," he said. "I'm not a bloke who cries easily. And I didn't cry today. Pretty close, but not quite."
Hewitt (34) began at a gallop. Initially, he seemed to have the match under control as he took a two sets to one lead. Full of his trademark vigour and zest, he was punishing the left-hander's serve at every opportunity.
But then the Finn was playing for the last time at Wimbledon too, and was anxious to go out with a bang and not a whimper - his best performance here was losing in the quarter-final to Rafael Nadal in 2006.
And in the fourth set, the Finn contrived to recover. Full of guile and spin, he took the set to love.
But as Nieminen seemed about to ease away, Hewitt dug deep into his reserves of pugnacious determination. He saved three match points in the 12th game of the fifth set. Scrapping, however, turned out to be not enough.
"You try and suck it in out there," Hewitt said of the fact he was playing out his final few points. "It never entered my mind this could be the last time you play in the Championships. It's a strange feeling in a lot of ways.
"It's hard to beat winning here. You work your life to have a chance of holding that trophy, nothing can compare to that. I lost in the first round the next year and if I'd have lost first round every year after winning I wouldn't care, I won it."
Nieminen served out to win 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 11-9, his first victory over Hewitt in their sixth meeting.
His relaxed demeanour will now be put to the ultimate test: in the next round he plays Novak Djokovic. Hewitt, meanwhile, will prepare for the doubles, and a final stab at the joys of victory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)