By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Lleyton Hewitt said he was proud of his contribution in taking down the tennis giants on Thursday after his 20th and final appearance in the Australian Open singles came to a close.
The Australian, whose 18-year career will officially end once he is knocked out of the men’s doubles with Sam Groth, was still scurrying around the baseline to reasonable effect against Spain’s David Ferrer, but could not avoid a 6-2 6-4 6-4 defeat.
After soaking up the atmosphere of a night session on Rod Laver Court one last time, former world number one Hewitt spoke to the world’s media about his greatest achievements.
He pointed to his 2001 U.S. Open triumph against Pete Sampras and his Wimbledon title a year later — titles that proved that baseline craftsmen could prosper in a sport where physical power and booming serves were taking over.
“I guess guys playing from the back of the court obviously started believing once they saw that I was able to do it, especially on all surfaces,” he told reporters.
“It was really kind of the total changing of how tennis was played in a lot of ways, especially on grass.
“There wasn’t a lot of guys that would stay back and play from the back of the court.
“A lot of guys learnt or believed that they could do it playing that way. That was probably my biggest thing.
“Obviously I think the other guys came in, and Roger (Federer) and that took it to a totally new level.”
Hewitt will soon concentrate on blending his country’s young guns, the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis into a team capable of winning the Davis Cup.
If they show the same passion that he did throughout his career there will be exciting times ahead.
“I’ve loved every minute of playing for Australia, wearing the green and gold,” Hewitt said, as he was flanked by his three children at a media conference.
“Out on the court obviously you got so many things going through your head. You’re trying to soak it up as much as possible out there one last time.
“I was getting goosebumps at times … (and) tried to soak it up and enjoy it as much as possible.”
(Editing by Martyn Herman)