Hewitt in SI



Wertheim's article is entitled "Hewitt's Crass Act" but it's available to SI subscribers only.


Sorry about the length, but here is the entire article:

If you want to observe the Most Ornery Man in Sports today, look not to the San Francisco Giants outfield. Rather, check out the Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt's fury is so conspicuous and so jarring that his matches double as a sort of product placement for bile.

Hewitt is just one of a number of athletes -- Barry Bonds, Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown and NASCAR bad boy Tony Stewart, to name a few -- who succeed by putting their wrath to good use. En route to reaching the finals of the Pacific Life Open, Hewitt was, as usual, embracing his inner grouch, pumping his fist at his opponents and glaring at officials. He is a physically unimposing player, charitably listed at 5'11", 170 pounds. And apart from footwork that would shame Savion Glover, the 24-year-old possesses no real weapons, certainly not a percussive serve. But there is a reason he has won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, led Australia to a Davis Cup title and is ranked No. 2 in the world: He plays in a way that suggests his very salvation is riding on each point. He concedes nothing and conjures his best tennis when it matters most. "Every match with him," says Russia's Marat Safin, "is like a street fight." Adds no less than John McEnroe, "Without a doubt Hewitt is the most intense competitor in the sport right now, maybe the most intense ever."

Earlier this year in the fourth round of the Australian Open, Hewitt fought through a hip injury that would have sidelined most players, muttering, "No pain!" between points. He won in five sets, returned two days later and willed himself to win in a four-hour match. Put simply, you will not find another athlete with more -- pick your anatomical metaphor -- guts, heart, stones.

When members of Hewitt's camp pronounce him "the Jimmy Connors of this generation," the comparison is an apt one. Like Connors, the exceptional combativeness that makes Hewitt so alluring is accompanied by an exceptional gracelessness that makes him so repelling. Hewitt snarls and swears and scowls and spits when he plays. No matter how accurate the calls, no chair umpire or linesperson is spared his venom. At the Australian Open he reduced a teenage ball girl to tears, screaming, "Wake up!" when she was slow to ply him with a towel. He is notorious for celebrating his opponents' routine errors by unleashing his obnoxious battle cry of "Come awwwwn" -- a huge breach of etiquette. "It's going to come to fisticuffs one day, either on the court or in the locker room," says Martina Navratilova. "There's a line you don't cross, and he's crossing it."

Like Connors, Hewitt has amassed a lengthy enemies list. He is, absurdly, suing the ATP over a 2002 dispute stemming from his failure to consent to a mandatory ESPN interview. He has bitterly parted ways with two well-respected coaches. His relationship with the media ranges from nonexistent to frosty. "He is a great player, but I don't think he's the best example for the sport," says rival David Nalbandian. "He is not a gentleman."

Hewitt's J**** Face has polarized tennis fans the world over, especially in Australia. From John Newcombe to Pat Rafter, Australian players historically have been laid-back, "fair dinkum mates," known as much for their sportsmanship and geniality as for their handiwork with a racket. What to make of this new star, who has already compiled a thick CV of heroic matches but who is terminally unsporting? Even as Hewitt was reaching the 2005 Australian Open final, the nation was split. According to one newspaper poll, while a sizable contingent feels his outsized heart and winning ways trump any breaches in decorum, more Aussies characterize him as a "vain brat with no ethics or manners" than as an "outstanding Australian sportsman."

Those who wish Hewitt were a kinder, gentler soul -- that, for starters, he would spell his first name backward and not yell -- miss the point. The ambient dissonance is what makes him the player he is. Finding "the fire within," as Arthur Ashe called it, can be easy when you've had it rough. But how do you summon it when you grew up in a middle-class nuclear family in sleepy Adelaide? In Hewitt's case you manufacture conflict and use it as fuel. In this sense Hewitt is less a modern-day Connors than a modern-day McEnroe, the comfortable suburbanite turned junkyard dog.

We would've loved to pursue this topic with Hewitt, but characteristically he did not respond to an interview request. And his longtime management team -- the folks so often left in the unenviable position of trying to defend the indefensible -- couldn't help. Hewitt, you see, announced last week that he was changing representation. Still more discord, still more names for the enemies list. It ought to stoke his flame, at least for the next few months.

Issue date: March 28, 2005


Marius_Hancu said:
funny to see how well-behaved he's against Federer:)
That is the ultimate compliment to federer, he is such a gentleman and so respected that Hewitt can't bring himself to act inappropriately. I also believe that Hewitt believes that he is better than every other player but Fed
I love Hewitt. He is the man and he is the second best player on the tour. You can hate him all you want but you can't be like him. Atleast as a tennis player. so hate... hate..hate.. He is a true fighter out there.


You can't have all Federer's out there, and you can't have all Hewitt's. You have to have different characters...I have a lot of respect for Lleyton. Certain players would do well to aspire to his level of concentration and heart. I think Lleyton could whine and be a sore loser after losing so many straight matches to Federer, but he has never EVER done that. He even came over to Federer's side of the net to shake his hand at the US Open. He's been nothing but a class act after losses as far as I'm concerned. Sure, he's controversial but is he living a junk life style? Is he on drugs and steroids and is he a drunk?

No. He's just super concentrated and he wants to win with everything he's got. He lays it all out there, and you have to respect that. I've heard nice things about him concerning fans, and he doesn't seem like a jerk. He isn't an idiot like Connors or a brat like McEnroe used to be many times, he's just absolutely focused and intense, and if people and players can't handle it, too bad. I thought these players were supposed to be grown men, not oversized wussies.

The players should get some mental strength if they can't stop seething with rage at some 5 foot 8 guy yelling c'mon.

Yeah, Lleyton did go too far a few years ago, but as far as I can see he's aquired a lot of class since then and he is always gracious in defeat and humble in victory. And he gives everything he's got, and doesn't make excuses.

That's a tad bit more than you can say of a lot of guys out there. The guys who mean business and are mature don't have a problem with Lleyton's stuff on court. And also you have to include the guys were are a bit like him that way, they don't have a problem either.

You all don't have to like him, I'm just tired of hearing the stuff about how he's not a gentleman or classy or whatever. I don't have a problem with him. Yeah, sometimes his c'mons and stuff seem ill-placed, but...that's better than someone who is waaayy too smooth. So, he's got some rough edges, but I don't mind. He seems like a nice enough guy off court. On court, it's battle for him, and you had better either get your gun and fight or else hold up the white flag when you're playing Lleyton. Like it or leave it.


As a naturalized Australian, I have some nationalism behind my support of Lleyton Hewitt.

But! What I really admire from Hewitt is indeed his heart and competitive spirit. The only time he gives up during a match is if he's triple championship point down against a big server like Safin or Federer. Otherwise, he'll fight for five sets.

Richie Rich

Hewitt may be an *** on court but he is the first person to praise another player when they beat him. Lots of guys on the tour play mind games with opponents (faking injuries, extra long time outs, bathroom breaks, arguing with linespeople, etc) to try and get the advantage. It just happens that Hewitt is no 2 in the world and obviously gets more focus than the other guys.

I agree with Navritalova when she says someones going to kick his backside in the locker room one day. Cheering opponents errors is not cool.

However, the guy has the biggest heart in the game and never ever gives up.

pound cat

Hmmm...I had the feeling he had given up on beating Federer at IW long before he stepped onto the court, and his post-match interview statement bears this out "My toes were bothering me, but I don't think I could have beat him anyway." I felt sorry for him during that match...such a down-trodden look, so untypical Hewitt.


Fedubai said:
I've heard nice things about him concerning fans, and he doesn't seem like a jerk. He isn't an idiot like Connors or a brat like McEnroe used to be many times, he's just absolutely focused and intense, and if people and players can't handle it, too bad. I thought these players were supposed to be grown men, not oversized wussies.
...The players should get some mental strength if they can't stop seething with rage at some 5 foot 8 guy yelling c'mon.
I'm one of the large percentage of Australians who doesn't like Hewitt - only from his on-court behavior as I have no other knowledge.
The SI article has caused a rethink.

What we particularly like is sportsmanship and fair play, hence the almost universal admiration of Rafter. Almost universal. He avoids Australian taxes by being based elsewhere, and some of us don't like that at all.
Hewitt is based in Adelaide. IMO Hewitt doesn't come close to the gamesmanship (cheating) of MacEnroe.

What we like as much is a battler with an enormous heart. Many, many players of all nationalities don't qualify, Flip included, Hewitt does.

Although I could watch Mecir, Rios, Leconte all day and revel in the artistry, the cleverness, the grace, I can't tell what sort of people they are - except in one respect, and I am generalizing here: they didn't make the most of their marvellous gifts.
Hewitt makes more than you would think possible of very little in the way of natural attributes, but more than that, he never shirks, never tanks, always shows up ready to play. When he does play dead rubbers in Davis Cup, he tries to give the fans a show. Rafter didn't always do that.

And I'd rather have him come to dinner than Jimmy Connors.

I do like him.