Lleyton Hewitt once stood atop the tennis world.
Now, he picks and chooses the tournaments he enters, doesn’t worry much about his ranking and lives a life with changed priorities.
Hewitt, the 32-year-old Australian with two grand slam titles to his credit, is at the BB&T Atlanta Open this week with his wife and three children. He’ll stay around a little longer at Atlantic Station, site of the ATP World Tour event, having bounced Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the first round with a 6-4, 6-4 victory Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s perfect,” Hewitt said of the tournament setup. “It’s really convenient.”
Evening matches, including the marquee matchup between two-time champion Mardy Fish and Michael Russell, were delayed by rain after clouds threatened all afternoon.
Hewitt has alighted upon Atlanta for the third time in the tournament’s four years, bringing the family from their home in the Bahamas to begin the run-up to the U.S. Open. Hewitt is now 11 years removed from the second of his two major championships, at Wimbledon in 2002. He last was ranked in the top 20 in February 2010, the same year he won his most recent tournament. His ranking soared as high as 233 last summer.
It’s a different career stage for Hewitt, who was the world No. 1 for 80 of 82 weeks between November 2001 and June 2003. His 75-week run at the top perch is the eighth-longest in tour history.
That was a different time, before marriage, children and a new generation of players. Hewitt’s next opponent is American Rhyne Williams, a former Tennessee standout who was 10 years old when Hewitt won the U.S. Open in 2001, two days before the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. On Tuesday after his match, Hewitt said he didn’t play many clay tournaments this year because “I wasn’t too interested in doing it this year.”
He loves having Cruz, his 4-year-old son, hang out with him at the tournament sites.
“It’s not every player that’s able to do that, and having him in the locker room and just being around the place,” Hewitt said. “He loves sports, so that’s one of the biggest enjoyments for me.”
That said, he is not doddering around the court, popping Geritol. He reached the finals at Newport, R.I., earlier this month, winning a three-setter against John Isner in the semifinals. It was his second win this year over the former Georgia star, ranked No. 22 in the world and the top seed this week. Hewitt made the semis at the Aegon Championships, a Wimbledon warmup, taking out Sam Querrey (ranked No. 20 in the world) and Juan Martin del Potro (No. 7).
He has company. In the world top 25, only three players are 30 or older, but the top-100 list has its share of players extending their careers. There have been 11 tournament winners this year 30 and over. Interestingly, there are no teenagers in the top 200. Hewitt, who was the youngest player to reach No. 1 when he made it at 20, found it surprising, but explainable.
“There’s an older brigade, I think, that’s still working pretty hard, and obviously having some success, as well, which makes it harder for the younger guys,” he said. “Plus, the game is so physically demanding now, as well, so the young guys, they could pop up and have one good tournament here or there, but for them to actually get onto the tour week in and week out is pretty tough.”
Spoken with the gathered wisdom of a 32-year-old.