Retiring Aussie veteran Lleyton Hewitt is serving up some Jedi-style mastery with teenage apprentice Thanasi Kokkinakis at Wimbledon this year.
After two epic come-from-behind five-set wins in the gentlemen’s doubles at Wimbledon this year, something pretty special could be brewing for retiring 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt, 34, and teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis.
They have now reached the third round of the event after looking down and out in their opener, trailing two sets to love against No.15 seeds Marin Draganja and Henri Kontinen, before reeling them back in to win in a display that typified the gritty Aussie veteran and would have no doubt provided a mountain of education for his young accomplice.
The energy on court was infectious; with young gun Nick Kyrgios even peering over a perimeter fence in an attempt to absorb some of the action before being asked to climb down by a tournament official.
Again in the second round, this time against the highly experienced duo of Robert Lindstedt and Jurgen Melzer, the Aussie pair dug themselves out of a significant hole to take the honours – but only after taking the fourth in a tense tiebreaker [8-6] and then clinging on to win the decider 6-4.
It’s a common theme for Hewitt, not just this fortnight, but over his entire career. Earlier, in his singles swansong at SW19, he fought back from the brink against fellow retiree, Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, saving match points before finally succumbing 11-9 in the fifth set.
The result denied Hewitt a crack at world No.1 Novak Djokovic, a match that would have no doubt been scheduled for the most hallowed ground in tennis, Wimbledon’s centre court.
However, while Hewitt will definitely not agree, perhaps it was even more fitting to see the eternal fighter claw his way back out of the abyss and then bow out in a tense dogfight rather than be unceremoniously rolled by the flawless Serb, an outcome which was probably on the cards if we’re honest, and one which the match-weary Nieminen was forced to endure.
Either way, the respect for Hewitt remains enormous, proven this week by the accolades he received from all and sundry, including Roger Federer, who said that Hewitt “showed an entire generation how it can be done”.
As Hewitt prepares to enter the next phase of life, he has already displayed his uncanny knowledge of the game, proving an exceptional commentator during his time in the booth over the past few Australian Opens. His tennis insight is as refreshing as it is enlightening in an era where all too much emphasis seems to be placed on entertainment rather than analysis.
Couple that with an unrelenting patriotism – he has already signaled his intention to captain the Australian Davis Cup at an appropriate time after his 2015 farewell tour is over – and it’s obvious Hewitt has an abundance of intellectual property and experience, not to mention pure unbridled passion, to pass onto our upcoming crop of players.
Kokkinakis, his fellow South Australian, looms as a most likely protégé. The 19-year-old, currently ranked world No.71, has already shown his skill with wins over significantly higher ranked players, and perhaps more impressively, his mental toughness – a stirring Davis Cup win over Czech Lukas Rosol from two sets and a break down unerring proof of that.
After their most recent doubles victory, Kokkinakis told the assembled media “anytime you can play with someone like that [Hewitt], who has done so much for us … it’s huge”.
“He shows leadership out there. He’s always fighting, always hungry.”
Kokkinakis also told Fox Sports’ “The Daily Serve” that the feeling of playing alongside Hewitt was incredible, saying that the energy and even the famed “c’mons” were intense to be a part of and something he could draw on in the future.
Interestingly, with interim Davis Cup captain Wally Masur a host of the show; the point was raised as to whether Hewitt and Kokkinakis might make a strong pairing in Australia’s upcoming quarterfinal campaign against Kazakhstan in Darwin later this month.
“It’s all information,” Masur grinned wryly. Clearly, their success on court and the subsequent learning exchange that is taking place is a win-win for Australian tennis whatever selections are ultimately made.
From a spectator’s point of view, watching the pair ply their trade is thoroughly enjoyable, as is witnessing Kokkinakis – the young “padawan” – absorbing some masterful lessons from Hewitt, the wily tennis Yoda.
There’s clearly plenty to be gained in the Wimbledon union of these two native South Australians. As Yoda himself said, “Always pass on what you have learned.”
However, rather than past success or future potential, let’s continue the Yoda approach and focus on the now. It’s Wimbledon 2015, and Kokkinakis and Hewitt, in their first and last campaigns respectively, will soon steer the X-Wing out to battle in a third round encounter against fourth seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horatio Tecau. There are no expectations; it’s simply a fitting end to Hewitt’s seventeen-year Wimbledon tilt – a run at another Grand Slam title with an exciting part of the next generation right by his side.
Use the force, guys.
This article was first published on The Roar.
Photo Credit: AAP/File
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