- - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hours before Lleyton Hewitt played his first match in this week’s Citi Open from Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, the former world No. 1 savored the moment.

Hewitt watched from the players’ lounge as his 6-year-old son, Cruz, talked tennis with fellow Australians Sam Groth and James Duckworth. The scene reminded Hewitt of those played out 30 years earlier when he would go to work with his father Glynn, an Australian Rules Football player, and talk shop in the locker room.

“He just loves being around the tennis courts,” Hewitt said of his middle child. “He’s having a good ol’ time.”

So, too, is Hewitt, who is cherishing his final year on the ATP World Tour. The two-time Grand Slam champion announced in January that he will retire after next year’s Australian Open, making his 2015 campaign a somewhat prolonged farewell tour.

“Obviously, going to places like Wimbledon and playing at those places for the last time, you try to enjoy the memories of being there as a competitor for the last time,” said Hewitt, who made his Washington debut in 1998 and won the singles title in 2004. “This week is special having my son here with me.”

After opening his eighth and final Citi Open appearance with a straight-sets win over countryman John-Patrick Smith on Stadium Court on Tuesday, Hewitt, 34, was celebrated with an on-court ceremony and a scoreboard video tribute.

His run in the singles draw ended in the second round with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 loss to seventh-seeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain, and he and Groth lost, 7-5, 6-4, to Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic in the first round of the doubles tournament.

“There are probably countless boys who’ve grown up watching him play and want to be the next Lleyton Hewitt,” said Samantha Stosur, the highest ranked Australian woman, who earlier this week in Washington won her 500th career WTA match.

“He’s not one of the biggest guys out there, either, so it shows his determination. I don’t think anyone would say there’s a better kind of fighter on the court and competitor who’ll leave everything out there before he loses a match.”

Known for his strong return game and ability to recover, Hewitt is one of 15 men with at least 600 career match wins and two Grand Slam singles titles. His 30 career singles titles are 24th most in the Open Era.

But as Hewitt walks away from the ATP Tour 18 years after making his pro debut, the face of Australian tennis is content that the next generation is well-stocked. Six Australians are ranked in the top-100, compared to just one — Hewitt ­— early in 2007.

Lleyton had to fly that flag for so many years by himself,” said Groth, noting the retirements in the early 2000s of Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis and doubles specialists Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.

“Once all those guys stopped, it was sort of left to Lleyton to do it on his own a little bit and then he had to wait a long time for a bunch of us to come through. It’s exciting now with six of us in the top-100, and at 27, I’m the oldest of them.”

Hewitt singled out No. 26-ranked Bernard Tomic, seeded 11th at the Citi Open, and No. 38 Nick Kyrgios as the faces of Australian tennis moving forward.

“We’re in a lot better place than we were the last five or eight years,” Hewitt said. “We had a couple of guys pushing and getting into Grand Slams, but we didn’t have a real core group and we do have that now.”

Hewitt is now ranked 283rd, his appearances in ATP tournaments dependent on wild cards such as the one he received to play in Washington.

Still to come this summer will be a final trip to the U.S. Open — where Hewitt won the 2001 title, two days before Sept. 11 — and a Davis Cup semifinal tie against Great Britain.

Until then, he says, he will continue to mentor the next wave of Australian pros.

“I’m trying to watch some of the other Aussie boys,” he said. “I’m taking a bit more of an interest in them. Nearly everyone I hit with before a tournament is an Aussie boy, so I try to help them out as much as possible. … These boys look up to me a lot, so I feel it’s a good job for me to help them with the small things.”


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