MONTREAL – It was finally confirmed on Tuesday. But veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt was already acting like a Davis Cup captain at the Rogers Cup last August.
The 34-year-old, who will play at the Australian Open in January to say a proper adieu to the game, was officially named Davis Cup captain Tuesday in Australia.
But at the Rogers Cup in August, Hewitt (who had a wild card into the doubles with one of his new charges, Thanasi Kokkinakis), was out there bright and early most mornings, practicing with his future charges, or overseeing their practices.
Let’s just say he gave them a workout; here’s Kokkinakis early one morning; meanwhile, Hewitt was barely breaking a sweat.
Hewitt worked with the group, which included James Duckworth. He also was on court overseeing when Kyrgios practiced with his pal, American Jack Sock.
It was the next afternoon in Australia – and we’re told by a reliable source that Hewitt’s cell phone started ringing in the middle of the night, with the suits at Tennis Australia on the other end of the line.
The gist? If you want to be Davis Cup captain, it’s not a gift. You’re going to have to keep the boys in line.
Not surprising he had the shades on when he was courtside for Kyrgios’s next match against American John Isner.
The support of his mates, though, began long before that. For the last few years, Hewitt has been a regular attendee when one of his countryman is playing at Grand Slams.
At Wimbledon in 2014, Hewitt even managed to find the qualifying courts at Roehampton to cheer on Sam Groth as he tried to qualify for Wimbledon for the first time. It’s a place Hewitt saw only twice in his life, a zillion years ago – in 1997 when he got to the final of the junior Wimbledon tuneup event there and the next year, when he unsuccessfully played the qualies in singles and doubles.
Groth, then 26, was headed towards a journeyman’s career, it seemed, despite the big serve. He beat Simone Bolelli that day, with the support of his mates. And in the ensuring 18 months, Groth has turned himself into a solid Tour player and, this year, a valuable Davis Cup contributor.
Later that year in Paris, Hewitt and a pack of Aussies were there on Court 5 to support the flaky Marinko Matosevic as he took on the flashy Dustin Brown in the first round of Roland Garros (that worked, too).
Hewitt has become such a fine elder statesman – and clearly, from his success in the broadcast booth the first moment he walked in a few years ago at the Australian Open, a fine analyst of the game – that his punk-ass days seem a million years ago. It was all brash, undersized bravado and a “me against the world” mentality with his omnipresent parents. And he wasn’t particularly courteous.
But what always was there was his love for his country and for Davis Cup. And after marriage and three kids, and the natural process of growing up that might be somewhat delayed at times for tennis players, he is the man he is today.
At Wimbledon in 2009, Hewitt had a “situation” with another of his new charges, Bernard Tomic, where that clueless little number – or a sycophantic entourage – decided he didn’t want to practice with Hewitt. Or so the story goes.
Tomic was just 16 then, still in the juniors, and his father John was a far bigger presence than he is now, but it sounds like the people around Tomic were more to blame than he was.
The Hewitt camp, as you can read above, didn’t appreciate it very much. And from the souns of it then, Tennis Australia seemed to have some notion that the Davis Cup captain – whoever he happens to be at the time – is in charge of keeping the youngsters in line. Doesn’t seem here like that should be their job, but hey.
It’s a fascinating challenge. Obviously the Aussies have a deep group, and a young group – and overall, a group that is loyal to Davis Cup and the tradition their elder statesmen built. There’s no reason why they can’t win multiple Davis Cups over the next decade.
Hewitt, however, will have his job cut out for him as he navigates all the immaturity and egos and entourages. His biggest challenge will be Kyrgios; on the plus side, he’s been there, done that, and it certainly seems clear that Kyrgios actually respects him.
When the players on the Aussie Davis Cup team usurp the new captain in popularity, he’ll know his job is a job well done.