There Will Always Be Room for a Lleyton Hewitt Type in Men’s Tennis

Lleyton Hewitt put on one of the most impressive performances of the 2012 Australian Open by making it to the fourth round and actually taking a set off defending champ Novak Djokovic.

And while he might be far removed from his glory days, one thing’s for sure: You can never count Hewitt out.

Lleyton Hewitt still in the game

But why is that the case?

Surely with his game—built around court coverage and flawless groundstrokes—would lead to him getting blasted off the court by bigger and more powerful opponents. But as has been the case throughout the former number 1’s career, he’s been able to prove that line of thinking wrong. Hewitt has won 28 singles titles, including two Grand Slams: the ’01 U.S. Open and ’02 Wimbledon—all while suffering a significant size and weight disadvantage most of the time.

That’s something Australian Open quarterfinalists David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori can relate to. When those two take the court against 95 percent of the bigger boys on the ATP World Tour, they have to rely on their foot speed and baseline play to enable them to stay in the point, as well as pop off a carefully constructed winner.

And the old phrase “defense wins championships” is exemplified by Ferrer and Nishikori, as well as Hewitt. It’s nearly impossible to hit through or past any of the three as they’re all willing to chase everything down: forehand blasts, overhead smashes, drop shots—whatever it takes to get the point won.

Ferrer has been the best practitioner of this over the years: His career-high ranking is 4 and he’s won tournaments on clay, grass and hard courts. He’s No. 5 right now, and while it may be extremely difficult for him to crack the “Big 4” considering the way they’ve dominated. But Ferrer is so entrenched in his position right now, it would be hard to imagine how the players ranked below him can knock him out of that spot.

With what he’s shown at the Australian this year, Nishikori appears to be ready to take on that challenge. He made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, knocking off one of the hottest players—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—in five sets. And it’s not too far-fetched to like his chances against Andy Murray as both play with a similar style.

That “style” is reminiscent of what Hewitt brought—or rather “brings”—to the table. It’s how Michael Chang before him ended up with a place in Newport, RI, at the Tennis Hall of Fame. Hewitt will find himself there after his career is over, and perhaps when it’s all said and done, the same will be said of Ferrer and Nishikori.