The Definition of a Warrior. (by PJ)
It was a match that everyone thought was a given. No one thought Novak Djokovic even have to physically exert himself the tiniest bit to beat Lleyton Hewitt. After all, Djokovic is younger, faster, and better. Hewitt? He’s old (30 years old) and gimpy (mangled left toe) and simply not in the same league. It was going to be a beatdown. People were taking bets on how many games he’ll get. I think the maximum number suggested was 8 games.
I didn’t give him half a chance in hell to make Djokovic work. Sure, when it comes to grit and determination and being fucking stubborn, Lleyton is second to none (back off, Rafa). But even if the heart is willing, the body is not able. With his physical limitation, he was just not going to withstand Djokovic’s barrage of (tennis) balls.
I went into the match, actually dressed in green and gold, to support him – just because I have a feeling that it’s Old Man Hewitt’s last Australian Open, and I want him to go out on the best note. Even so, I was just hoping for a dignified 3-set beatdown. Maybe something along the lines of 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
When they started playing, Hewitt found himself down a double break in 20 minutes, and even as he got one break back, Djokovic powered through to take the first set 6-1. Lleyton didn’t manage to hold serve at all, and continued to lose serve until his sixth service game. The second set ended with a relatively uncompetitive 6-3 scoreline. Right, I thought woefully. So this is how it’s going to go down.
Then the third set began. And within a blink of an eye, Hewitt was down 0-3, and has managed to hold serve twice for the entire duration of the match so far. Groaning inwardly, I prayed that he wouldn’t get bageled. One game, I thought. Just hold serve FOR ONCE, and we can end this fairly respectably.
But just as I forgot who he is and what he stands for – the whole I’ll-fucking-give-up-when-I’m-fucking-dead attitude that is deeply ingrained in Lleyton Hewitt’s soul and mangled toe – he reminded me that this ain’t over till it’s really fucking over. He broke Djokovic’s serve, and suddenly it was back on serve.
Aussie supporters in the Rod Laver Arena who had been a bit subdued throughout, suddenly came to life, cheering and stamping and urging on the gimpy grandpa in red on court. With Djokovic serving at 4-all, Hewitt gritted his teeth and piled pressure onto his serves and to the amazement and joy of the arena, he broke to gain a 5-4 lead. But of course Djokovic wasn’t going to let him have it easy. He pushed Hewitt on his serve, firing winners and trying to crack down the old man, but this old man would have none of it. In a tremendous, tremendous showing of pure grit and guts, he held on like a barnacle, and served the set out.
Lleyton Hewitt took a set off Novak Djokovic. After he was down 0-3 in that set.
And RLA was ON ITS FUCKING FEET. I leaped up so fast that I nearly fell headfirst into the row of chairs in front of me. My newly converted tennis fan/Federer fan buddy screamed so loud that I’m fairly sure I’m now 40% deaf in my left ear.
Even so, I think we all know the inevitable, even Hewitt himself. He could barely walk, barely move freely, each point had him grimacing in obvious pain, but still, he refused to give up. As said, those words do not exist in his dictionary. He ran down every ball, he stretched out to retrieve, he hit and walloped the balls and still scampered around the baseline, going for every single shot fucking possible. And the crowd was with him every single step of the way, cheering and yelling encouragement as Hewitt threw himself around the court. To be honest, it was amazing to watch him, knowing what he had been through, and what he was still probably going through.
He held up well in the fourth set, keeping it competitive, until his serve began breaking down. Ill-timed double faults contributed to that crucial break of serve, and soon Djokovic was serving the set out. Faced with 3 matchpoints, 40-0 on Djokovic’s serve – and I can see he was still refusing to give up. Running down a Djokovic return, he stretched himself out, and smacked a winner. Still hanging in there. But that was it. On his second match point, Djokovic took the match – but the standing ovation? It was for Lleyton Hewitt.
No one gave him a chance to make this competitive whatsoever, including myself. But again, he proved what one can do with that pure, unfettered determination. Three months ago, he wasn’t sure whether he would still be able to play tennis. Three months later, he socked it to the world number 1, doing what the other players in the earlier rounds could not do.
Many a bad thing can be said about Lleyton Hewitt, as we all know. But witnessing this man on-court tonight, all I can say is despite everything, he defines what it means to be a warrior, and what it means to never give up, not when you are still out there. If you’re still out there, you bloody well fight till the end. And this is not limited to a tennis court. This is life. His life. Our lives.
He brought me to tennis (yeah yeah mock me all you want, people) and whilst that affection had withered over the years due to a variety of reasons (and NOT mainly because of someone called Roger Federer, although that can be a partial reason), in recent times I am just reminded of why I took a liking to him, because regardless of whatever condition he is in, if he is on court, he lays it all on court. No looking back, no regrets, no what-ifs. If he kills himself losing, then so be it. If he kills himself winning, he’ll be back on crutches to play the next match. Hell, he’ll even play lying on a stretcher if he can find his way around that. Somehow in his old age he has become more likeable in some sense, and that gritty spirit is certainly admirable. His mental fortitude and his will to fight is extraordinary and is something that all athletes – not just tennis players – should aspire to have. I think I’m actually fucking proud to call him my first favourite, as opposed to being mortified (as I used to be).
If this is his last Australian Open match, then it’s a bloody good one, and an appropriate swan-song, to have pushed the world number 1 in the classic Hewitt style. And I am very proud to be part of that, to be giving him an admittedly slightly teary standing ovation as he left the court. And as I leave Melbourne Park, I think I took a slice of Lleyton’s life lesson back with me, to apply in my own life.
Well done, Lleyton. Hold your head up high. We’re all extremely proud of you.
P.S. I hope Bernard Tomic’s parents allowed him to stay up past his bedtime to watch, because he can learn like a million things from this match alone.
P.P.S. General wrap to come tomorrow. Now I need to sleep.