The 2005 runner-up and former world No.1 is still plugging away on the ATP Tour some 14 years after he turned pro, coming into this year’s Australian Open ranked No.83 in the world. He played in just 13 tournaments last year after a toe injury sidelined him for over three months, meaning he has a full four slots to gain ranking points in for the 2013 season.
Strengths: More than anything else it’s Lleyton’s heart and desire that has kept him competitive with the game’s best over a decade after he won his maiden major at the 2001 US Open. To boot, Hewitt’s dogged retrieving skills buoy his effort, his scurrying ability along the baseline making it nearly impossible for bigger-hitting opponents to get the ball by him. Hewitt’s return game, often overlooked in the era of Djokovic, Murray and Nadal can still create problems for his rivals.
Weaknesses: Hewitt’s lack of power has never served him well, and it’s what gave way in his 2005 final here against Marat Safin. The fact that he cannot finish a point with one pop of the ball means his grinding gameplan has to see him through most matches, particularly at the top level. In the recent past, the Adelaide native has dealt with a mounting flurry of injuries, including a bothered toe that set him out of the game for several months in 2012.
Opportunities: Another year, another shot at the Australian Open for Hewitt. In 17 appearances he’s made it past the fourth round just once, losing in the round of 16 some six times. In 2012 the former world No.1 took his opportunities with wins over big servers Andy Roddick and Milos Raonic, only to be stopped by Novak Djokovic. It is again a chance for Hewitt to go deep in Melbourne, and perhaps a run to the quarter or semifinals would feel almost like winning the whole thing at this point in his career.
Threats: As demonstrated by his 2012 effort here, there are too many improved versions of Hewitt’s game floating around professional men’s tennis. Djokovic certainly plays it, and if someone doesn’t, they hit a much heavier ball than Lleyton does, skipping ahead in the point only to leave him scrambling to get back into it. And though Hewitt is a respectable 13-31 against the Big Four, he’s one just one match against them in his last 28 tries.
Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director:
“No-one is as journeyed a warrior as Lleyton, so I would put nothing past him. It’s going to be important for him to stay healthy for two weeks, and then he can have a good run.”
Todd Woodbridge, former world No. 1 doubles player and Tennis Australia’s Head of Pro Tennis:
"It’s the first time in three years that he’s coming in to the Australian Open clear of injury. He had a proper full training block to get as fit as possible leading in, so given a reasonable draw, I expect to see Lleyton somewhere near the quarterfinals, but probably a huge ask to go deeper than that. He still is incredibly driven to achieve Grand Slam glory at home. Hopefully the realisation that there’s not too many Opens left is no distraction."