Jan/20

5

ATP Cup: The Lleyton Factor

By Jayita A Belcourt

Lleyton Hewitt is undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest tennis players of the modern era. As a former world number 1 and with 2 grand slam titles under his belt, Hewitt’s talent and experience is vast. Unsurprisingly, following his retirement in 2016, he was quickly snapped up as an asset for Tennis Australia appointed team captain for the Australian Davis Cup and now the ATP Cup. But Hewitt’s role has not come without controversy.  In recent years, Hewitt has been at the receiving end of a string of allegations from players like Bernard Tomic who accused him of intimidation, favouritism and even blackmail. At the Australian Open in 2019, the headlines splashed throughout the media with such a strong stench like “no one likes him anymore” and suggestions that Hewitt had acted “illegally” and “ruined the system”, that many wondered how Hewitt and Tennis Australia would bounce back.

Yet, as the sky turned red in parts of Australia’s apocalyptic bushfire conditions, in contrast, any reputational tarnish was certainly wiped and forgotten this week for the 38-year old during the ATP Cup in Brisbane. Championing two wins for team Australia over Team Canada and Team Germany, the praises and smiles from Hewitt’s players couldn’t have been brighter.

John Millman, who secured a comfortable win for team Australia against Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets 6-4, 6-2 to kickstart the second tie following a last-minute call to replace an injured Nick Kyrios, expressed deep appreciation for his Aussie captain.

“I love having Lleyton in the corner… You won’t find someone that’s more passionate about tennis than Lleyton. And I admired so much his game and his tenacity, and what he showed on the court is exactly how he is off the court.”

Indeed, Hewitt was certainly known for being a feisty, competitive, determined player. Someone who would grind you down and never give up. And that’s exactly the energy that was on display as he sat consistently and patiently courtside throughout his nation’s matchups in Brisbane. It was almost like he too was playing and toying with the world’s best through his players.

Whilst some may see this as negative or even controlling, it’s far from the opinion of his players. As highlighted by Millman “he’s [Lleyton] tenacious and he’s got that never say die attitude that we will have as Australians and he’s someone that, I guess the best way to describe it is, he’s someone that when you go out you look over to the box and you see him giving you a bit of a fist pump, you know he’s in your corner. And that’s what so great about these team competitions is that you can draw upon legends like that and also the support staff. They play every shot with us out there and that’s what makes these team competitions so unique and special”.

Millman’s thoughts were echoed by rising star Alex De Minaur describing his team captain as “awesome”, “supportive” and “encouraging”. The 20-year-old world 18 had a tight 3 set battle with Canada’s world number 15 Dennis Shapovalov in his nation’s second clash at the ATP Cup. After losing a heartbreaking first set tiebreaker and down 2-4 in the second, De Minaur was able to recompose and dig deep to clinch a stunning three set victory 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2 for team Australia. Throughout the match, Lleyton remained visibly calm and positive, clenching his fists in the pivotal moments and echoing words of encouragement when the youngster was running low on emotional fuel.

Of De Minaur, Hewitt remarked “I’m so proud of the way Alex was able to hang in there. He was going to get an opportunity at some stage and he was able to take that. He had a bit of a flat spot there but after you lose a tight first set, that was always going to happen. He went on with it in the third set.”

Yes, it seems Lleyton’s insights and in-depth psychological knowledge of his players and the game itself is really cementing Australia as a formidable opponent. So, with a string of talent at his disposal with the likes of Nick Kyrios and Alex De Minaur, is Hewitt’s input and energy able to give Australia the edge it needs to take out this year’s inauguration of the ATP Cup?

Up next, Australia will face team Greece on Tuesday 7 January. Should they secure even one win from three matches, they will process to the ATP Cup quarter-finals in Sydney.

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241 comments

  • Jon King · January 10, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    Gauff being ahead of Serena’s accomplishments at age 15-16 will have to be her claim to fame.

    Because the Slam total will end up 23 or 24 to 0, 1 or 2.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Disagree Jon, I think Gauff has plenty of time to develop and evolve and refine her skills. She is not a completed project by any stretch. She is off to a fairy tale start in her pro career. Hopefully she will continue to make the correct moves and decisons. I like what I see so far, not perfect, she has not mastered the game (nobody ever masters this game). But she will only get better, much better.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Pro tip: have a complete game before joining the tour, so that when you’re working on your game, you’re refining something rather than fixing problems from your youth, or adding a new dimension to something you already do. Otherwise you’re going to do well until you won’t.

  • Jon King · January 10, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    Yes we disagree Scoop. Because Gauff was full grown at 12.5 years old. She is what she will be as far as size and strength. Sure she will gain some match feel but her main problem is her forehand grip is too western. She has no power on the forehand and can not handle deep pace or low balls to her forehand. Her forehand is a liability and that makes it very hard to be much more than she is now.

    Gauff has no special weapons. Not that big, not that much power. A very good athlete, which is how she will win her share of matches.

    There is no reason to believe Gauff will change her forehand grip. There is little reason to believe she will be anything more than a bit better in 5 years. There is nothing that is going to move the needle a ton on her game.

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 12:41 am

    Serena ate Anisimova for lunch.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 1:00 am

    Put Anasimova in her place. Plays Pegula, about whom I know nothing at all. These young girls don’t have the weapons or the know-how to challenge Serena, let alone beat her. But although Serena looks a good bet for the AO she should find life a little tougher there. However, with Bianca absent, which looks very likely at the moment, can’t see anyone in her way. Certainly not Gauff.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 1:11 am

    This thread is getting a bit long but I’d just put in a word to say that I am getting pretty sceptical about Bianca. I’d love to be proved wrong. A 39 year old still dominating the game is great for Serena but bad for the overall look.

    I stick my view that Bianca has not been managed well. I don’t know who’s to blame but nearly 3 months off and she’s still not fit and we’re not getting consistent stories about her. I’m feeling a little angry.

    I agree with Jon about Gauff. Laura Siegemund really exposed her.

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 1:25 am

    Not a good week for the hype machine. The announcers and media so want Gauff to be Serena and Anisimova to be Sharapova.

    The real Sharapova at age 17 beat prime Serena to win Wimbledon. The fake Anisimova at age 18 loses 1-1 to old Serena. And sorry, but Sharapova had the face of a model, and Anisimova certainly does not.

    And do not get me started on why Gauff, at 3 inches and 40 lbs lighter, with no huge serve or monster forehand weapons is not even remotely close to prime Serena.

    I guess the WTA is desperate, but trying to make these players into something they have no chance at is not going to help. Reality will be what it will be.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 1:29 am

    Had a look at the highlights and Anisimova played poorly. Serena had the wit to make the most of that. But seems to me she’s still having problems going up and back and is best when the ball is coming to her. She’s also puffing a fair bit and I don’t think that’s put on. It’s age and breathing difficulties. So no, I don’t think Serena’s unbeatable by any means.

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 1:43 am

    I agree, when we saw Serena at the fund raiser last week she looked fit, but she already looks tired out after a few matches. Hard to see her putting enough matches together to win #24. Father time is undefeated.

    My hunch is someone unexpected wins the AO.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 2:55 am

    Madison has put the pedal to the metal in Brisbane – bts Kvitova in 3.

    Should be a fun event in Adelaide, despite no Gauff or Osaka – early matches include Sabalenka/Hsieh, Stephens v Kerber (Sloane has never lost to her) and then Simona’s Oz debut. Will Toni be there ?

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 4:52 am

    Osaka down and out to Ka Pliskova – Fisette won’t be happy. Not sure if these two are a good match although I know it’s early days.

  • Hartt · January 11, 2020 at 5:02 am

    Catherine, your prediction that Bianca would withdraw from the AO was correct. Here is her announcement:

    “Hey guys, just wanted to give you a little update on my knee rehab after I got injured at the WTA finals in Shenzhen. My rehab is going well, I feel better and stronger every day but after discussing it with my team and following the recommendation of the doctors, the Australian Open is unfortunately too soon in my rehab process and I sadly will not be able to play in it this year. It was a very tough decision to make as I love to play in Melbourne but I have to respect the recuperation plan for my knee and body. I can’t wait to come back to Aus soon x”

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 5:22 am

    Dear oh dear. I hate to have been proved right. I’ll further predict it’ll be six months from the time we last saw Bianca until we see her again. And she may not be the same player when she comes back.

    Bad for her naturally, and bad for the women’s game. Just awful.

    Something didn’t go right there.

    Osaka/Pliskova was a very tight match – they went toe to toe and Ka saved a match point.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 7:33 am

    Dreadful effort by Anisimova. She hasn’t got the fight for it.

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 9:57 am

    Anisimova is another one who put the cart before the horse. Boat loads of sexy Instagram posts for years now. Sought out Pova’s agent to lead the endorsement charge. Hanging with Kyrgios and celebrities.

    Got to grind, fight, and win something first though. Results at the pro level in majors, then fame…not the reverse.

  • Hartt · January 11, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Rublev just won the second set TB over the youngster, Moutet, to take the Doha title. Well done by Rublev.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Wow. Rublev wins Doha! Yes, Hartt, all. I wonder what Rublev has in terms of the emotional reserves, if he has enough of a lion in him to go for big ones – his game has some areas that are cough a little weak, though from the back court he does some nice work and I like watching how he goes big. Did Moutet let the moment eat him up? Sometimes that’s all it takes, Rublev looked across the net, saw his opponent nervous, and then says: got this.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    Stop picking on little girls. Everyone on this board was once their age. Looking forward to seeing how you react when everyone wants a piece of ya. Cut them some slack. Poor Capriati got eaten up by a media machine too and went off the deep end for much of her youth – we were all fortunate to see her recover and reach the heights in her HOF career. Let the players duke it out and we’ll see where we are when the dust settles. I like saving my critique hopefully more often for the agents and parents that want money and glory and live through the poor kids.

    I don’t know any teenager on Earth that could handle any of this nuttiness. I genuinely believe that when Osaka put the beat down on Gauff that Gauff felt that was a winnable match because she had been fed a steady diet of hype. That’s unfortunate. Usually that match is a wake up call that says hey, she’s a lot better than you and you have a long way to go, and honestly you shouldn’t have gotten a wildcard.

    If anything I hold out the biggest critique for tournament organizers and powers that be. I have said this many times. Just put them in the qualies draw and if they are good enough like Jenson Brooksby then you’ll have a good chance at the first round. And be firm on this so that in a few years we don’t have to read so many stories about lost potential.

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    I think all of us have said many times we put the blame on the parents and coaches and team and media and on and on. When we say Gauff or Anisimova at this point it goes without saying it means the adults and tennis establishment, rather than singling out the players for all the blame.

    Gauff likely has no idea what a western grip even is, no idea posing in front of a fire right now was strange, etc. Anisimova’s dad, RIP, was telling tennis people in New Jersey he had the next Sharapova when she was very young. So when she started posting pics on Instagram at age 15, dad had been telling her for years already she was the next it girl.

    So I think its safe to say most of us mean the entire hype machine of adults when we say their names…..it just would take a long time to type that every time they are discussed.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks Jon for clarifying, agree a hundred percent. It’s a machine and Sampras parents especially his dad was very wary of it and warned young Sampras. There are a heck of a lot of excellent pieces on Sampras up at Sampraz Fans, some website with a similar name, and there used to be an excellent Geocities site that is now almost unaccessible, that had the same kinds of details about how his parents and Fischer helped him maintain his composure even as all these insane forces were at work around him. Sampras had his issues but believing the hype wasn’t one of them!

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Andrew – Jon’s right. It’s not the ‘little girls’ we’re picking on, and I don’t like to think I’m coming across like that, but the grown-ups around them. It’s a pity there aren’t laws about this but I suppose they’d be hard to enforce.

    (Funny how we don’t go on about ‘little boys’.)

    In some fields, where precocity occurs, kids are more protected. Eg, they go to ballet school and the Company takes care of them. That would be a great idea – junior tennis players at tennis school. Of course I know about ‘academies’ and I think most of them should be outlawed.

  • Harold · January 11, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    This board is a little rough on kids. Anisimova was top 20 before her dad died. He was her father and coach,give the kid a freaking break. Her family must be going through hell. Let’s not kill her results in her first events back.. yikes!

    As far as her IG, I blame that on the Nike stable of athletes, their promotion of players gets out of hand

  • Hartt · January 11, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Catherine, what you are describing is something like what Tennis Canada does at the National Training Centre. Unfortunately, they can take just a handful of kids. But a lot of emphasis is put on their schooling, and on becoming well-rounded individuals. There will be the occasional brief piece introducing one or more of those players, but not much else. They tried hard to keep the hype about Felix at a manageable level, at least until he turned pro, and that was no mean feat.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    The WTA is also to blame for the IG and Twitter culture. I get the impression social media is considered an important part of being a tennis player (as in ‘marketing the product’) and I’m not sure what would happen if a big star absolutely refused to participate.

    I know Tsitsipas keeps telling us he’s giving up social media but he doesn’t seem to stay off it for very long.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    6161 to a vulnerable Serena is a major flop. She is great. There was insider buzz about AA when she was 12. She earned it. Top talent. But is the princess mindset setting in? Is she too pretty and worshipped already to be willing to fight for it? It’s a vicious dogfight to get to the top. I see the talent but not the fight.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Please prove me wrong Amanda. Make me look like a fool. Hope she has what it takes and gets there and becomes coco’ s arch rival.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Yes we pick wrongly on kids for adults choices. And agree with Harold, poor girl Anisimova. I’d like to see her do well, that’s impossible. Mr. Anisimova seemed like a very decent person. Maybe tone it down a little as well, though for the most part I agree that the discontent on the board is with the hype machine and how bad it is. It’s like the hype machine for tennis needs a media critic who can point out how nutty it is.

    Last time I checked a semifinal result is very decent. Especially first tournament back.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    Ok you dad dies. And you make a semifinal of your first pro tournament back. You run into the best player of all time, who has been destroying players all tournament long, and predictably you lose though far worse than you hope. Instead all the discussion rather than hey, that’s brutal your dad died, you must be devastated, thanks for playing your heart out, instead it’s you are the most overhyped player ever and mind your Instagram.

    Just a little shame is in order, for us. Anisimova acquitted herself well until getting smoked by the best player in history. It’s like Tsitsipas getting his hat handed to him by Nadal at the Australian last year where he looked like he didn’t know how to play the game.

    Doesn’t mean she’s an awful player. Means that’s tennis, you lose to better opponents and given her ranking that makes sense.

  • Hartt · January 11, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    Andrew, I agree with most of what you say about Anisimova, but one correction. This is not her first tourney back after her father’s death. Last fall she played Wuhan, where she won a match over Stosur before losing to Pliskova, and then Beijing, where she lost to Brady in the first round.

  • catherine · January 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    This is all very well about Anisimova, or any other young player come to that. She’s a performer, she performed in front of us and she didn’t do very well. We’re allowed to say that, if we stay within the bounds of what’s acceptable. Anasimova chooses to do IGs, no one’s forcing her. It’s ok to discuss that part of her life.

    Sabalenka also lost her father and maybe it’s affecting her game, but I’m sure she would not want to use that as an excuse and clearly she feels ready to play. You go out there as a tennis player and you’re judged on how you play.

    I don’t understand why I should feel any shame at all.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    Feel bad for Sabalenka too. Not cold hearted people here. I don’t think Sabalenka has done well this year especially in China where she thrives. I can’t overlook the fact that her dad passed so recently and as a young person, or any age, that is rough.

    Hartt I had no idea about the two tournaments in 2019 that Anisimova played and her results then sound about as well as she could do under the circumstances, it doesn’t take much to knock a player off course and to me that kind of loss is huge.

    Catherine it’s not directed at you but of some somewhat merciless statements of which sadly I am party. I thought Miss Anisimova was played up big time and I have pointed to quite a hype machine of an article from ESPN magazine about her and the kind of endorsement money she could earn – it had some nice features but overall was one of the greater puff pieces I have read.

    Then within days of that article, maybe fourteen maybe fewer, Anisimova dad dies and then withdraws from the US Open. One of the more spectacular turns in fortune for the worse in so little time, the wall of hype crumbling or at least tested under an extreme life circumstance.

    So now maybe what, five months removed from that moment, Anisimova has a nice result and gets smashed in the semifinal by the superior player in Serena Williams. Should that take away from a pretty good week overall? Somewhat. But as far as the hype goes this was a good result.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    Catherine as expressed so often I am so wary of the new social media age.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    6161 is a bad loss for Anisimova, sorry if that offends anyone. There is no way to sugarcoat it. We all thought she was ready to make a big statement but she rolled over to a legend who did not look all that great this week. Who knows, maybe it was a Nike production. Jimmy Connors always talks about his first big pro match vs a legend in Emerson in California when he was 17 or 18 and he played the match of his life, said he was willing to die to win that match. We saw Nadal beat Federer 63 63 when he was 17. We saw Seles stun Evert when she was 15 or 16. We all expected more from Anisimova last night. Can’t sugarcoat it, she failed miserably.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    No offense, Serena = 23 slams.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    As Jon suggested (sorry Jon if this isn’t quite what you said) there’s the Williams and then everyone else.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    But Serena is 38 or 39 and has shown vulnerability vs McHale and Seigemund. Not moving like she did. Anisimova rolled over, put up no resistance. I didn’t see it. Maybe Serena was beast mode raging storm perfect. Fact is, Anisimova got skunked in the match she dreamed about. No way to sugarcoat it. Major disappointment. So disappointingly bad you have to wonder if she has what it takes. Hope this slap in the face wakes her up and sparks her best tennis in Melbourne.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Serena is bringing out her beast mode this week. She is very frustrated and pent up and angry at losing her last four major finals. She is screaming and roaring to fire herself up, to get in her Serena zone. I believe McHale and Seigemund were intimidated by it. It’s psychological bullying. I would guess Anisimova was intimidated by it. When Serena gets in her beast mode it’s one of the scariest things in tennis. Her beast mode has threatened murder and physical harm. I believe some or many players shut it down when they see Serena summoning her beast mode.

  • Harold · January 12, 2020 at 10:41 am

    Not offended, but surprised a couple of posters here seem heartless and entitled. Treating these athletes as puppets put on a stage to be judged, forgetting they’re HUMAN, and not even drinking age

    To not have compassion for a kid that the first dozen years she was on a court, her father was probably there with her, then he suddenly passes away. According to some people she should just suck it up and go on..

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Agree. If it has to do with holes in their game – fine. That’s true, and for what it’s worth Serena Williams looked fantastic, hitting the ball the best I’ve seen since some of her better moments last summer and when it counted.

    When a player’s dad dies or mom or sister etc, that’s a searing loss. The player never “gets over it” (though no one has suggested they do etc), just that they actually do not. James Blake for what it’s worth was somewhat shielded from his dad’s illness (cancer) and was muddling through his own comeback from his terrible injury. He didn’t just rebound as if nothing happened.

    Someone else said this in addition to Harold, I think it was Pete Bodo, said Roddick would take the time to say to a reporter hey what you said hurt my feelings etc. I’d say at first glance hey comes with the territory but Bodo appreciated it and heard Roddick out so that he had a better sense of whatever it was at least from the player.

    If anyone “follows” Anisimova, she responded to Serena Williams who had said how much she likes Anisimova (before they had played) and how badly she felt for Anisimova for her dad’s death and Anisimova post match wrote how much this meant to her. That looked like a genuine response from Anisimova and some gratitude.

    So sure, Anisimova game has some holes and the hype machine was deflated. She also had a good result with a semifinal. Those two things can coexist. I was surprised by her strokes – better than I had thought they were, she hits a nice clean ball – and also by her anticipation that was worse than expected and her movement, which was a step slow against an in form opponent in Serena Williams. Those are real things that Anisimova would need to work on if she’s aiming for a bigger result.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Serena Williams is hitting great. It’s a little different than sheer winning games in the locker room (which she used to do). She looks good out there. Opponents weren’t folding because they were deflated but because they aren’t as good (for now). Serena Williams form does vary a lot but she looks good, more like herself before she left the tour to be a mom and come back as a mom on tour.

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