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

  • catherine · January 8, 2020 at 1:22 am

    Collins thrashed Putinseva 6-1 6-0 in under an hour. Is it her new Babolat doing the damage ? Kerber certainly struck lucky with that injury in Hawaii. Much nicer to go hiking than find yourself being scraped up off a court in Honolulu.

  • catherine · January 8, 2020 at 5:02 am

    After posting her astonishing IG Coco Gauff has suddenly discovered the outside world and together with her ‘coach’ Patrick M has decided the orange skies over Auckland ‘might’ be due to the conflagration in Australia. Thank you Coco and Patrick. We would never have guessed. Now go visit the ash blackened glaciers.

    (I can’t believe these people. The smoke has drifted as far as Argentina. Don’t they see the news ? No, probably not – Coco’s IG may have been the result of sheer ignorance)

  • catherine · January 8, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Anasimova rolls over Kasatkina in SS – Dasha, even with new coach Carlos Rodriguez, seems to have lost her grip on the game.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 8:41 am

    Catherine, the most unsable job in pro sports is as a WTA coach. Who is coaching Collins now? She’s run through about six coaches in two years.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Whew, it took an upset win by Argentina over Croatia in doubles but Canada is in the ATP Cup QFs! So I will have more opportunities to see Denis and FAA.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 9:21 am

    Congrats to Bouchard. Two in a row is a “miracle” for her and will convince her she’s doing the right thing. Her training with Reyes appears to be kicking in also. My confidence tank theory is a win is a win, whether it’s mixed dubs or against your grandpa it counts. Afraid I also count “competitive” exos, world team tennis, anywhere where they’re keeping score.

    So: nice. This should make her feel more confident, and comes under radar with more attention in Canada focusing on the ATP Cup etc.

    Garcia is confounding. France’s worst best player.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Jeff, my point is that the Williams have single-handedly carried the torch for US women’s tennis for the better part of the last two decades. The only player that has broken through to slam glory has been Sloane Stephens, and to some extent Keys showed she has the ability.

    I don’t think that’s fantastic work by the US as a country. It’s become a big country that pours a lot overall into tennis and somehow gets shown up by a few dads that love their kids and distrust the hype. That says a lot for the tennis dad’s and speaks awfully bad to the interest in the sport. I would have expected we wouldn’t be the level of say Switzerland with Hingis and then a fine player like Bencic, but that’s about where the US is with a super champ in Serena, a legacy champ in Venus, a one time champ in Stephens, and then not much to write home about.

    Serena is on her way to best of all time. I don’t think that has anything to do with the state of US Women’s tennis. It’s a statement that US women’s tennis was excellent in the late 1990s and the US has just milked that based on its good fortune with the brilliant Williams duo.

    That’s my take. I’d say it’s about the same as Germany with and beyons Graf. Great tennis country becomes so so tennis country. Lucky the sport is global and fans are good with it.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Catherine, it’s the babolat. That racquet has more power per shot than most boxers. Thrashing Putinseva is an excellent result for Collins. Putinseva isn’t my fave but she likes competing and winning, and I am sure Putinseva self destructed under the babolat barrage.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Maybe give Yastremska time. I can’t dispute her ball smashing ability, perhaps more power per centimeter on women’s tour than any player in history? (Generally speaking that’s a disaster – examples, Mirza with her meteoric forehand couldn’t harness it all that well in singles, same for Giorgi with perhaps the best combinations in decades yet apparent amnesia when it comes to remembering to hit the ball where an opponent isn’t).

    Alas. These players that obliterate tennis balls forget the kind of touch that wins titles and lots of them, that among Graf’s best shots was a slice she could hit for hours on a dime. But like Jelena Gencic said the greats are greats for a reason, they do boring things extremely well.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 10:18 am

    Andrew, on the Match Point Canada podcast one of the hosts said he’d talked with Genie at the Rogers Cup, and she said she was working on changing her tactics in a match. She thought that making that change could mean poor results for a while, but it should pay off in the long run. Here’s hoping that is the case. I did not see her 2 matches, but folks who did said she was playing well.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Hartt, could be Genie’s Yonex and increasing comfort the new racquet of choice in Canada (I am kidding but also not, takes time to get used to a new racquet!).

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Who knows with Genie. Even the famed Louis Bofiga called her an enigma.

    Even though I am not a fan of her style of play, I did feel sorry for her during that terrible slump. It would be nice to see her back in the top 50, at least.

  • Jon King · January 8, 2020 at 10:55 am

    Andrew, its pretty much always the tennis dads. Probably 90% of good American female players at the junior and pro level, the ship was run by tennis dad.

    Thats why we have had so many arguments with the USTA. Forget hand picking high performance kids, spending huge money on a headquarters in Orlando.

    Just make the tournaments fair and well organized, tennis dads will handle the rest. If we can’t coach ourselves we will find private coaches and hitting partners as needed. We do not need USTA to be involved in high performance in any way, shape, or form.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 10:57 am

    The QFs for the ATP Cup:

    Britain vs Australia
    Argentina vs Russia
    Serbia vs Canada
    Belgium vs Spain

  • Harold · January 8, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Djoker/Shapo should be fun. Shapo playing at a very high level right now. FAA needs to show better..

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Jon, am I really that far off in saying there are the Williams and their dad and mom, and then everyone else when it comes to U.S. women’s tennis? And that the wheels have fallen off when it comes to any kind of mission from the tennis world in the U.S.?

    If you are promoting stadiums you aren’t promoting the game, just stadiums. There’s so many other things to work on. Heck if you want to be just a competitive place for tennis, subsidize tournament fees for players that can’t pay.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    Raonic – Moutet a good challenge for Raonic.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Jeff, I don’t know if/whether/who for US men. I like Tommy Paul, I like Tiafoe. Opelka, can’t teach his height and the example of Isner, Karlovic, Anderson as super tall players give Opelka some hope – he’s better than Isner, Karlovic for his age and his complete game. We’ll see. Fritz had his best year.

    I am reminded of the 1986 ATP finals match between Becker and McEnroe, when announcers were saying “you know, we have Brad Gilbert, and Mayotte, Annacone and Wilkinson”…”but do we have anyone like a Becker coming along”?

    The answer in the booth from the announcers was “No”, but at the time Agassi had gone from the low 600s to top 90 – he wasn’t on anyone’s radar; Chang was top 160 or so a year later in 1987 as a fifteen year old. Sampras was top 150 just after his 17th birthday, within two years of that match between the young Becker and Johnny McEnroe at his heights.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    “Can’t predict who does what – until they do it”

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Ruusuvuori knocks off Sinner in Doha. Finland’s best player since Jarkko Niemenen.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    I think Sinner is an exciting young player, with a lot of potential, but the hype about him has been over the top. The way some people talk, he’s ready to contest for Slams. He will face some serious competition on the main tour this season, and that will give a more accurate look at his game.

  • Jon King · January 8, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Andrew, the wheels are off in US tennis because the very structure is flawed from the time a kid starts to play. This is the progression for a US tennis player.

    Start young and be soon entered into USTA tournaments. Very quickly a kid will discover that it is possible to win by pushing and cheating or by simply being a more dominant personality and intimidating quiet kids. Shy kids have zero chance so 50% of the kids will be quickly drummed out of the system no matter their talent level.

    I have seen it for 10 years now, most of the kids that quit who have promise do so because USTA tournaments require them to make all their own calls and keep score and verbally battle with aggressive kids. They then quit and go play another sport. Its not worth the hassle of playing USTA tournaments. So the pool is left to just the kids who are dominant personalities or are willing to cheat.

    Once a kid wins by being a dominant personality or cheating, they rise in the rankings. USTA then invites them to Orlando for camps. Early wins are rewarded, more travel, less developmental time.

    But when a player like Kenin comes along, totally developed by dad and private coaches, there are the USTA higher ups near her box to take credit when they had zero to do with it. The USTA development people will tweet congratulating any US player who wins something….but had absolutely nothing to do with their development. There is zero accountability of just how poor a job they are doing.

    We use hitters from a local college called Palm Beach Atlantic. Local school….yet not a single male player on the roster is from the US….and only 1 of the women is from the US.

    All this time and money spent by USTA development, and most of the US colleges look outside the US for players.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Michael Lewis (a writer) has a new podcast on referees because he became interested in how people bend rules to advance, especially for kids. He was worried when otherwise well meaning people got referees kicked out because the calls went against their kids teams (and how other parents fought to get those same referees back because they were defending the sport and things like fair play) Sounds like junior tennis could use a ton of them – to keep parents in check. Junior tennis today with its bad calls sounds like years past.

    I think Jon may be getting at a bigger thing. If you want to have better players, make sure the sport’s as fair as possible. Otherwise they’ll play anything else.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Muguruza: wins back to back, first time since May 2019.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    Doha: Ranoic, Tsonga fall. Youth d. Experience.

    Moutet d. Raonic 7-6 7-6. Thought Raonic needed to stick it to the kid. Turned out otherwise.

    Kekmanovic d. Tsogna. Another toppling of the guard.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Moutet creating some Rios magic yet again. Raonic on his way to journeymanhood? Or already there?

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Putintseva is a bulldog fierce competitor, one of the fiercest. Collins means business. She wants those 2019 AO semi points back.

  • Jon King · January 8, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    Many of us have had this discussion with the USTA but they refuse to listen. The current tournament and rankings system makes zero sense and actually hurts the players development.

    Why have a system that rewards either out right cheating or at the very least, more manipulative girls, to succeed? Why have a system that chases away shy girls when many kids are shy at younger ages and later grow out of it?

    Junior girls tennis already has one big flaw that hurts development. Pushers win at young ages while kids who try to go for shots lose at young ages. Many kids who go for shots get dismayed and quit long before they gain the upper hand at older ages. So junior girls tennis will always be populated by a large percentage of pushers and defensive players.

    So we are left with a pool of cheating, manipulative, mean girls, mostly from affluent families, who play a very defensive style.

    Frankly, its amazing we get the top 100 caliber women players that we do. In most cases it takes a pretty determined tennis parents to guide them through and succeed despite the USTA system.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    Sinner has a problem. He was so good last year, everybody knows it now. Now he’s expected to win and keep rising. Now he has to deal with the blowback of doing so well last year. That x on his back could fit on king kong.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Jon could write a book about USTA junior player development.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    Losing early in Doha is better than early in Australian. Still a surprise. Tsonga sometimes has these results, but Kecmanovic has been playing well and has the “never going to be Novak” chip on his shoulder. Moutet has a lot of ambition. I’m sure Raonic is upset.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    Milos should be upset. I couldn’t see the match, but someone said that he was coming in on weak approach shots in the 2nd set TB. That is a rookie mistake.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    Nick Kyrios vs Cam Norrie was too one-sided to be entertaining. Nick played well, and Norrie made a lot of UFEs, for a quick 6-2, 6-2 win by Team Australia.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    Raonic has not had a statement making win a long long time. He has suffered many journeyman losses like this one to Moutet. Until he he can prove he can beat the elite and second tier elites in the ATP, Raonic is unfortunately a journeyman. It’s a what have you done for me lately business.

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    Siegemund beat Gauff in 3 sets in 2 hours, 15 minutes. So the Coco hype will have to cool down for a while.

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    Brady beats Barty after defeating Sharapova yesterday. What a great week. Maybe I spoke too soon about US women (ha!)

  • Andrew Miller · January 8, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    re Gauff, yeah, the OMG SERENA VS GAUFF was so hyped it won’t even happen (this time around). Pretty irresponsible for Tennis Magazine to put that out there – one thing to look ahead in draw but another to write articles about potential third round matches…before the match is set. Congrats to Siegemund for keeping her cool against the precocious Gauff.

  • Harold · January 8, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    McHale fits right in the Harrison family. Injuries, and never improved. Give her props for making it to the pros from NJ

  • Harold · January 8, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    DeMinaur is the new and improved version of Davydenko. A bit taller, and stronger. I’ll take Shapo to win a Major before the Aussie

  • Hartt · January 8, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    If the first match wasn’t competitive enough to be entertaining, de Minaur vs Evans more than made up for it. What a match, with terrific play from both guys. What a huge win for Evans!

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 12:50 am

    I’m pleased about Siegemund v Gauff because Laura is pretty much a veteran player now, has been around for years, had a lot of injuries and is thought of a distant third in Germany behind Georges and Kerber. Haven’t seen highlights yet but I expect a lot of Gauff winners 🙂

    Garbine is getting her confidence back with Conchita.

    Ashleigh lost in the first round in Brisbane a couple of years ago so her home tournament hasn’t always been easy for her.

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 1:03 am

    Laura did what everyone should do v Gauff – sliced and diced and dropshotted and hit Coco with spin and variety.
    Didn’t try to out hit her.

    Lost a tight first set, kept her nerve and burst the Coco bubble. No substitute for experience.

  • Jon King · January 9, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Siegemund won because she went to lots of forehand slices to keep the ball low and change pace. Gauff has the wrong grip on her forehand like I have said before. An extreme grip like that has trouble with low balls and also with extreme pace. Opponents last year hit hard to Gauff’s forehand to elicit errors, Siegemund kept the ball low instead. Either tactic will work vs that grip.

    Neither Gauff’s dad or Patrick M. are technical coaches. Until that grip is changed, which is a big project its highly unlikely she will be able to win a major.

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 1:11 am

    Jon – the girls who don’t just play defensive and lose early should remember BJK who served and volleyed from the moment she picked up a racquet and wasn’t particularly good as a junior player – in fact I don’t think she ever won a junior title. Kept at it though. She also played a lot of doubles.

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 2:01 am

    Usual sight in Shenzhen – completely empty stadium. When the Finals were played there in 2019 spectators could be spotted but they were probably paid to attend and given a day off from work. Or maybe just rows of clockwork dummies wound up to clap and cheer.

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 4:07 am

    WTA Highlights Gauf/Siegemund devoted most of the time to the first set, a brief look at the second and around 1 minute to the third 🙂

    Laura lobbed effectively as well, from the little I could see. In fact in those last two sets it seems she played perfect tactics.

  • catherine · January 9, 2020 at 6:42 am

    https://www.wtatennis.com/news/1564676/steve-simon-the-wta-and-our-sport-is-in-very-good-hands-with-these-new-champions-

    Reading between the lines, when you get past Simons’ robot-speak about ‘metrics’ and ‘investment’ and ‘properties’ is that women’s tennis isn’t making enough money on the court, some of the rinky-dink glamour promotional ideas aren’t working and not enough business persons are opening their wallets. And that stuff about China is pie in the sky, or Simons hasn’t taken a look at any Chinese tournaments lately. The most popular Chinese player comes from Taiwan which complicates matters.

    On a more cheerful note – the attendance is Auckland is good, it’s always been a popular event.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 9, 2020 at 7:30 am

    Brady has a model body now, major body transformation. Same as Kiki a few years ago.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 9, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Gauff is expected to win now. Three Mouratoglous in her box with the father. Big business big pressure. The wta tour and usta need her to win. That’s a lot of pressure on a high school soph.

  • Hartt · January 9, 2020 at 8:07 am

    Catherine, thanks for the link to the WTA piece. I felt a duty to read it. 🙂

    One thing I found strange, along with all his usual references to “product” ahead of sport, was no mention of Naomi when he talked about young WTA stars, but of course Coco was there both times. Naomi finally got a mention when he talked about “Asia Pacific.”

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