Tennis Prose



Lleyton Hewitt: “Caged Tiger” At Wimbledon

A colleague from Great Britain Jay Henley told me about the stunningly memorable first time his eyes ever saw Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 1998. Talk about making a powerful first impression…

“While all the other pros including wild card entrant Pat Cash were sheltering from persistent rain inside the very welcoming Forest Hills style clubhouse at the Bank of England sports ground, Lleyton Hewitt was marching up and down besides the court he was scheduled to play on like a caged tiger. It took enormous persuasion from his coach to come inside out of the rain, as he was so hyped to play his first ever Wimbledon match, albeit the first round of qualifying in front of a handful of people. I witnessed all this from under a large tree, thinking I’ll keep an eye on this guy’s career…. Well the rest is history.”

At the time, Hewitt was desperately trying to establish himself in pro tennis. Earlier in 1998, in January Hewitt, ranked 550, shockingly won the singles title in Adelaide at age 16, beating Draper, Woodforde, Spadea, Agassi and Stoltenberg. That triumph vaulted Hewitt to a ranking of 200.

At 1998 Wimbledon qualies, Hewitt clashed that summer day with Sweden’s veteran Nicklas Kulti. Hewitt was now 17, Kulti was 27. Kulti won the match 75 76. In his career, Kulti won three ATP singles titles and reached a career best of 32 in 1993.

In 1999 Hewitt’s sustained his steady progress up the ATP ranks. He won his second title in Delray Beach and soared up the rankings from 100 to 35 by July at Wimbledon where he managed to win two rounds against no. 81 Marcelo Filippini and no. 68 Karim Alami before losing to 77th ranked Boris Becker in the third round in three sets.

Three years later in 2002 Hewitt won Wimbledon by defeating David Nalbandian.

Though Hewitt’s Wimbledon debut in 1998 ended in failure, his efforts and unique, arresting intensity made an impactful impression on Jay Henley, a coach in Oxford, England at Play Loose Tennis Club and owner/operator of the web site

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