The general consensus with Lleyton Hewitt’s appointment as Australia’s Davis Cup captain seems to be that he’s the man who can finally reel in our young knuckleheads. But if there’s any man who knows the importance of embracing their inner dickhead, it’s Lleyton Hewitt.
Back in August, Australia’s “next great hope” Nick Kyrgios made headlines for informing Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka of his eskimo brotherhood with fellow Aussie Thanassi Kokkinakis in the middle of a match at the Montreal Masters. Coincidentally, this came just after Hewitt had entered into an ongoing mentorship role with the 20-year-old, who has had a history of on-court tantrums.
The hope at the time, as it seems to be now, is that Hewitt, having had a similar attitude problem at the same age, would be a calming influence on Kyrgios, getting him focused back on playing the sort of tennis that got him to two slam quarterfinals as a teenager.
Instead, Kyrgios seems about as temperamental as ever. About as unapologetic over the Wawrinka incident as Usher is for unleashing Justin Bieber on the world, Kyrgios proved determined to show he hadn’t learnt his lesson with three code violations in seven days between the Japan Open and Shanghai Masters. If Hewitt was to have an effect in the wake of Montreal, shouldn’t we have seen some improvement by now?
The explanation for why we haven’t is actually pretty simple: Hewitt isn’t interested in reigning Kyrgios – or Bernard Tomic for that matter – in at all. He actually alluded to this in his statements on Monday, where he acknowledged that Kyrgios has to “be who he is to a certain extent”, and why not? It certainly worked out well for Hewitt.
Winning the US Open in 2001 at the age of 20, Hewitt backed up that victory and his newfound number one ranking with a Wimbledon title in 2002 and another year-end finish in the top spot. This happened to coincide with his rise as one of world sport’s most disliked athletes – a tag he was still carrying around in 2006. And while Hewitt has certainly mellowed out in recent years, it doesn’t change the man he was when on top of the tennis world.
It seems like many Aussies are waiting on Kyrgios and Tomic to have the sort of “road to Jericho” moment that happened to another temperamental tennis prodigy, Roger Federer, but such a personality change is the exception – not the rule – as Hewitt’s own youthful success clearly shows. Looking not just at Federer, but Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, it’s easy to forget that the even-tempered, selectively-passionate approach doesn’t work for everyone. Hewitt’s job here isn’t to give Kyrgios and Tomic and smack across the head as much as it is to push them in the right direction, helping them find their own balance between focus and passion. If he does manage to pull that off – and that’s a big if – the results could be extraordinary.