Two-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one, Lleyton Hewitt was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame here on Saturday.
Surrounded by family and friends in Newport, the Australian relived his growth from a boy with a dream in Adelaide to one of tennis’ greatest champions in recent memory.
“The Hall of Fame seemed like something that was so far away from me ever being part of,” Hewitt said during the induction ceremony.
“It was never something I ever thought about as a player, and it was always, I thought, for the people that were my idols growing up and the absolute legends of the sport.”
In a stirring induction speech, the 41-year-old took fans from around the world through his journey to the podium in Rhode Island. When Hewitt was a boy, his favourite sport was AFL football, which was played by members of his family, including his father, Glynn Hewitt.
But following a period of research, Hewitt’s parents found a tennis coach for their son in Peter Smith, who had a weekly slot available at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. “Rusty” never looked back.
One of the most important meetings of his life came as a teen when he was introduced to Australian legend John Newcombe at his camp in Texas. Hewitt asked to interview Newcombe for a school project.
“The biggest thing he told me was about the famous Kipling poem ‘If’, and especially about the famous two lines that are written above the walkway out on Centre Court at Wimbledon,” Hewitt said.
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”
Hewitt became the youngest No. 1 in ATP Rankings history at age 20 in 2001. The gritty right-hander captured two major singles titles, two year-end No. 1 finishes, two Nitto ATP Finals trophies and led Australia to two Davis Cup titles.
Before Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic ascended to the top of the sport, Hewitt held the top spot for 80 weeks, good for 10th-most in history. Even when those stars made their mark, “Rusty” scratched and clawed, proving he would never back down.
“I feel fortunate that I was able to play across different generations,” Hewitt said.
“I was able to be on the same court as my heroes that I looked up to, like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and then go on and compete against three of the greatest tennis players our sport has ever seen in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.”