There were many reasons to be astonished by Lleyton Hewitt's
first-round loss on Monday at Wimbledon. History? They've been
doing this tennis thing at SW19 since 1877, and never before had
a defending male champion lost so early to so lowly an opponent.
Improbability? The 203rd-ranked Ivo Karlovic, a 24-year-old Croat
burdened by a speech impediment and the knowledge that he'd won
only four of his 10 career matches on the ATP tour, was playing
in his first Grand Slam event. Personality? The top-seeded
Hewitt, whose unmatched grit made him, two years ago, the
youngest No. 1 ever, went out--to borrow one of the pet phrases
he uses to abuse officials--"weak as piss," 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The most amazing aspect of the day was how little anyone cared.
Word of the upset traveled across the All England Club as an
interesting bit of news, but nothing more: There was no moaning
by fans and no hand-wringing about how this year's tournament,
already battered by a rash of withdrawals, couldn't survive his
departure. Tennis has had many unloved champions, but even
McEnroe, Connors and Nastase built up reservoirs of goodwill with
flashes of humor or style. Hewitt's reservoir is dry as dust.
Since breaking out at the 2001 U.S. Open, Hewitt, 22, has
alienated every constituency in the game. His demand to remove a
black linesman during a match against James Blake, an
African-American, in '01 was only the beginning: He has been
heard during matches referring to opponents as "arseholes"; he
has called the administrators at the ATP "liars"; and he endeared
himself to his home country by speaking about "the stupidity of
the Australian public."
Hewitt has now burned through two coaches and placed his career
in the hands of former tennis player and Aussie Rules footballer
Roger Rasheed. Before Wimbledon, Hewitt lost a week of practice
watching girlfriend Kim Clijsters play in Paris, then filed a
bizarre $1.5 million lawsuit against the ATP for "defamation"
because it fined him for not doing a TV interview last year. (The
ATP says the suit is without merit.)
June 29, 2003
Hewitt said on Monday that none of that was a distraction, but
when a no-name like Karlovic can say of the world's No. 2 player,
"I saw him play last week, and he didn't play anything special; I
was pretty prepared to win," something has gone spectacularly
wrong. Whether anyone is rooting for it to be put right is
another question entirely. --S.L. Price