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It's bizarre: The feel-good story of this year's Wimbledon has centered around one of the game's most confrontational and controversial players, Lleyton Hewitt. After falling off the radar and, let's face it, being left for irrelevancy after having hip surgery in August 2008, the 28-year-old Aussie, ranked No. 56, finds himself in the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since 2006.
Apparently someone forgot to give Lleyton the memo that he's an old man, at least by tennis standards. It's like watching tennis circa 2002, when he won Wimbledon and became the No. 1 player in the world. Age be damned, Hewitt's baseball cap is still turned backward, his hair is still unkempt. He's still shaking his fists and shouting his trademark "Come awwwnnn!" after big moments, and throwing his supporters -- including a rowdy bunch of Aussie fans -- his celebratory salute, the Vicht.
OK, Hewitt didn't start using the Swedish gesture, in which he points his hand to his head, until around 2004, but the point stands: The guy is acting like anything but a parent coming off the kind of major hip surgery that was enough to send other fading stars, like Gustavo Kuerten, into retirement. In the second round, Hewitt defeated the No. 5 player in the world, Juan Martin Del Potro, in a performance so one-sided it prompted John McEnroe to remark that he hadn't seen Hewitt play so well since he hoisted the All England Club hardware. And in the fourth round, the feisty Aussie rallied from down two sets to love to defeat the quirky Radek Stepanek.
Hewitt is moving exceptionally well on the grass. And after a career of trying to beef up his serve, he has finally figured it out. Watch how he's picking his spots, pounding serves to each corner. He may not rack up the aces like his bigger, taller opponents, but he has been no less effective.
What's his age again?
Through the years, Hewitt has battled opponents on court and in court, most famously filing a lawsuit against the hand that feeds him, the ATP tour. Of course, there was the notorious U.S. Open match against James Blake (for which many fans and players will never forgive him) and Spit-gate, involving Juan Ignacio Chela.
There never has been anything subtle or sublime about Hewitt's game. He doesn't care if you like him or not, and couldn't give a toss if you approve of his behavior over the years. Even among fellow Australian players and legends, a laid-back group if there ever was one, he has been a bit of an outcast. Yet there's something reassuring about hearing it again: "Come awwnnn!"
Hewitt's a punk pushing 30, raging against the machine. While the rest of us mellow, it's nice to see that there's still someone out there who'll turn around the baseball cap only when he's damn good and ready.