Aussie continues to play well at the US Open despite being on the wrong side of 30.
Lleyton Hewitt admits he feels right at home in the US Open old boys club, practicing with fellow 30-something Roger Federer and facing another, Mikhail Youzhny, for a place in the quarter-finals.
The Australian first played the tournament back in 1999 and won the doubles in 2000 before collecting the singles title with a victory over Pete Sampras in 2001.
Federer made his New York bow in 2000; Youzhny in 2001.
However, all that longevity pales in comparison to Tommy Haas, the 35-year-old German who first played the season’s concluding major in 1996 and was back for a 16th time this year before Youzhny ended his hopes in Sunday’s third round.
Despite being 32 years old and almost seeing his career ruined by a foot injury which was only saved by a radical bone operation, Hewitt is reveling in the twilight years of his time on the tour.
He has even shared a couple of grueling training sessions with Federer, also 32, at Flushing Meadows.
“Roger and I have hit quite a bit the last couple of years. I’ve had some really good practice sessions. Once he was coming here, I just got in touch to see if he wanted to hit some balls,” said father-of-three Hewitt.
“I was surprised that Roger was here Monday morning and wanted to hit at 10:00. We hit for two hours, then another two hours in the afternoon.”
Hewitt, a former world number one and Wimbledon champion in 2002, reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the 30th time in his career on Sunday with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 win over Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy.
Hewitt, who knocked out sixth seed and 2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round, last reached the fourth round in New York in 2006, when he went on to the quarter-finals.
“It’s always great to come back to New York where it all started for me. I have played some of my best tennis here,” he said.
The 32-year-old world number 66 will next face 31-year-old Youzhny, who knocked out Haas, for a place in the quarter-finals in a match where he will start as favorite having beaten the explosive Russian five times out of six.
“We obviously want to keep playing. We love the game so much,” said Hewitt. “At least I know who I’m playing. Half the draw I don’t know anymore.”
Hewitt and Federer, two of five men in the last 16 who are over 30, have built up a strong bond during their careers which are now into their third decades.
He shares the Swiss star’s passion for the game despite his battle with injury and Federer’s slump to seven in the rankings, his lowest since 2002.
“When you’ve been to the top you want to keep playing. The reason you’re playing is for the majors. For me, Davis Cup as well. For him, I’m sure it’s the majors. I have no doubt about it,” said Hewitt, six months older than the great Swiss.
“Good on him. If he doesn’t play as many tournaments like he has this year so he can play majors for the next couple years, I think that’s great.”
Federer and Hewitt first met in 1999 in Lyon with the Australian coming through in three sets.
They have gone on to play a total of 26 times with Federer at 18-8 in the ascendancy and with Hewitt managing just one win in their last 17 meetings.
However, Federer, also a father now, is a fan of the Australian’s staying power.
“He’s been one of my biggest rivals on tour, so I always like to see him do well, particularly here under the lights in New York. He deserves it. He has gone through a lot,” he said.