The timing of this article couldn't be more ironic...
After watching Lleyton Hewitt getting socked by Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first round of the Montreal Masters, this article was the only way to get some semblance of sorts, and a sneak peak into the two Hewitts: circa and the present.
Presently, there isn't much to delve on Hewitt as a case study [speaking in a strictly detached manner], and if a newbie latching onto Hewitt would take the trouble to go through and compare the videos of his past performances and of one like yesterday's, the reactions to follow wouldl be worthy of attention of face-readers.
For, the past and the present versions of Lleyton Hewitt appear at first sight, to be starkly different not just physically but even mentally, before the comparison manifests into some nagging factor to which I can't point my finger; a factor which though enigmatically abstract, governs my mental picture of Hewitt.
This is the second in the series of articles under the US Open rewind series, and fittingly, an article on a player, who was predicted to be the future of the men's tennis world in the days to come, to rule unequivocally and whose transition from a boy to a man was completed in as many minutes as he had managed to bundle up and pack his rival on the court, in the match we are going to re-count here.
Speaking of the rival, one can hardly forget the credentials of the American who was standing as the last hurdle in the way of the brash, yet endearing Aussie, and who had battled his way into the finals fighting his own range of demons.
For Pete Sampras, this final raised the baritone of hope placed on him to an altogether different level; still seeking a record fifth US Open title, Sampras had crossed over to the finals, belting and whacking his way past three formidable rivals, one of them responsible for a crushing defeat a year before at the same place.
Quelling the likes of Pat Rafter, Andre Agassi and Marat Safin, Sampras looked completely poised to garner his fifth at Flushing Meadows, and the bustling Aussie was not the man touted to thwart him this time.
But the "bustling Aussie" had no such generous plans; he had come this far and he looked in his elements as he played, determined, so as not to leave the stadium without seeing his name engraved on the silver cup.
He played as though there was no tomorrow; from each and every corner of the court, Hewitt loomed and raged at the seemingly hapless Sampras who seemed to age during the match before everyone's eyes - just like that!
The counter-punching tactics that Hewitt employed against his opponent, outmanoeuvred Sampras completely and forced him to commit errors on many points.
Sampras's errors filled the statistics counter as though he had forgotten how to control and produce winners off his racquet; the man of the moment seemed to wilt under pressure somehow.
Tired by his mammoth feats prior to the final, Sampras was utterly devoid of his magic touch and looked like he was completely out-of-sorts with the game and what it was offering at that particular time.
The tone of the match, however, was set in the first game itself when Sampras's impeccable serve was broken for the first time after running for a course of 87 consecutive games in the tournament, and though Hewitt got his serve broken immediately in the next game, the serve-break became a sort of ominous sign that certain things were about to change.
Sampras lunged and Hewitt throttled, Sampras pounced and Hewitt swatted it like a fly; barring the first set where Sampras managed to take his opponent to a tie-breaker, the course of the next two sets was like prying off the Sampras hold from the match systematically, in a shrewd and calculating manner.
And then just as the tempest had begun...it was all over...11 years since the legend had won the same tournament as a teen, yet another youngster had etched his name on it; Lleyton Hewitt proclaimed to the world that he had arrived and was probably here to stay...his was the world to rule and after watching him play that day, no one could doubt his gumption, ability and perseverance to win the majors.
And this vehement prediction couldn't have been verified any stronger as Hewitt went on to win the year end masters and finish as the youngest World No. 1; the new kid on the block had arrived and very possibly...a domination from the guys Down Under had started yet again!
Although sadly, the prognostications about Hewitt didn't really take off much in the days to come, snipping what could have been an illustrious career to what is now merely, a shadow of the past.