Lleyton Hewitt and Donald Young are separated by no more than an inch in size and by only a few pounds. Their games are both based on how they use their legs, as well as their ability to place the ball, rather than how hard they can club it.
Otherwise, the two are a study in contrasts: Hewitt is the consummate early bloomer, winning his first tour title at age 16, winning his first major at 21, and then becoming the youngest man to finish a year atop the ATP Tour rankings.
For all his accomplishments, he has shunned publicity, insisting that he be judged by the victories he fights so very hard to achieve.
Twenty-year-old Young will be a late bloomer, assuming those petals ever poke their way out of the soil. The focus of attention in the world’s biggest media market ever since his excellent junior career, he’s now close to the age when Hewitt first strung seven matches together to collect the 2001 US Open.
But Young had won only his second Grand Slam match just two days before their second round Australian Open match (he made the third round of the US Open in 2007, helped by Richard Gasquet’s withdrawal in round two).
His ’08 and ’09 seasons were abject failures, as he struggled to win even at the challenger level, but this year’s efforts appeared to start in a positive manner. He defeated three credible pros in Marc Lopez, Bjorn Phau, and Takao Suzuki in qualifying, before facing the veteran Christophe Rochus of Belgium.
Despite a slow start against the Belgian, losing the first set 1-6, Young rebounded to win the next three handily. It may have doubled his main draw career GS wins, but it gave the American an unenviable matchup with the former top-ranked Australian.
Hewitt’s the kind of guy who can appreciate wanting more: Close in age to the bigger, flashier Roger Federer and Marat Safin, the Australian has never been the type to accept that anyone is better than he is at tennis.
That attitude, plus the careful riddance of weaknesses from his game, made him the best in the world by the end of 2001, and throughout the entire next year.
Though he eventually lost that status with Federer’s rise, he has never stopped believing that he can be outperform anyone he steps onto court with, at least for one match.
Now almost 29, he’s still seeking his first major title in his home country, years after winning in New York and London.
Therefore, he seeks to finish early matches quickly and save energy for later rounds -- his 1, 2, and 3 demolition of Ricardo Hocevar in round one was a brutal illustration of his ruthlessness.
Knowing that a slow start against Hewitt would be fatal, Young stayed with Hewitt throughout set one, even earning a set point while the Australian served at 5-6. After falling in a tiebreak, Young was up a break in the second at 4-2, and was one point from breaking again and running out the second.
Hewitt, however, knows as well as anyone what denying a break point can do to an opponent’s momentum. He saved that service game, then proceeded to break Young twice and serve out the set. From there he was on a roll and his youthful opponent, as he is prone to doing, folded.
Hewitt took the third set 6-1, sending the American on to his next stop, probably at another challenger. Young out-aced Hewitt 8-7, and before his collapse he had been dictating play, leading the Aussie in both winners and unforced errors.
Much has been said about his lack of size and power, but stats like that show clearly what he is lacking most: will.
On Thursday, his opponent had will to spare.
From Hewitt, Young can learn the importance of fitness to players who have to run a lot. He can learn how to play critical points, and respond when those points go against him.
But one can only guess whether Young can ever learn will. Until he does, victories are going to be rare, and a lot of talent will remain unfulfilled.