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Lleyton Hewitt's foot-in-mouth outbreaks

Max Bania

By Max Bania

Published: 5:57PM Wednesday June 24, 2009 Source: ONE Sport

C'monnnnnn Lleyton, pull your head in.

Like a fat kid at a buffet bar, the Aussie former world no.1 just can't resist the temptation to smear egg all over his face at any opportunity.

Now approaching veteran status on the ATP Tour, the 28-year-old Hewitt is determined not to let it show. 

In fact, as his playing powers wane, it seems increasingly likely that the "Aussie battler" will be better remembered for his public displays of petulance than his remarkable on-court tenacity and resolve.

A nagging baseliner, Hewitt stepped briefly into the power vacuum left by retiring giants Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in 2001. Two grand slam titles later, he was unceremoniously shunted aside by a new breed of power players led by Roger Federer, Marin Safin and Andy Roddick.

Since then he has toiled with limited success against bigger, craftier opponents, with his world ranking slipping to 67 at the end of last year.

But even in lean times, his big mouth and comparatively-small brain have kept him near the headlines.

Although his latest foot-in-mouth flare-up - asserting that women aren't fit enough to play five-set matches  - ranks among his more innocuous of insults, it still adds to a rich tapestry of Hewitt howlers that prompted GQ magazine to name him as one of the ten most hated athletes in sport in 2006.

It does raise one interesting question though: does his ongoing affliction actually inject much-needed flavour into men's tennis?

After all, every show needs its pantomime villain, a role that Hewitt has filled with gusto for the best part of a decade.  His will be a hard act to follow.

And in an age of political correctness and media over-training that has rendered the hot-blooded ilk of McEnroe, Connors and Ivanisevic an endangered species, could it be that tennis needs Hewitt as much as Hewitt needs tennis? 

Probably not, no.

A timeline of Hewitt indiscretions

January 2000: A teenage Hewitt, upset after his hometown crowd raucously cheered on his unheralded Aussie opponent Dejan Petrovic during the AAPT Championships in Adelaide, slams "the stupidity of the Australian public" at a press conference.  Hewitt goes on to win the tournament but a month later, Inside Sport magazine rates him as Australia's least-admired sports person.

May 2001: Hewitt is fined US$1000 for calling chair umpire Andres Egli a "spastic" during a French Open fourth round match.  Hewitt apologises, but declines an invitation from the Spastic Centre of Australia to visit one of its centres. "It's a great shame that having spasticity, which is one of the major conditions associated with having cerebral palsy, should be used in such a derogatory way," says Spastic Centre chief executive Rob White.

September 2001: Hewitt is accused of racism during a match against African-American opponent James Blake at the US Open.  Upset at twice being foot-faulted, Hewitt approached the umpire  demanding the linesman in question - also an African-American - be changed.  "Look at him", Hewitt said, gesturing first at Blake and then at the linesman, "look at him and you tell me what the similarity is".  Hewitt insists there were no racial overtones in his outburst, escapes punishment and wins the tournament, beating Pete Sampras in the final.

January 2005: Juan Ignacio Chela takes exception to Hewitt's on-court histrionics during an Australian Open match.  The Argentine, furious at Hewitt having celebrated an unforced error, deliberately serves directly at Hewitt and then spits at him during the change of ends.  Hewitt's rift with Argentina deepens during a spiteful Davis Cup tie that culminates in Argentinian newspaper La Nacion listing Hewitt as the country's fifth most-hated sportsman. "You really feel like killing him", says Argentine player Guillermo Coria. "As a person, I would rather not win a single tournament in my life than be like him".  Compatriot David Nalbandian later reveals that "nobody [on tour] is a friend of him".

January 2005 and 2006: Hewitt blames his exits from the Australian Open on the slow and uneven rebound ace surfaces at Melbourne Park.  "I don't think there's been a lot of homework done on how the balls play on this surface & I feel like I'm fighting with people that we should be working together to try and make Australian tennis better," he tells a press conference in 2006, insinuating that event organisers should be tailoring the surface to better suit his own game.

June 2008: Hewitt cops a US$1000 fine for unsportsmanlike behaviour during his first-round Wimbledon clash with Dutchman Robin Hasse.  Ignoring a warning from chair umpire Fergus Murphy, Hewitt smashed his racquet on the ground and launched several verbal tirades at a line judge for foot-faulting him.  When asked if Murphy was right to call his conduct unsportsmanlike, Hewitt says: "I would doubt it. No, I would be fighting that".

June 2009: Hewitt stirs controversy at Wimbledon by suggesting females should not play five-set matches because they don't possess sufficient fitness levels.  "There would obviously be question marks (over whether) a lot of them could last that much", Hewitt tells reporters. 

He does however stop short of declaring that women shouldn't write poetry, in spite of the spectacularly-banal ode to true love that wife Bec penned for their 2005 wedding

tvnz.co.nz has live coverage of Wimbledon and a dedicated Wimbledon site. Check it out here .

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