A month shy of his 33rd birthday, father-of-three Lleyton Hewitt is back as Australian No.
1 following his earth-moving victory over Roger Federer.
And not even a successful title defence from Bernard Tomic at this week’s Sydney International can deny Hewitt the honour of spearheading the local assault at the Australian Open.
Hewitt’s Brisbane International triumph – his first ATP title in Australia in almost a decade – catapulted the former world No.1 from 60th to 43rd in the new rankings released on Monday.
Tomic dropped one spot to No.52 and must deliver an impressive encore in Sydney to avoid falling further ahead of the season’s first grand slam in Melbourne starting next Monday.
The 21-year-old could drop outside the world’s top 70 with an unsuccessful campaign in Sydney and will also be under pressure to defend a bunch of points from reaching the third round at Melbourne Park last year.
Hewitt has no such concerns.
The baseline warrior is back inside the top 50 for the first time since 2010 and has a great opportunity to climb higher up the rankings having no points to defend in Melbourne after a first-round defeat in 2013.
Hewitt’s Brisbane victory also sent his prize money earnings crashing through the $US20 million barrier.
He picked up $82,040 for his 29th career title, taking his on-court earnings to $US20,002,153 ($A22.41 million).
Like Tomic, Hewitt’s rankings goal now will be to crack the top 32 by mid-year to ensure he is seeded at Wimbledon in June.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash finds Hewitt’s story heartening but admits he’s also a tad disappointed the veteran is Australia’s top-ranked player in the twilight of his career.
He finds it weird that Hewitt hasn’t been permanently usurped by younger compatriots.
“It’s really inspiring to see that Lleyton is 32 and is playing so well,” Cash said on Monday.
“But in some ways, it’s slightly disappointing that he is still the top Australian.
“That is not taking anything away from Lleyton, he is a great player. But you would hope to have some other guys in the top 10, 20.”
Cash and Hewitt are the only Australian men to have won Wimbledon in more than 40 years and Cash warned it would be years before the next generation of talent emerges from the one-time superpowers of tennis.
Australia boasts two of the world’s hottest junior prospects in Wimbledon junior doubles champions Nick Kyrgios, 18, and Thanasi Kokkinakis, 17, but expects fans will have to wait before they make a genuine impact on the big stage.
“We have got a lot of depth. We have got a lot of good young players coming through and I think that is the encouraging thing,” he said.
“But it just takes a few years for players these days to come through.
“It’s a tough sport out there … (Lleyton) just goes to show how experience goes a long way, and players are around a lot longer these days – you see players hitting their peak mid-20s and even later.”