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Winston-Salem, First Round

Kavcic d. Hewitt, 6/4 7/6

The news is now a long day old that Lleyton Hewitt has withdrawn from the US Open, a tournament he won a decade ago. What meagre shock the announcement might have engendered has surely sluiced away quickly, and barely exceeded the dull queasiness caused by his loss to Blaz Kavcic earlier in the week, which shocked me most by not surprising me at all. Is this how the Hewitt tale will end, with Monday exits and wildcards handed back? Spirit willing yet flesh weak?

The weak flesh was in his foot, which has been slow to mend. He felt twinges during the match, yet played on. In stark contrast to, say Tsonga or Djokovic, Hewitt’s heart proved sufficiently willing, and so he battled lamely on to the loss, and thence to a US Open withdrawal. Both Tsonga and Djokovic pulled out of far more important matches, and have been widely and justly lambasted, but they will be playing in New York. There’s a lesson here somewhere . . . Let’s make it even clearer: back in June Hewitt retired to Olivier Rochus at Eastbourne, having felt a familiar twinge in weak flesh, and deciding it was hardly worth jeopardising his increasingly Quixotic campaign to recapture Wimbledon. He made it all the way to the second round, and scrapped mightily in going down to Soderling (before the Swede contracted whatever afflicted him against Tomic). In the scheme of things it wasn’t much, but nor was it nothing.

Sadly, the lesson is that precautionary retirements will almost always prove more prudent, especially with a major just around the corner. But that hardly makes them right, or anything more noble than an attempt to game the system, at the expense of the tournament, the crowd and ones opponent. Hewitt was right to have played on against Kavcic, just as, say, Nadal was right to play on against Ferrer at the Australian Open, instead of shrugging wryly, and condescendingly pointing out that he probably wasn’t going to win anyway, as though we didn’t get it. We are right to question Tsonga and Djokovic’s pissweak defaults, decisions born of the common cynicism that seeks dignity through naming itself expediency.

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