Born in 1981, Lleyton Hewitt had followed the achievements of another super talented youngster in the early 2000's Marat Safin, cracking the Top 100 at the age of 17 and playing a breakthrough season in 2000 when he scored almost 70 wins and entered the Top 10 after 61 ATP wins, still as a teenager.
Just like Safin, Lleyton managed to become world number 1 at the age of 20 in 2001 after playing 98 matches (Marat competed in 100 in 2000) and winning 80 of those, including titles at Queen's, the US Open and Masters Cup! The Aussie had won back-to-back titles on grass in June and he had two early exits in North America and Cincinnati semi-final before going all the way at the US Open for his first Grand Slam title.
In another similarity to Marat Safin's 2000 season. Lleyton defeated Pete Sampras in the title match 7-6 6-1 6-1 in an hour and 54 minutes to become the fourth and so far the last U20 champion in New York! A year earlier Sampras halted him in the semis but Hewitt was just too good this time around, playing against only two break points and getting broken once in the entire match.
On the other hand, the youngster grabbed 45% of the return points and he clinched six breaks from 13 chances, racing towards the finish line after winning a tight opener in the tie break. The American held serve in 87 straight games before the final but Hewitt ended that streak in the very first game of the match, staying in touch with a big server in the shortest points and outplaying him completely in the longer rallies to keep Pete at only five groundstroke winners and almost 40 errors! Hewitt kicked off the match with a forehand down the line winner that gave him an instant break, only to get broken at love in the second game after a double fault.
Pete saved a break point in game five with a service winner and he had a chance to move in front in the following game, denied by a solid attack from Lleyton who leveled the score at 3-3. Both players served well in the rest of the set and Hewitt grabbed the tie break 7-4 after a volley error from Pete that gave him a huge momentum before the rest of the match.
The American defeated three former champions just to reach the final but he had nothing left in the tank for Hewitt who was on virtually every ball, covering the court beautifully and forcing Pete to play risky shots and often from awkward positions.
Sampras had to save two break points in the second game of the second set and he fired two service winners to avoid the setback but Hewitt found the way to break in game four for a 3-1. With no free points from his serve, a four-time champion had to battle with the error-free rival from the baseline which turned into a disaster for him, as he sprayed another volley mistake to give Lleyton a break in game six.
The Aussie closed the set with a service winner a few minutes later for a 6-1 in just over 30 minutes and nothing stood between him and the maiden Grand Slam crown now, playing on a much higher level than Sampras and showing no sign of nerves what so ever.
A backhand cross court winner sent Hewitt in front in the opening game of the third set and there was no way back for Sampras, being passed by another groundstroke winner from the Aussie in game five to trail 4-1. Hewitt held with a service winner in game six and he completed an impressive triumph with another break in game seven, blasting a backhand return winner to start a huge celebration of what had been the biggest title of his career up to that point.
After conquering the Masters Cup at home in Sydney in November, Lleyton had become the youngest world number 1 since the rankings was formed in 1973. ALSO READ: