January 11, 1998: Lleyton Hewitt wins first ATP title at the age of 16


by   |  VIEW 4381
January 11, 1998: Lleyton Hewitt wins first ATP title at the age of 16

Super talented Lleyton Hewitt had made his professional debut on the big scene of the Australian Open in 1997 when he qualified for the main draw at the age of 15, losing to Sergi Bruguera in three sets. A year later, he entered the home Adelaide event ranked 550th (tournament director Colin Stubs gave him a wild card) and went all the way to win the title in what was only his second ATP tournament in a career!

Lleyton had become the lowest-ranked player who lifted an ATP trophy and he is also the third youngest (16 years and 10 months) behind Aaron Krickstein and Michael Chang who did that in the 80s. On January 11, Lleyton took down his future coach Jason Stoltenberg in two hours and nine minutes in the final for a fantastic success, making one of the biggest surprises of the year and writing his name in the record books.

Hewitt was the regular visitor at the Memorial Drive Park but only to train and compete at some junior events, making a huge step forward now and acting like a real pro, in both the mental and physical aspects. Hewitt's first ATP win came against Scott Draper and he held off Mark Woodforde's challenge in the second round, saving a match point in a 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 victory.

Things started to look serious when he toppled Vince Spadea, reaching the last four where he faced the only player outside the top-100, no other than a former world no. 1 and his idol Andre Agassi. Lleyton showed the spirit of a true champion once again, beating Agassi 7-6, 7-6 in the match with no breaks (Andre had five break points, Lleyton two) to reach the ATP final just a week after being only a local high school kid.

Jason Stoltenberg was his ultimate rival and the match went into a third set tie break, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats all the time. Virtually nothing could separate the players but Lleyton won his fourth tie break in Adelaide that week, beating Jason 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 after a volley error from Jason to win the first out of many ATP titles and start a huge celebration.

Lleyton had turned pro on the very next day and he was ready to chase the biggest tennis dreams, becoming one of the best players in the world in the next year and a half and dominating in the early 00s to lead the new generation together with Marat Safin, Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero.