Tennis: Hewitt hungry to mentor Australia's next generation

Lleyton Hewitt of Australia gestures to the crowd at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on June 29, 2015.
Lleyton Hewitt of Australia gestures to the crowd at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on June 29, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Lleyton Hewitt is keen to mentor the new generation of Australian tennis stars and help them follow in his footsteps by becoming Grand Slam champions.

The 34-year-old, who will retire after the Australian Open in January, is eager to pass on the benefits of his vast experience to Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Australia is home to some of the greats of men's tennis, such as Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Ken Rosewall, not to mention Grand Slam winners like Pat Cash and Patrick Rafter.

However, Australia has not produced a single Grand Slam finalist since Hewitt, who won the 2001 US Open and Wimbledon in 2002.

He feels the new generation are coming into their prime and can at last stop the rot.

"The biggest thing about the three young guys we have now is they all handle pressure and expectation differently but they all thrive on getting out there on the big courts and playing well under pressure," Hewitt said.

"Since me... we've really struggled with guys who can go out there and handle that - and these three guys can."

Bond of trust with Tomic

Tomic is the oldest of the trio at 22 and Hewitt said he had a solid relationship with the world No. 26.

"I like all three guys. I think the last probably three years I've worked pretty hard with Bernie and I think I've built up a good bond there where he certainly trusts me," said Hewitt, who lost in five sets in the first round to Finn Jarkko Nieminen earlier this week in his final Wimbledon appearance.

"Just with small things, whether its about his schedule or preparation. I feel a lot better that he's comfortable coming to me and talking about certain stuff now," he explained.

Hewitt feels it is good for Tomic to have Kyrgios and Kokkinakis racing up behind him.

"With the two younger kids coming through, I think that's been good for Bernie. For a while there, Bernie was just seen as 'my successor'. He was the only one, and that was weighing pretty heavily on him.

"So now there's two other young guys and they all get along well. That's great for Australian tennis. Because if you've got three guys that could possibly be pushing for Grand Slams and second weeks of slams in the years to come, if they all get along well it's perfect."

Kyrgios, 20, has found himself in hot water at Wimbledon over his on-court verbal volleys, but the world No. 29 insists he was firing the abuse at himself rather than the officials.

"As much as Nick is different, he does things his way but he is still able to get the result most of the time," said Hewitt.

Nineteen-year-old Kokkinakis, who jumped at the offer to partner Hewitt in doubles at Wimbledon, said he had grown used to Kyrgios's unorthodox manner.

"It's always a circus when Nick hits the court. I like watching it because I don't know what's going to happen next," the world No. 72 said.

"He's just a different cut. But I find it funny to watch him.

"He does say some stuff which a few people take as disrespectful but I've known him for so long so I'm used to everything he's doing, the way he acts."

Hewitt said he was revelling in his role as the elder statesman of Australian tennis on the tour and is hungry to keep the mentor role once he hangs up his racquet.

"I enjoy helping these guys," he said.

"I try and lead by example more than going out there and actually preaching things.

"Even though my game style is totally different to all three of these guys - they have a lot more weapons and fire-power than me - if they can take some of my big strengths that have helped me over my career then it could really help them too."