WIMBLEDON, England -- A year ago, the party of six in a busy corner of the Butcher and Grill on High Street was in good spirits. Lleyton Hewitt and his coach, Tony Roche, were laughing over a few pints with other members of the team. You would never know the day's tennis had ended in defeat. Hewitt lost his first-round match to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, but here they enjoyed a good meal and each other's company.
Sadly, a year later we must report that the Butcher and Grill is now officially defunct, a Village memory. Hewitt, on the other hand, is still pressing onward.
On Wednesday, after he lost a second-round match to qualifier Dustin Brown 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-2, there were no tears or kisses blown to the crowd as in Andy Roddick's 2012 farewell. Hewitt, head down and sodden, rushed off the court while Brown -- ranked No. 189 among ATP World Tour players -- walked around, dazed, in his own bath of tears after only the third major win of his career.
Will Hewitt be back at Wimbledon?
"Yeah, definitely," he said.
But then he added, "We'll see."
For 16 years now, this has been Hewitt's life and, even at the age of 32 with increasingly diminishing returns, he seems reluctant to give it up. He is a two-time Grand Slam singles champion and for two years B.F. (Before Federer) was the world's year-end No. 1. That was more than a decade ago. Today, he's a .500 player ranked No. 70 among ATP World Tour players.
As fans, we like to think of our athletic heroes in their best light. It's difficult to see them substantially less than their former selves. But Hewitt -- who in recent years has undergone surgery on his toe, foot and hip -- has just enough on-court moments to keep living the life. Like when he raised his ranking a dozen spots by reaching the semifinals a few weeks ago at Queen's Club. Like when he followed that up with a victory here over No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the first set.
And there's always those dinners.
Nearly a dozen years ago, Hewitt became the youngest No. 1-ranked player in the half century the ATP has kept track of such things. He has now won 579 ATP matches, 24th on the all-time list and third among active players, behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
His record over the past three years is a pedestrian 37-36, but he has banked nearly $20 million in prize money alone and if that is not consolation enough, he is the father of three children: Mia (7), Cruz (4) and Ava (2).
Near the end of his post-match news conference a reporter told him the television commentators were suggesting this might be his last year.
"I don't know, mate," Hewitt said. "At the moment, I'm just disappointed. Have to see where we go."
An empty bracket
With the retirement of No. 18 seed John Isner, Ram was the last American man left in the bottom half of the draw. Overall, there are only three remaining -- and none of them are seeded: Bobby Reynolds, James Blake and Denis Kudla.