Perhaps there is some mathematical formula, adding in career injuries and lifetime five-set matches, that could more accurately calculate Lleyton Hewitt's tennis age. Surely, after yet another protracted scrap that ended his U.S. Open Tuesday, Hewitt is much older than his chronological 32 years.
That he lost to Russia's Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5, did not seem as much to the point as how it took 3 hours, 58 minutes to finish.
Hewitt was ahead 4-2 in the fourth set, 5-3 in the fifth, serving for the match. Yet his weakness for the thousand-years-war approach -- to just keep keeping on -- allowed Youzhny, himself a counterpuncher, to hang around for the next momentum change.
One rally late in the third set consisted of 46 hits. And wasn't especially atypical.
"We obviously had some long rallies out there," Hewitt said. "And, yeah, the game at 5-all in the fifth, I could have easily won. Just missed a backhand on game point to go up 6-5."
Hewitt plays a headstrong game, as opposed to a powerful one, stubbornly hanging in, holding on, persevering, persisting, plugging away. In his native Australia, young children are called "ankle biters," and that image of an annoying kid pestering an elder always has fit the 5-11 Hewitt against the game's figurative giants.
"He's a great fighting player," Youzhny said. "He is fighting every point, every match."
Youtzhny is himself a tour veteran at 31 and twice a U.S. semifinalist. Still, Hewitt's 2001 Open title seems forever ago, the year Hewitt became the youngest man ever to be a year-end No. 1. He was 20.
He won Wimbledon in 2002 and twice was a major-tournament runner-up, but his tennis results haven't kept up with his almost annual physical ailments -- a cracked rib, knee injury, back injury, hip surgery, hand injury, foot surgery, toe surgery.
Hewitt's 2001 title victim, Pete Sampras, is long retired. "Yeah, I've played through a couple of generations, I guess," Hewitt said. "Obviously, back then, the way I moved on the court was pretty good, the way I counterpunched. There's a lot bigger, stronger guys out there now dictating play."
These days, even baseliners like the world's Top Three -- Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray -- have emphasized an offensive aggression that displays none of Hewitt's long-suffering style.
Djokovic demonstrated that, mowing down Spaniard Marcel Granollers, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0, and Murray beat Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4. 6-4, after Hewitt fell just short of reaching his first Slam quarterfinal since 2009 Wimbledon.
He had been enjoying a surprising run, upsetting 2009 Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the second round in five sets. He acknowledged how that "took a lot out of me."
It could be that, when the Ashe Stadium roof is finished in 2016 or '17, Hewitt still will be persisting. "I don't know, mate," he said, a bit wearily. "No idea."