Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It took Aussie Lleyton Hewitt a couple of years to make some big noise on the ATP, but he did it in style this season, finishing as the youngest-ever year-end No. 1.
The 20-year-old star soared through the last three months of the season by winning 22-of-24 matches. The white-hot streak started at the U.S. Open in New York, where Hewitt brushed aside the field to capture his first-ever Grand Slam event title, and ended in Sydney, where he won all five of his matches to secure the prestigious Tennis Masters Cup.
In the process at the Masters Cup, Hewitt also became the first-ever Australian year-end No. 1 by overtaking stumbling Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. Hewitt needed a little help to become No. 1, and "Guga" was more than willing to oblige.
Kuerten headed into the ATP's season-finale with a 48-point lead over Hewitt in the Champions Race, but the South American star failed to win a single match in the round-robin portion in Sydney (0-3), while the surging Hewitt posted a perfect 3-0 mark to reach the semis.
Hewitt officially became No. 1 when Kuerten lost to Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov and the young Aussie whipped countryman Patrick Rafter on Day 5 of the $3.7 million event.
The fiery Hewitt headed to Sydney trailing Kuerten the 48 points and left town with a lopsided 102-point advantage over a seemingly-helpless Guga.
Hewitt, Kuerten and Andre Agassi were all in contention for the year-end No. 1 spot, but it was Hewitt who took control by pasting the world No. 3 Agassi in his second match of the week at the lucrative Masters Cup. The spry Aussie went on to beat Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-4, 6-3, in the semis and Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, in the final at Sydney's SuperDome. Hewitt also stopped Grosjean on Day 1 of the eight-man tourney.
Grosjean took the opening set against Hewitt last Monday, the only set the athletic Aussie dropped all week in Sydney (11-1).
The aggressive Hewitt was a brilliant 79-17 in 2001, including a season-high 17-match winning streak; won an ATP-high-tying six events; and pocketed more than $2.25 million in prize money. His Masters Cup check alone was worth $1.52 million. And the Adelaide native isn't through playing tennis yet in 2001, as his Aussie squad, which will include the semi-retired Rafter, will battle a French team, which will include Grosjean, at the Davis Cup final in Melbourne, starting November 30.
A then 18-year-old Hewitt helped the Aussies defeat France in the 1999 Davis Cup final.
Hewitt loves to play Davis Cup -- and it shows. He's an unstoppable 6-0 in Davis Cup action this year and 16-4 lifetime in tennis' ultimate team event.
A determined Hewitt would love to make up for last year's Davis Cup disappointment, as Ferrero defeated him in Barcelona to clinch Spain's first Davis Cup championship.
Hewitt, who turned pro in 1998, entered the 2001 season having never won a Grand Slam event or Tennis Masters Series tournament. But all that changed in the past few months.
Heading into 2001, he was one of only a handful of players to win ATP titles as a teenager, joining the likes of Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Agassi, Andrei Medvedev (what's he doing on this list?), Michael Chang, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras. As a matter of fact, Hewitt had hoisted seven trophies while still in his teens, and last year, he became the first teenager to win four titles since Sampras turned the trick in 1990.
Hewitt was a brilliant 79-17 in 2001, including a season-high 17-match winning streak.
(Photo by Empics)
Before Hewitt, a 22-year-old Connors was the youngest to reach No. 1, in 1974 -- one year after computerized rankings were introduced.
Hewitt officially put himself on the tennis map by dismantling the great Sampras in September's U.S. Open final. The four-time U.S. Open champion Sampras, who had beaten the likes of former U.S. Open titlists Rafter, Agassi and Marat Safin to weave his way into the final, still doesn't know what hit him in Flushing.
It was Hewitt!
The Aussie did a 7-6, 6-1, 6-1 tap dance on the fading American star, who took it on the chin in the Open final for the second time in two years, as Safin slapped Sampras silly in the 2000 championship match.
Hewitt's climb to the top was underway, as he would suffer only two more setbacks the rest of the season -- one to German Tommy Haas in the Stuttgart semis and one to Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti in the second round of the TMS Paris.
Obviously, the losses did not effect his mind set heading to Sydney, as Hewitt promptly rolled through the competition (5-0) to give Australia its first Masters Cup champion.
"I feel confident at the moment," said Hewitt. "It's been a great two months. Since winning the U.S. Open, it's been getting better and better."
Maybe it should come as no surprise that Hewitt is dating a brilliant female tennis star -- world No. 5 French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters of Belgium. Both players have big games, and Clijsters, like her beau, has the tools to sit atop the tennis throne.
Only time will tell for Clijsters, who, earlier this month, helped Belgium win its first Fed Cup title.
But clearly the time is NOW for Lleyton Hewitt, Australia's newest/biggest sports star.
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