Lleyton Hewitt has played the last singles match of his tennis career, losing to David Ferrer in the second round of the Australian Open.
Former world number one Hewitt, who won two Grand Slam titles, was beaten 6-2 6-4 6-4 by the Spaniard.
“I left nothing in the locker room. My whole career I’ve given 100%,” said the 34-year-old Australian.
“I love coming out here and competing. I’ve been so fortunate to have that opportunity 20 years in a row.”
Hewitt, who won 30 singles tour titles, was victorious at the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002 and also helped his home country win the Davis Cup twice – in 1999 and 2003.
“Playing for Australia has always been my biggest honour,” added Hewitt, in an emotional interview at Rod Laver Arena.
“I feel honoured to have had this support and this love from this crowd. It means so much for me.
“I’ve had so much success in big matches on this court and I feel fortunate to finish here. It’s the perfect place to finish.”
Despite ending his singles career, Hewitt has at least one more match to play before becoming captain of Australia’s Davis Cup team.
He partners countryman Sam Groth against Finland’s Henri Kontinen and Australia’s John Peers in a second-round men’s doubles match on Friday.
‘You were an idol of mine’
Some of the biggest names in tennis paid tribute to Hewitt.
Roger Federer: “Thank you for everything you have done for tennis. I’ve loved every moment. I’ve enjoyed listening to you as a commentator as well, and I wish you all the best now with your family.”
Rafael Nadal: “I have always had something special with you. You are a big inspiration of my tennis and my mentality. I think your love and passion for this sport is a great inspiration for the next generation too. Thank you very much.”
Andy Murray: “You were an idol of mine when I was growing up and you’ve always been so nice to me and helpful on tour and I really appreciate that. Enjoy your retirement, it is well deserved. Good luck mate.
Nick Kyrgios: “You’ve taught all us young kids a lot so hopefully you’ll still be hanging around. I just want to repeat what I’ve been saying to you: Don’t go mate, you’re playing such a high level of tennis, you’re definitely still the best player in Australian tennis.”
Ferrer, who will next meet American Steve Johnson, said: “It’s a sad day because Lleyton is finishing his career. He’s an amazing player. It’s a pleasure to play against him in his last match.
“He’s such a fighter until the last ball. He deserves all the tributes – he is one of the best players in history.
“I never had idols but he is one for me. I have a T-shirt signed by him from seven years ago. I have a museum in my house and that is in it – it’s the only T-shirt of a tennis player I have.”
Hewitt’s career – the highlights
- Qualifies for the Australian Open in January 1997, a month before his 16th birthday, the youngest qualifier in tournament history.
- Captures his first title, at his home town of Adelaide, over fellow Australian Jason Stoltenberg in 1998 after stunning Andre Agassi in the semi-finals.
- Becomes the youngest ever world number one aged 20 and nine months in 2001, breaking the 69-year-old record set by American Wimbledon champion Ellsworth Vines, aged 21, in 1932.
- Wins his first Grand Slam title at the 2001 US Open, beating Pete Sampras 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 6-1 in the final.
- Crowned Wimbledon champion a year later, crushing Argentina’s David Nalbandian 6-1 6-3 6-2 in the final.
- Member of two Australian Davis Cup-winning teams, over Spain in 2003 and France in 1999. He played in 41 ties, winning 58 singles and doubles matches for his country between 1999-2015, an Australian record.
Russell Fuller – BBC Radio 5 live tennis correspondent
“Hewitt had seven break back points to level the second set at 4-4, but Ferrer saved them all, and belief in a trademark Hewitt fightback all but disappeared.
“The 34-year-old’s final set was not without some champagne moments – improbably chasing down a drop shot and dinking the return crosscourt for a winner will live long in the memory – but Ferrer is not the sort to offer anything in the way of encouragement.
“Hewitt squeezed every last drop out of his career, and his injury ravaged frame: he will retire as a Wimbledon and US Open champion, a former world number one – and a national treasure.”