The 31-year-old earned himself a spot in the final of the invitational event with a stunning 6-3, 6-2 demolition of world number six Tomas Berdych. Countering the Czech’s power with rampant court coverage and accurate hitting from the baseline, Hewitt dominated his higher-ranked opponent and reminded fans of the form that brought him two Grand Slam titles in the early 2000s.
The straight sets win followed another excellent display earlier in the week. Facing the hard-serving Milos Raonic, Hewitt withstood searing temperatures and a barrage of aces to edge the Canadian youngster in a final set tie-break. In the Kooyong Class final on Saturday, he will face either Juan Martin Del Potro or Marcos Baghdatis.
Casual tennis fans may be forgiven for thinking that Hewitt had already retired, but in actual fact he has played a fairly busy schedule in recent years, curtailed only by injury and subsequent surgery. His late career has been accompanied by less noise and bluster than the vocal - and sometimes controversial - Australian caused during his heyday, but he is still out there, grinding and counterpunching and desperate to win.
Who knows how much longer the former world number one would have dominated the game were it not for the arrival of Roger Federer? From 2004-2005, Hewitt lost to the eventual champion in seven consecutive Grand Slam events: he was consistent challenger, but didn’t quite have enough firepower to derail the Swiss on the biggest stages . As the decade progressed, the tactical, relentless and attritional game that won him so many plaudits - not to mention titles - was taken a step further by Rafael Nadal, who matched Hewitt for intensity but outdid him when it came to power.
Many players, accepting that their glory days were at an end, would have bowed out of the tour, and it would not have been a surprise to see Hewitt, with a growing family and increasingly serious injuries, step off the court for good.
Instead, the man from Adelaide continued to train, and continued to seek advice from coaches. At Kooyong this week, it was clear that retirement is far from his mind, and he spoke like a young gun at the beginning of a promising career, rather than a wounded veteran hoping to recapture some of the old magic.
“I look up at Rochey (coach Tony Roche) and I can see him happy with some of the stuff that I’m doing. What we're trying to do out there is become a better player,” said Hewitt after defeating Berdych. "I feel like I can still compete against the best guys, otherwise I wouldn't be putting myself through all the grind of getting up and doing all the hard preparation.''
Motivated, clear-thinking and injury-free for the first time in years, there are very few top players who will want to see Lleyton in their section of the Australian Open draw. The former US Open and Wimbledon champion still rues the loss of the Australian Open final to Marat Safin in 2005, and he loves nothing more than performing in front of a boisterous home crowd.
Although his chances of winning the “Slam that got away” are slim, there are few better dark horse picks at the 2013 Australian Open than Lleyton Hewitt, one of the feistiest, most battle-hardened competitors in the history of the game.