There were many reasons to be astonished by Lleyton Hewitt's first-round loss on Monday at Wimbledon. History? They've been doing this tennis thing at SW19 since 1877, and never before had a defending male champion lost so early to so lowly an opponent. Improbability? The 203rd-ranked Ivo Karlovic, a 24-year-old Croat burdened by a speech impediment and the knowledge that he'd won only four of his 10 career matches on the ATP tour, was playing in his first Grand Slam event. Personality? The top-seeded Hewitt, whose unmatched grit made him, two years ago, the youngest No. 1 ever, went out—to borrow one of the pet phrases he uses to abuse officials—"weak as piss," 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The most amazing aspect of the day was how little anyone cared. Word of the upset traveled across the All England Club as an interesting bit of news, but nothing more: There was no moaning by fans and no hand-wringing about how this year's tournament, already battered by a rash of withdrawals, couldn't survive his departure. Tennis has had many unloved champions, but even McEnroe, Connors and Nastase built up reservoirs of goodwill with flashes of humor or style. Hewitt's reservoir is dry as dust
Since breaking out at the 2001 U.S. Open, Hewitt, 22, has alienated every constituency in the game. His demand to remove a black linesman during a match against James Blake, an African-American, in '01 was only the beginning: He has been heard during matches referring to opponents as "arseholes"; he has called the administrators at the ATP "liars"; and he endeared himself to his home country by speaking about "the stupidity of the Australian public."
Hewitt has now burned through two coaches and placed his career in the hands of former tennis player and Aussie Rules footballer Roger Rasheed. Before Wimbledon, Hewitt lost a week of practice watching girlfriend Kim Clijsters play in Paris, then filed a bizarre $1.5 million lawsuit against the ATP for "defamation" because it fined him for not doing a TV interview last year. (The ATP says the suit is without merit.)
Hewitt said on Monday that none of that was a distraction, but when a no-name like Karlovic can say of the world's No. 2 player, "I saw him play last week, and he didn't play anything special; I was pretty prepared to win," something has gone spectacularly wrong. Whether anyone is rooting for it to be put right is another question entirely.