MELBOURNE, Australia — The future and the past of men's tennis were on display, and in sharp contrast, at the Australian Open Thursday.
The future wears his cap backward, has striking blue eyes and the kind of long, straggly blond hair that has hordes of teenage girls here all atwitter. His name is Lleyton Hewitt, he is an Australian prodigy who will turn 19 next month, and he is currently playing so well that, despite a ranking of No. 17, appears to be a cinch to work his way into the men's semifinals, probably against defending champion Yvegeny Kafelnikov.
Thursday, he sent the No. 30-ranked player, veteran Alex Corretja of Spain, away in embarrassment. On the center court of Rod Laver Stadium, before a packed house of 15,021, Corretja, the 1998 ATP Tour Tournament champion who finished that year at No. 3, had to crush a backhand winner just inside the line late in the third set to salvage one game against Hewitt. The 6-0, 6-0, 6-1 score was unthinkable against a player the caliber of Corretja.
At least Hewitt had some empathy, unusual for his age group of tennis player.
"I tried not to look at him," Hewitt said. "I wouldn't like to be in that situation. I don't think anyone can imagine, on center court . . . it's probably embarrassing."