When did Lleyton Hewitt last lose a first round match in Melbourne? Actually, it wasn’t so long ago. Australia’s original terrier battled and burned his body over five sets against David Nalbandian in the opening round of Australian Open 2011, losing by the most knife-edge of margins. But, so beloved is the man, and his bionic toe, in Melbourne that it seems strange to imagine an Australian Open without him.
In 2012, of course, Hewitt survived longer than perhaps he and many others might have expected, an injury to Andy Roddick granting him safe passage to the second round. And, being Hewitt, he made the most of it, giving every last ounce to make it all the way into the second week and the fourth round.
And although he quite probably broke the record for wild cards awarded and used in 2012, Hewitt entered Australian Open 2013 with exactly the same intentions. To fight until he had no fight left.
Sadly, he was not given the opportunity. Janko Tipsarevic chose the first night match on Rod Laver Arena to have one of his more consistent evenings on a tennis court, showing some of the form that earned him a title in the first week of the year in Chennai, India.
“He played as well as he could play, there’s no doubt about it,” Hewitt said about Tipsarevic. “He’s only won four titles. There’s not too many guys in the top 10 consistently that have only won four titles. But I’ve seen him play big matches … he’s a quality player.”
Try as Hewitt might, he could find no way in against his bespectacled all-in-black opponent, the only ‘C’mons’ to be seen in the early stages the ones emblazoned on his new clothing line rather than coming out of his mouth.
But although the Serbian No.2 sneaked the first set on a tie-break, it was all Hewitt at the start of the second. Breaking serve, then breaking again, Bec Hewitt was on her feet on so many occasions that her hair decoration feared for its life. The two-time Grand Slam champion gave back one of the breaks immediately, but no matter; he retained one long enough to serve for the second set at 5-4.
Tennis matches come down to shots made and shots missed, and at 30-30, Hewitt missed a shot he should have made. A backhand down the line foundered wide, and Tipsarevic took full advantage. Breaking the Hewitt serve and taking the set, he served his way to a two-sets-to-love lead, and broke to begin the third.
“Against quality players, you got to take those chances, obviously,” Hewitt said. “To his credit, he raised his level and played some great points. Towards the end of the second set, it was more just trying to weather the storm and hang in there more than anything.”
There were glimmers of the trademark Hewitt comeback as the old boy, his face practically purple with the desire to cling on, broke back for 2-3. But it was not to be. Tipsarevic broke again, and served out a straight sets win, 7-6(4) 7-5 6-3 after a shade over three hours.
“Frustration, disappointment, they’re obviously the first feelings,” Hewitt said somewhat dejectedly.
“More so when you put in all the hard yards, you do all the right things. I feel like I hit the ball reasonably well for the match. I didn’t play a poor standard match. He just played too well on the big points.”
Tipsarevic, by contrast, was delighted.
“I think Lleyton Hewitt is as tough as it gets for a first round Australian Open, first Grand Slam of the year,” the Serb said. “I cannot tell you how happy I am, first of all, that I managed to win, and second of all, to win in straight sets.
“I feel it best I could play in important moments of the match. I really look forward to going deep in this tournament.”
But, never fear, Hewitt fans. The ‘R’ word didn’t even come up after the match. He will be back.