The Lleyton Hewitt farewell show goes on with the retiring champion extending his storied Australian Open career with a stirring first-round win over countryman James Duckworth.
A who’s who of Australian tennis, including Hewitt’s past four Davis Cup captains – John Newcombe, John Fitzgerald, Pat Rafter and Wally Masur – were all on hand at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night to see the former world No.1 in action for possibly the last time.
Another ex-skipper, the great Neale Fraser, former Australian cricket stars Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist, Olympic swimming gold medallist Michael Klim, Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne along with actors and other celebrities watched from the President’s Box.
Thousands of fans with the hottest ticket in town also queued outside to take their seats after Rafael Nadal’s shock five-set loss earlier delayed the start of the big show.
But they needn’t have worried as 34-year-old Hewitt fended off Father Time – and retirement – for at least one more time and two more days with a typically spirited 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 6-4 win.
“He loves it – it’s amazing,” Newcombe said from his courtside seat in the Seven Network commentary bunker.
The victory – featuring 28 winners, four service breaks and more than the odd signature “come on” – set up a second-round crack at Spanish eighth seed David Ferrer on Thursday night.
If he finds a way to win that, Hewitt will be back at Melbourne Park on Saturday playing for a dream spot in the second week in his record-setting 20th consecutive Open campaign.
First, though, Hewitt must recover from Tuesday’s sapping win.
The 2005 finalist needed two hours and 23 minutes to put away Duckworth and, apart from a brief reprieve in the second set, there was barely an easy moment.
Once the five-set king of tennis, Hewitt has lost his past six matches that have gone the distance and even his most loyal of fan must have been nervous when Duckworth gained a break to charge to a 4-2 lead in the third set.
But, not for the first time in his celebrated career, the baseline warrior rallied back to level for 4-4, then broke Duckworth one final time and raised the roof after clinching his first grand slam victory since last year’s Australian Open with a trademark topspin lob on match point.