Hewitt’s big chance to go out with a bang

The tennis gods have at last been kind to Lleyton Hewitt and delivered the retiring champion a dream Australian Open draw.

Hewitt will take on young countryman James Duckworth in the first round of his record 20th and final Open tilt.

So often pitched into early-round confrontations with grand slam heavyweights Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Hewitt has been handed a golden opportunity to bow out of tennis with a fairytale charge to the second week of his beloved home major.

Hewitt will be favoured to get past the 134th-ranked Duckworth, his Sydney neighbour and regular summer hitting partner, to set up a likely meeting with Spanish veteran David Ferrer.

Very much at the mercy of the draw, 34-year-old Hewitt could have fared far worse than a projected second-round clash with eighth-seeded Ferrer, at 33 also in the twilight of his long career.

American 31st seed Steve Johnson, Brit Aljaz Bedene, Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci or fellow Australian wildcard Jordan Thompson are potential third-round opponents for Hewitt.

Open officials will be hoping the sentimental favourite – who has shown strong form in exhibition lead-up events – rides a wave of emotion and patriotic fervour all the way to the second week for the eighth time.

“It’s a dream first round for the event that Hewitt and Duckworth match up,” tournament director Craig Tiley said at Friday’s draw.

Hewitt wasn’t the only local to have fared well, with none of the nine Australian in the men’s event drawing a seed in the first round.

Seven Australians landed in Hewitt’s quarter, including 16th seed Bernard Tomic, who opens against Uzbeki Denis Istomin after retiring midway through his Sydney International quarter-final on Friday in order to get to Melbourne to prepare.

Tomic was trailing Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili Tomic is guaranteed to avoid a higher-ranked rival until at least the fourth round, where he could face a showdown with world No.2 and four-time Open runner-up Andy Murray.

Nick Kyrgios drew Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in his opener, with his first major test likely to come in the third round against Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych.

If he matches his quarter-final run of last year, Kyrgios is projected to joust with four-time champion Roger Federer for a place in the last four.

Federer, who plays Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, was pitted in the top half of the draw headed by world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic, who opens against Korean Hyeon Chung.

Australian women’s No.1 Samantha Stosur meets a qualifier first up.

Stosur could run into Monica Puig, the Puerto Rican who knocked Australia’s one-time US Open champion out of the Sydney International this week, in round two and then fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in round three.

Australian No.2 Daria Gavrilova faces Lucie Hradecka and could strike Czech sixth seed Petra Kvitova in the second round.

World No.1 and defending champion Serena Williams will launch her quest for a seventh title against Italian Camila Giorgi, the highest-ranked player in the 128-strong women’s draw not to be seeded.


Men’s singles, first round

16-Bernard Tomic v Denis Istomin (UZB)

29-Nick Kyrgios v Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)

Sam Groth v Adrian Mannarino (FRA)

John Millman v Diego Schwartzman (ARG)

Lleyton Hewitt v James Duckworth

Matthew Ebden v Marcel Granollers (ESP)

Jordan Thompson v Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)

Omar Jasika v Ilya Marchenko (UKR)

Women’s singles, first round

25-Samantha Stosur v qualifier

Daria Gavrilova v Lucie Hradecka (CZE)

Ajla Tomljanovic v Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)

Jarmila Wolfe v qualifier

Storm Sanders v Alexandra Dulgheru (ROU)

Priscilla Hon v Annika Beck (GER)

Maddison Inglis v 21-Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)

Kimberley Birrell v 9-Karolina Pliskova (CZE)

Tammi Patterson v 20-Ana Ivanovic (SRB)

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