Lion-hearted Lleyton Hewitt has fallen painfully short of extending his Wimbledon career and joining fellow grand slam champion Samantha Stosur and young guns Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic in the second round at the All England Club.
Hewitt saved three match points before succumbing 3-6 6-3 4-6 6-0 10-8 to veteran Finn Jarkko Nieminen in a pulsating encounter lasting one minute shy of four hours.
Three times Hewitt enjoyed a service break in the epic deciding set only to falter and pass the baton to Kyrgios, Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis after a storied 17-year professional career.
The 34-year-old plans to retire after making a record 20th success Australian Open appearance next January.
The former world No.1 promised “to leave it all out there” in his Wimbledon swansong – and he did.
The father-of-three’s 17th and last tilt at SW19 featured vintage backhand topspin lobs and a series of remarkable Boris Becker-like diving volleys.
And of course a ton of courage.
After receiving treatment for thigh and toe troubles, Hewitt looked down and out when he trailed 15-40, serving at 4-5 in the epic final set.
But after delivering an unreturnable wide serve, Hewitt saved a second match point with a lunging forehand volley and then a third with another bold advancement to the net.
But nine games later, Hewitt finally submitted, firing a forehand long to prolong Nieminen’s own Wimbledon career.
Nieminen next faces world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in what is also the 33-year-old’s final Wimbledon.
Hewitt’s marathon match was in stark contrast to Kyrgios’s 84-minute cakewalk against Argentine Diego Schwartzman.
The 26th seed’s biggest concern in a 6-0 6-2 7-6 (8-6) victory was the chair umpire, with Kyrgios threatening a mid-match strike during a dispute with Mohamed Lahyani during the third set.
Kyrgios, though, regained his composure to advance to a second-round meeting with either Juan Monaco or Florian Mayer.
“I came out strongly. I haven’t played too much tennis lately. I’ve been sick,” said Kyrgios, who has been battling a sinus infection and elbow soreness that restricted him to one match since the French Open.
“But it’s great to be back on the grass. I barely missed a ball for the first two sets and I’m going to gain so much confidence out of that third set. I had to dig deep.”
Stosur, who has ventured beyond the second round just twice in 12 previous visits to the All England Club, made a promising start to her campaign.
The 22nd seed downed Montenegro’s world No.92 Danka Kovinic 6-4 6-4 and next faces either American Edina Gallovits-Hall or Pole Urszula Radwanska.
Matt Ebden gave Australia four players in the second round with a 6-2 6-1 6-4 success against Slovenian qualifier Blaz Rola.
But Kokkinakis and struggling Marinko Matosevic joined Hewitt in crashing out on the opening day of the championships.
Argentina’s 24th seed Leonardo Mayer ousted a gallant Kokkinakis 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 in a punishing three-hour three-set encounter.
But the youngster lamented being unable to summon the necessary energy in the punishing three-hour encounter after battling a debilitating stomach bug over the past week.
Matosevic blew a two-set advantage against British wildcard Liam Broady to crash out 5-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-3.
The capitulation was Matosevic’s 11th straight defeat and he faces the grim prospect of tumbling out of the world’s top 150 after the tournament.