Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic have put friendship first to have a centre-court work-out together on the eve of their US Open showdown in New York.
In a scenario unimaginable when Team Tomic snubbed Hewitt at Wimbledon six years ago, the Davis Cup teammates capitalised on a small window after Serena Williams’ match on Wednesday to enjoy a one-hour session at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
There were no practice sets, which may have been a good thing for Tomic, who deems himself a slight underdog in the all-Australian second-round showdown on Thursday (7am Friday AEST).
That may seem preposterous given 22-year-old Tomic is the country’s top-rated men’s player at No.24 in the world and 34-year-old Hewitt, a part-time performer these days, is languishing at 355th in the rankings.
Tomic, though, knows rankings will go out the window when he takes on one of Australia’s all-time greatest competitors for the first time in what will be, at the very least, a nostalgic encounter.
In his own words, Hewitt is a legend to Tomic and the young gun admits he’d feel bad ending the veteran former world No.1’s last-ever run in New York.
“I would, but he can also beat me,” Tomic said.
“He is a very good player. Our records in practice are probably about 60 per cent that he has won sets and 40 per cent that I have.
“I don’t like playing him and he doesn’t like playing me because sometimes I do really well against him.
“I just have to go out there and use the moment and have fun. I am sure he will do the same.”
In a way, it would be a fitting farewell from Flushing Meadows for Hewitt if the former champion bowed out at the hands of one of his understudies and Davis Cup teammates.
It would be a symbolic final changing of the guard of sorts, not dissimilar to how Hewitt first clinched the world No.1 ranking with victory over his retiring idol Pat Rafter in Sydney back in 2001 – two months after winning the US Open.
Apart from a spot in the third round for the first time, there is much at stake for Tomic.
Already projected to climb to an equal-career-high 23rd in the world after the Open, the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist would push ever closer to a milestone move into the top 20 with a victory over Hewitt.
Tomic and Hewitt are Australia’s last survivors in the men’s singles draw after Sam Groth’s 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 second-round loss to Spanish 26th seed Tommy Robredo on Wednesday.
Whoever takes the spoils between Tomic and Hewitt will play either French 12th seed Richard Gasquet or Dutchman Robin Haase on Saturday for a place in the last 16, a feat Hewitt has accomplished on eight occasions already.
A second-week appearance at the final major of the year would be new territory for Tomic in the two-time former grand slam junior champion’s best year yet in the professional ranks.
“It’s an opportunity for me,” Tomic said.