James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE — A day before Lleyton Hewitt’s encounter with 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic the Aussie legend was in a defiant practically Federer-esque mood.
”I don’t care. I’ll knock him off, try to take his spot in the draw,” said the tour veteran playing his seventeenth Australian Open.
And Hewitt, the number one player in the world in 2001, had good reason to be confident. Only last week he had beaten Raonic, Berdych and Del Potro in succession on way to victory at the Kooyong invitational.
With victories such as these, “Rusty” — as he is known to both friends and The Fanatics — with his raucous disciples, had good reason to be confident.
The giant roof opened shortly before the evening match exposing some late sunshine and waiting seagulls who, as expected, had a bird’s eye view.
Two minutes in and Lleyton’s Fanatics were auditioning for X-Factor, led by a young man in a yellow vest and white sailors hat.
“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian”
Indeed, if you are not Australian you couldn’t help but feel patriotic, especially in Lleyton Hewitt’s backyard.
The game started as expected, two diminutive players both under six foot slugged it out from the back, chasing balls like mad Border Collies at a park. The game followed with serve with Janko Tipsarevic employing a harder heavier ball whilst keeping his unforced errors to an absolute minimum. Hewitt meanwhile played his typical passive aggressive which made you wonder if he followed the same maddening route when it comes to verbal arguments at home.
Going 6-5 up Hewitt let out his trademark “Come On,” which made us hope we were going to witness a Lleyton classic. Tipsarevic quickly levelled and subsequently took hold of the tiebreak stunning the home crowd.
Hewitt broke the Tipsarevic serve quickly in the second set, going up 3-0 with an array of well time net advances whilst allowing The Fanatics reason to sing out. Tipsarevic sat mindfully at the changeover, changing his grip to get a grip.
Tipsarevic now focused broke back enabling a spattering of Serbian fans to become more vocal, if note as theatrical. Still Tipsarevic had work to do but his refusal to lie down was enough to rattle the Australian two time grand slam champion. The more Tipsarevic was pushed the more he found a way. Fighting back from 5-3 now Hewitt had lost his way. He was drunk on the brilliance of Tipsy who rallied to win the next four games of the current set and three games of the third set. One onlooking Aussie with a beer mentioned to his mate, “Mate, I can’t remember the last time this Janko bloke hit a bad shot.” To which the mate nodded and downed the rest of his beer.
Lleyton made some minor reprisals in the third set, even levelling the score line briefly, but the Tipsy groundstrokes had no cracks enabling him to run out the win, surprisingly for all in straight sets 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 6-3. Certainly, if Mortal Kombat ever introduced Janko Tipsarevic as a character in their next game, his death move would be a backhand down the line, a weapon his next opponent should watch out for.
Afterwards the courteous Tipsarevic reflected, “I think Lleyton Hewitt is as tough as it gets for a first round Australian Open first Grand Slam of the year. With all the respect to all the other guys who are potential threats, like Davydenko or Monfils or Dimitrov or whatever, I think this is as tough as it gets.”
Notably no mention of retirement was mentioned by Lleyton Hewitt after the game, although in truth the journalists in attendance were too afraid to ask.