The history books will read that he fell for the second year on the trot in the first round, but the truth was that he had a match point but went down in an epic five-setter in attritional 40 degree-plus heat against Italy’s Andreas Seppi – the final score of 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 7-5 says more. 

Naturally, he got to five sets from two set down, doing it the hard way on the showcase court that’s been his regular haunt at his home Grand Slam since after his debut year as a 15-year-old. 

After winning the Brisbane International, the former world No 1 was the favourite – although current rankings didn’t agree with Hewitt at 43 and Seppi No 24. 

Many players have complained of the heat, but none played in it for longer in the first round than this pair – four hours and 18 minutes – and at no point did either relent.

Hewitt’s career-best 23 aces must have eased the physical burden somewhat.

”It was a really tough match,” said Seppi. ”I was struggling at the beginning of the third set. Cramps. I don’t know how I played two more hours. Against Lleyton, you have to do this. He’s such a great fighter, especially here in Melbourne. I was a little bit lucky. You need a bit of luck.”

On the flipside, Bernard Tomic, the self-annointed successor to Hewitt, lasted one set against Rafael Nadal after the pair had to wait for the epic before them to unfold into the scheduled night session. 

Tomic was booed as he withdrew from the match against the world No 1 with a groin complaint after losing the first set 6-4. 

“I feel sorry because the crowd came and it was difficult for me,” he said. “I did what’s best for me. The crowd have to understand that.”

“It was sad. It’s unfortunate. You know, this opportunity I had to play against Rafa was huge for me … could have used a lot of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t compete. It was very difficult for me to say sorry to the crowd. I don’t think they quite knew what was wrong with me. After, when I told them it was my leg, they sort of started to be on my side, which is good that I heard that in the end from their applause.”

In other Australian results Nick Kyrgios and Olivia Rogowska joined Casey Dellacqua in the second round while debutante Storm Sanders and James Duckworth, unlucky to draw Roger Federer, bowed out. 

Hewitt will return to court on Wednesday for another show-stopper, this time with 41-year-old Pat Rafter, also a former Aussie No 1, in the doubles. 

Images via Getty