Lleyton Hewitt’s last ride made it to the next stop after he defeated fellow Aussie James Duckworth in round one of the Australian Open on Tuesday night. At 34 years old, Hewitt is competing in the final tournament of his career. He was not about to let it end without at least one more match victory in Melbourne. Hewitt had little trouble in taking out Duckworth 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4.
The going will likely get much, much tougher on Thursday. Standing in Hewitt’s way of the last 32 is fellow veteran David Ferrer. Surprisingly, they have faced each other on only three previous occasions. Ferrer leads the head-to-head series 2-1 following a 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Hewitt at the 2012 U.S. Open. All three of their previous contests have come in Grand Slams; Hewitt initially prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 at Wimbledon in 2006 before Ferrer scored a 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory at the French Open in 2008.
Ferrer’s 2015 campaign is not off to a strong start. The 33-year-old Spaniard played outstanding tennis in 2015 to qualify for the World Tour Finals despite missing two months (including Wimbledon and the entire U.S. Open Series prior to the season’s final slam) with an elbow injury. But momentum evaporated with a first-round Doha defeat at the hands of Illya Marchenko and a loss to Jack Sock in the Auckland semifinals. Still, Hewitt knows the kind of tennis his opponent can play.
“He’s like a brick wall out there,” the two-time major champion said of Ferrer. “He competes as well as anyone on tour. He moves great. Everyone thinks he just makes balls, but he’s a pretty aggressive baseliner out there. He doesn’t get back too far behind the court. I give myself a fighting chance. It’s going to be tough, I know that. But I feel like I’m hitting the ball well enough to go out there and give him a good run.”
What is sure to be a raucous Australian Open crowd will not let their man leave without anything less. On paper this may be a mismatch. But it would only be fitting for Hewitt to bid adieu after a five-set war, and his performance against Duckworth suggests he is capable of turning it into just that. In the end, however, Ferrer be too strong and too consistent from the back of the court.
Prediction – Ferrer in five sets