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Australian Open 2016: Melbourne Park - where heroes linger

David Bowie sung that we could all be heroes, if only for 24 hours. 

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One wonders then what he would make of the tennis landscape entering this year's Australian Open, one in which the heroes seem to linger for years.

Take world No.1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, both clear favourites to defend their singles titles at Melbourne Park, where they have collected five and six, respectively. While there has been some movement below Williams, the male order bears similarities with Margaret Court's views on gay marriage - not prone to change.

Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal. The first five men's seeds are aged 28 and over, and while the second Swiss is a relative newcomer to the top bracket, 2016 marks eight years since he shared Olympic gold with Federer, and two years since he broke the big four's grip on major titles.

To highlight the Bowie-esque longevity of these men - consider that Marcos Baghdatis and Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, both former finalists in Melbourne and once seen as possible challengers to the incumbent all-time greats - celebrated their 30th birthdays last year.

On Monday night they meet on the arena named after Court, neither having ever really graduated to regular status on Rod Laver Arena.

So can the stardust be sprinkled away from the same old champs? When looking for inspiration it is worth noting two Italians who last year provided reminders that little can be taken for granted in sport.

Lleyton Hewitt is preparing for his last Australian Open
Lleyton Hewitt is preparing for his last Australian Open Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

For more than a decade Federer had been able to book accommodation in Melbourne for the final week of January, all but certain it would be of use.Then he was bundled out by Andreas Seppi in the third round. 

Williams looked set to complete a calendar year grand slam - before having her charge thwarted unceremoniously by Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows.

More of the same in 2016?: 2015 Australian Open winners Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.
More of the same in 2016?: 2015 Australian Open winners Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. Photo: Getty Images

Neither Seppi nor Vinci were seeded, but their upsets help to plant an important seed in the mind of the fan. Boilovers do happen. Any pro with a racquet can be a hero, if just for one day.

This sense of time standing still can be witnessed in the context of storylines entering the tournament. Australia waits for its under-pressure rebels - Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios - to shrug off their respective foibles and push towards the closing days of the event, terrain last traversed by Hewitt more than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, there is next to no expectation surrounding the Australian women, with Sam Stosur's struggles in these parts long ago becoming the norm. Elsewhere, Daria Gavrilova provokes a little excitement, but it must all be tempered until she can progress beyond the second round at a slam.

And so to Hewitt, the omnipresent centre of attention at this tournament. The star man, waiting for his final ballad. That storied run to the 2005 final remains the only time he has won past the fourth round of his home major.

His first-round foe is compatriot James Duckworth, who acknowledges he will experience a rare moment of villainy for an Australian on home Plexicushion should he end Hewitt's career in one fell swoop - or more likely five-set primetime slugathon.

In a way it will be a good fit if Hewitt's run is ended on Tuesday by a relative no-name. After all it was the South Australian who 18 years ago won his hometown Adelaide international while just 16. Can he be a hero for just one more day?

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