Hewitt finds plenty of positives in early exit
Bundled out ... Lleyton Hewitt during his loss to Denis Istomin. Photo: AFP
LLEYTON HEWITT will head to Melbourne with a 1-1 record from his only two official tournament matches before the Australian Open, his body no longer giving him any pain but still with some work to do on his game after a 7-5, 7-5 loss to world No.43 Denis Istomin at the Brisbane International.
The 31-year-old will skip his regular Sydney stopover to complete his preparations at the Kooyong Classic for the second time in three years, satisfied with his physical condition, and guaranteed at least three exhibition matches at the annual invitational that this year also features Juan Martin del Potro, Janko Tipsarevic, Juan Monaco, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Marcos Baghdatis and an eighth player still to be named.
''Would have liked another match or two here, but, yeah, I was pretty happy with my ball-striking at least,'' Hewitt said. ''Just didn't quite take my chances today when they came up. Both sets, especially the first set, I felt like I was putting a lot more pressure on his service games and just didn't get rewarded for it.
''When you've had a couple months [with] no matches, it doesn't matter how many practice matches you play. Until you get in that situation of playing the tight points and going for your shots and stuff like that on the big points, that's what counts. The two matches have been absolutely a bonus this week, but, yeah, would have been nice to have a couple more.''
Hewitt has rebuilt his ranking to 83rd after toe surgery in February, but would find himself well back into triple figures by failing to avoid an early exit at Melbourne Park, where he played through constant pain to bravely claim a set from eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round last year.
Having won his opening match 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 against Igor Kunitsyn, Hewitt earned two break points in the opening game against Istomin, but was under increasing pressure to hold his serve as the set wore on, the former world No.1 eventually succumbing in the 12th game with three successive forehand errors.
A healthy first-serve percentage started to drop away in the second, as did a little of Hewitt's aggression, and he was forced to save four break points at 1-2 before suddenly, against the run of play, the Australian broke for the first time himself through an Istomin double-fault. But Hewitt's errors immediately handed back the advantage, and he continued to live dangerously, staring down two more break points in the eighth game.
The next chance was Hewitt's, on the Istomin serve at 5-5, but he was not to glean another, despite his taller, stronger opponent showing his first signs of tension as he struggled to put the tenacious veteran away. The former Wimbledon champion saved one match point in the 12th game, but a final forced backhand error ended the contest after one hour, 45 minutes. Istomin apologised to the crowd after he ended the hopes of the penultimate Australian main draw presence by repeating his quarter-final effort from last year.
Earlier, the Brisbane debut of second seed Milos Raonic lasted a single match, the Canadian's first round bye preceding a 6-3, 6-4 loss to talented young Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. The world No.48, whose game and classic one-handed backhand are often compared to Roger Federer's, has long been bracketed with both Bernard Tomic and 13th-ranked Raonic among the sport's brightest emerging talents and, at 21, much is expected this season from the former Wimbledon and US open junior champion. Having won all 26 of his first serve points against Raonic, Dimitrov will meet seventh seed Jurgen Melzer in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, young Australian pair Luke Saville and Olivia Rogowska have received discretionary wildcards into the Australian Open, joining play-off winners Ben Mitchell and Bojana Bobusic. Saville won the boys' title in 2012, before improving his senior ranking more than 800 places to reach a career-high of 340, while 21-year-old Rogowska finished her best season at No.113.