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First-round defeat for Lleyton

Lleyton Hewitt said he was "disappointed" to be knocked out of the Open so early, losing in straight sets to Serb Janko Tipsarevic 7-6 7-5 6-3.

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Lleyton Hewitt’s high hopes of reviving his fortunes at his 17th Australian Open were given short shrift when he was out-slugged by bespectacled Serb Janko Tipsarevic on the opening evening.

While the veteran displayed many of his trademarks – the c’mons, the plucky scrambling, clever court craft and clean volleying – he was unable to overcome his opponent’s advantage in power, falling in straight sets 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 in slightly over three hours.

Like many a champion footballer, Hewitt retains his skills, but in his 30s – he turns 32 next month – no longer has the zip that allowed him to compensate for his  power deficit.

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Strain ... Lleyton Hewitt stretches to return a Tipsarevic shot on Monday night. Photo: Joe Armao

That said, the distance between Tipsarevic and Hewitt wasn’t enormous. It remained pretty constant, though.

There was only one phase of the match – early in the second set – when one could say that Hewitt was actually in a commanding position and this would prove fleeting.

While the first set was very tight, without a break of serve, Tipsarevic was able to raise his game in the tiebreaks, as the better player so often does, and as Hewitt so often did. Hewitt’s better moments – particularly in the opening three games of the second set, when he gained two service breaks – invariably saw him playing with aggression.   

Fair game ... Lleyton Hewitt, left, congratulates Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic.

Fair game ... Lleyton Hewitt, left, congratulates Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic. Photo: AP

Hewitt had entered this Open in a positive frame of mind, having beaten three top 15 players in the Kooyong warm-up. While Kooyong form can be fool’s gold, there was a sense that the Australian, having had a rare run of good fortune with injury, might cause some havoc if he managed to get past ‘‘Tipsy’’, the Serb whose glasses make him look like a welder, but reads Russian novels and is decidedly cerebral in his interests.

Hewitt’s game plan was evident from the outset. He would attack, seeking to close the points quickly. This is a counter-intuitive feature of Hewitt’s later career – that he must play aggressively, rushing the net and hitting winners, when his size and relative lack of power suggests he would play a more patient game.

Hewitt surmised long ago that he had to play a ’’front foot’’ game – take the game on, because he could not win those exchanges of power at the baseline, when the players duel like woodchoppers, before one gradually assumes control by pushing his opponent around.

Ana Ivanovic of Serbia plays against Melinda Czink of Hungary at Rod Laver arena. Click for more photos

Australian Open, Day 1

Ana Ivanovic of Serbia plays against Melinda Czink of Hungary at Rod Laver arena. Photo: Joe Armao

So, Hewitt’s greatest risk would be to take none. He took them and, for a time, his bold approach had him well placed – in the second set he took a 3-0 lead, with two breaks of serve. But, unlike the Hewitt of yore, he could not keep the foot on his foe’s throat.

If Hewitt was luckless to draw a player of Tipsarevic’s calibre in the first round of a grand slam event, the tennis gods gave him slight respite on net cords; nearly every time the ball clipped the net, it would land in the Australian’s favour. He also was successful in challenging erroneous line calls on several occasions.

So much was riding on the outcome. Had Hewitt prevailed, he would take Tipsarevic’s advantaged position in the draw, giving him an excellent chance of progressing into the fourth round. And once you’re in the second week, as Hewitt said, ’’who knows?’’. Tipsarevic told Jim Courier in the after-match interview that Hewitt was not an ideal first-round opponent.

‘‘No, no please don’t tell me I’m playing Lleyton,’’ was how the Serbian described his reaction upon learning second-hand who he would be playing under lights on Rod Laver Arena. ‘‘It’s as tough as it gets.’’