Tennis: Fans and rivals hope Hewitt will have a long farewell run at Australian Open

Lleyton Hewitt hitting a shot during a practice session at Melbourne Park on Jan 16, 2016.
Lleyton Hewitt hitting a shot during a practice session at Melbourne Park on Jan 16, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Lleyton Hewitt embarks on his emotional farewell tournament with rivals and fans hoping for a deep run at the Australian Open in his 20th and final attempt starting on Tuesday.

The Aussie warhorse, renowned for his all-or-nothing fighting spirit, is pitted against young compatriot James Duckworth in a likely night match on Rod Laver Arena with the threat that every match could be his last.

Adding poignancy to his last hurrah is that the 34-year-old has not won his home Grand Slam in two decades, although he came close, losing the 2005 final to Russian Marat Safin.

Record Grand Slam champion Roger Federer said he has always admired Hewitt's work ethic and fighting spirit.

"We always got along well. It was sometimes feisty on the court, but it was always respectful," said fellow 34-year-old Federer. "I always admired his work ethic, his on-court fighting spirit, even though it annoyed me sometimes because in the beginning it was more crazy than now."

Rising home star Bernard Tomic said all of Australia would be cheering on Hewitt in the first of hopefully many matches at this year's Australian Open.

"We all want Lleyton to win. It's going to be an amazing match," Tomic said. "Then again, James is also Australian. It's a bit strange. But I think James is also looking at this, if he can win this match, he knocks off Lleyton in his last match in his career, it's also a big opportunity for him.

"I'm excited. I'm going to be watching it. All of Australia is going to be watching it. It's going to be a very, very exciting match to watch."

For his part Hewitt, a former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam-winner, said he would be in a unique situation playing an Australian for only the second time at his home Grand Slam in two decades.

"It is a unique situation. It's something that I haven't had to deal with, playing another Aussie on Rod Laver Arena," Hewitt said. "Yeah, it's awkward, but in another way it's fun to go out there with 'Ducks'. I've been helping him the last few years. He's been part of the Davis Cup squad on a number of occasions. He's a great kid.

"I'll just try to go out there and put on a good show."

Duckworth is one of Hewitt's proteges in Australia's Davis Cup squad, of which the veteran player is now captain.

Duckworth, 23, finds himself in an invidious situation being in a position of possibly ending Hewitt's career and playing the spoiler.

"It's not something that I'd like to do. But sort of been put in this position now," Duckworth said. "Yeah, I guess if I win, I'll apologise to him. But, yeah, I'm going to have to sort of put that out of my mind and go out there and try to play my game, give it my best shot."