Australian Open 2016: Hewitt v Aussies. Then Larkham. Now Duckworth

Lleyton Hewitt preparing for the Australian Open. Photo: Joe ArmaoFull Nick Kyrgios package wins first roundOmar Jasika, Daria Gavrilova head a day with not much to oi about

The only Australian to play an Australian Open match against Lleyton Hewitt before James Duckworth on Tuesday night becomes the second was unaware of his singular status until receiving a weekend interview request from Fairfax Media. Todd Larkham, best known in the 13 years since for his coaching work with fellow Canberran Nick Kyrgios, was stunned and astonished.

“I went ‘wow’, I couldn’t believe it,” said Larkham, 41, who is spending the week at a junior tournament in Traralgon. “I said ‘are you for real?’ I find it amazing that he hasn’t come up against anyone else. That’s unbelievable. Maybe we haven’t had enough players.”

Or perhaps, considering the host nation’s high annual number of wildcard entrants, that is simply a quirk of the draws, all 19 of them. Still, Larkham’s 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 drubbing in the second round of 2003 remains Hewitt’s only all-Australian affair in his first 49 at Melbourne Park. The former No.1’s wry recollection is of a quick match; for Larkham, a battling qualifier ranked 235th, it was both inevitable and memorable.

Inevitable because he had needed medical assistance after winning a marathon first round against American Cecil Mamiit. After it, as he sat dehydrated and cramping in the corner of the locker-room while his brother and coach Brent was otherwise engaged, the only help Larkham could muster was from Jason Stoltenberg – then Hewitt’s coach.

“I was feeling pretty sick, and the only Aussie guy in the change rooms was Jason Stoltenberg so I asked him if he could get me a drink and go get the doctor. He was coaching Lleyton at the time, but I was desperate! So those guys obviously knew that I was pretty worn out and so the first five six games of that match Lleyton just came out and ran me side to side and by the end of the first set my legs were pretty much gone and I was dead. “

The crowd embraced him though, Larkham recalls, and Hewitt was generous, too, during their handshake at the net.

“It was a pretty bad performance from me, I won two games and it wasn’t great, but the crowd was really good, actually, from my end. I think they were pretty neutral – obviously Lleyton was No.1 in the world and he was the best player in the world at that time.

“The crowd clapped me when I went off and so even though I lost pretty badly, it was a great experience and it was a dream come true, really, to play on Rod Laver. By the time I played Lleyton I was 28 and had played tennis my whole life, and my parents were tennis coaches and I was brought up with the sport, and it was a dream to walk out there, and even though I lost badly I’ve got great memories from it.”

Larkham thinks 134th-ranked Duckworth can expect a typically dogged battle from “one of the greatest competitors our sport’s ever produced”, given that a loss would end Hewitt’s two-decade career, and the 34-year-old will be swept along by a wave of support on the centre court he has graced so often.

“There’s no doubt the crowd will be with Lleyton,” said Larkham. “I think the Australian public has grown to love him because they respect his competitiveness and his effort, and his respect for the game and his opponents. The crowd will want to see him play another match or another few matches, hopefully, so Ducks will have to deal with that. But my advice to him would be just to concentrate on his own game.

“I expect Ducks to be highly competitive, he’s got a lot of variation in his game, and he can adapt his game a little bit to his opponent. Lleyton, tactically he’s very astute, and we know that he’s going to play every point with great intensity and effort, so Ducks is gonna have to use everything he’s got if he’s gonna win the match. “

When another Australian, John Millman, was asked for his prediction after practising with his mate Duckworth on Friday, the Queenslander gave a diplomatic no comment, except to say it was a question to which “there’s no right answer.” Larkham’s tip: in a match the whole nation will be watching, Hewitt to win it in five sets.

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