Last local to take on Lleyton Hewitt at Australian Open has advice for James Duckworth

Canberra tennis coach Todd Larkham still remembers been demolished by Lleyton Hewitt at the 2003 Australian Open. Photo: Graham TidyLleyton Hewitt’s last hurrahAustralian Open 2016 set for huge day oneMore tennis news

Todd Larkham still remembers the day Lleyton Hewitt ran him ragged on Rod Laver Arena as cramps set in and the then world No. 1 showed no mercy to an “Aussie battler” from Canberra.

So as the only compatriot to play against Hewitt at the Australian Open, Larkham has some simple advice for James Duckworth ahead of his round-one clash on Tuesday – enjoy the ride.

Hewitt is playing his 20th and last Australian Open as he winds up a remarkable career.

It comes 13 years after Larkham went toe-to-toe with Hewitt on centre court and the former US Open and Wimbledon champion hasn’t encountered a fellow Australian since.

Hewitt was the world No. 1 in 2003, while a 28-year-old Larkham was No. 235. The result was a landslide 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 Hewitt triumph.

Asked if he could remember the match, Hewitt said: “I think it was pretty quick”.

Larkham laughed, “No doubt it was, it was like he was conserving his energy.

“It was in the second round and I cramped badly in the first round and had a brutally long match. I was in the change rooms in the corner, cramping and feeling sick.

“The only guy who was there was Jason Stoltenberg, I asked if he could get me a drink, some ice and the doctor because I was really hurting. The problem was he was Lleyton’s coach.

“So they knew I wasn’t in a good way and the first five games of the match, Lleyton hardly missed a ball and ran me from side to side.

“After the first set I thought to myself, ‘I’m pretty shot here’. But Lleyton’s always been supportive of other Australians on tour and at the end he shook my hand and said: ‘Well done, you’ve had a fantastic week’. Coming from the No. 1 in the world, that was great.”

Larkham was in charge of the Nick Kyrgios camp this time 12 months ago, joining forces with the Canberra 20-year-old to make it to the Australian Open quarter finals against Andy Murray.

But fast forward a year and Larkham was in Traralgon on Monday as part of his coaching duties while Kyrgios got ready for his first match of the grand slam and Hewitt prepared for his last tournament.

Hewitt’s first hurdle is Duckworth, who has the unenviable task of trying to end one of his mentors’ careers in Melbourne.

Most in the crowd will be cheering for a Hewitt fairytale and hoping for a run through the early rounds to mount one last challenge for the title.

But like Larkham, Duckworth is standing in the way as a potential villain.

“Actually, the crowd was pretty fair to me even though I didn’t play very well. I was just an Aussie battler, a journeyman who got his crack,” Larkham said.

“I gave it everything I could and the crowd could see I was struggling, but I fought for every point.

“The crowd will probably be on Lleyton’s side, but they’ll still respect Ducks. Ducks has got a game where he could definitely trouble Lleyton. He can mix it up … I’m tipping it will be a close one but Lleyton in five.”

Larkham is coaching the next batch of Canberra young guns, including 12-year-old Annerly Poulos, who is trying to qualify for the junior girls Australian Open.

His coaching career started not long after he had a chance in the spotlight against Hewitt.

“I’d played tennis all my life and here I was on Rod Laver Arena … it was a dream come true, it was pretty special,” Larkham said.

“I think I won maybe 30 points for the whole match. A year later I played Andre Agassi and I played much better.

“But with Lleyton, the main memory I’ve got is trying to get a ball past him and I couldn’t. He was so quick then, his anticipation was unbelievable. It’s pretty amazing that he’s still going.

“It’s a phenomenal achievement … 13 years ago I played him and didn’t get a point off him but he’s still going now, amazing stuff.”

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