Fighting farewell for Lleyton Hewitt as Zhang Shuai marches on at Australian Open
Former world No 1 bows out of his final tournament before retiring with a typical feisty and competitive performance against David Ferrer
Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt bade an emotional farewell from tennis on Thursday after a combustible Australian Open defeat in which he was warned for swearing and slammed the umpire as an “idiot”.
The intensely competitive Australian, roared on by a partisan crowd, could not live with Spain’s David Ferrer and he went down 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to exit what was his final tournament before retiring.
Meanwile, China’s Zhang Shuai said she was living the dream after beating Alize Cornet for only her second ever grand slam win – on her birthday – to keep her remarkable Australian Open campaign alive.
Zhang, who had lost all 14 of her previous slam matches before this week, almost retired last year but after stunning world No 2 Simona Halep in the first round, she followed up with a disciplined 6-3, 6-3 win over the 33rd-ranked Frenchwoman.
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Hewitt, wearing a shirt decorated with the Australian flag, was joined on court after his match by his three children while his wife, former soap opera actress Bec, looked on in tears.
“I gave everything I had, like always, and left nothing in the locker room and that’s something I can always be proud of,” Hewitt said.
“In my whole career I’ve given 100 per cent and I love coming out here and competing.”
Although Hewitt fought all the way in the second-round match, the feisty two-time grand slam winner could not get close enough to the tigerish Ferrer, who broke the Australian’s serve five times.
Emotion boiled over in the final set when, with the match ebbing away, Hewitt was given an audible obscenity warning before he clashed with the chair umpire, calling him a “frigging idiot”.
Hewitt, who turns 35 next month, remains the youngest player to reach the world No 1 ranking in 2001, aged 20 years and eight months.
He won two grand slam crowns – conquering tennis great Pete Sampras in the 2001 US Open final in straight sets, and Argentina’s David Nalbandian at Wimbledon the following year.
But a cherished Australian Open triumph forever eluded him in a record 20 straight attempts, coming closest in 2005 when he went down in four sets to Russian Marat Safin in the final.
Late last night, Hewitt slammed as “an absolute farce” his name being linked with match-fixing claims. He took aim after an anonymous online blog linked him to match-fixing allegations that have rocked the sport.
“I don’t think anyone here would think that I’ve done anything [like] corruption or match-fixing. It’s just absurd.”
Zhang, ranked 100 places below Cornet at 133, said her sudden success was hard to take in.
“It’s like a dream come true. I’m looking forward to the next match, I don’t want to stop right now, I want to keep winning,” said Zhang, who will play America’s Varvara Lepchenko in the third round.
Once ranked 30th in the world, her serial failure at grand slams and a horror 2015 in which she fell eight times in the first round and six times in qualifying convinced her it was time to call it quits.
But her team told her to give it one more shot at Melbourne Park this year, and now on her 27th birthday she has ended up as the last Chinese player left in the singles draw.
“I try to be positive. In my life, I don’t want to be negative. I want everything positive,” she said.
French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who won the Australian title in 2014, reached the third round for the eighth consecutive year with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over 37-year-old qualifier Radek Stepanek.
Fernando Verdasco lost 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) to Dudi Sela, a surprising defeat coming two days after he beat 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal in five sets.
No 14 Milos Raonic had 24 aces as he fended off Tommy Robredo 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 7-5 in a match containing one service break.
Australia’s Bernard Tomic slugged it out to beat Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka continued her strong return from injury with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Danka Kovinic.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press