Duckworth Dreads Sending an Australian Treasure Into Retirement

James Duckworth suggested that he hoped to earn \"a few more Twitter followers\" from his first-round meeting with Lleyton Hewitt.

Published: 18th January 2016 09:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2016 09:51 AM   |  A+A-

James Duckworth suggested yester-day (Sunday) that he hoped to earn "a few more Twitter followers" from his first-round meeting with Lleyton Hewitt tomorrow. If he wins, however, and sends Hewitt riding into the sunset for the last time, he can expect most of the responses on -social media to be vitriolic.

This is Hewitt's climactic tournament, the final stand in a career that has often felt like a tennis western. With his narrowed eyes and -weather-beaten air, he seems to have spent much of the past decade as a high-plains drifter.

However, there was a time - from November 2001 to April 2003 - when he was the fastest gun in the game. He spent 75 successive weeks as world No?1, a figure that only five players in the Open era have exceeded. Now it could all end at the hands of the man Hewitt refers to as Ducks.

Born in Sydney 23 years ago, Duckworth grew up admiring Hewitt's tenacity and fire. Now his emotions are jangling at the prospect of this most double-edged of draws. "It will be a little awkward, a little strange," says Duckworth, whose ranking of 134 compares -favourably to Hewitt's 306. "I guess if I win, I'll apologise to him. But, yeah, I'm going to have to put that out of my mind and go out there and try to play my game, give it my best shot."

Australia's Sunday tabloids were offering free Hewitt posters yesterday to commemorate the occasion. The man has made the most remarkable transition, for in his younger days he was reviled as a punk and a bogan (which in English translates to something like "chav"). Today, he is a national treasure, who will go straight from the court into the highly sought-after role of Austra-lia's Davis Cup captain.

Like David Beckham, Hewitt also has a showbusiness wife, even if Bec Hewitt (or Bec Cartwright, as she in Home And Away) comes across as a little more down to earth than Victoria Beckham.

Hewitt's story should encourage the modern tennis tyros who have succeeded him as objects of public derision. Nick Kyrgios rarely gets through a match without rowing with the umpire, the crowd or his opponent, but there is also Bernard Tomic, whose latest misdemeanour was to pull out of the quarter-final of the Sydney warm-up event last week with excessive nonchalance.

Once this tournament is done, Hewitt's biggest challenge will be to guide this talented but wayward younger generation. "I've taken on more a mentoring role with the younger Australian boys," he said on Saturday, "especially in terms of the Davis Cup squad. I think that Nick and Bernie are in a decent position now, the next three years, to have a real crack."

For now, those things can wait. Hewitt has a match to play. Just as New York stopped when Andy -Roddick left the stage at the 2014 US Open, emotions on Rod Laver Arena will run high when he shoulders his racket bag for the last time.

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