Lleyton Hewitt produced arguably his most memorable, and possibly last, centre court vigil at the Australian Open before finally succumbing 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to world number one Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
After losing the first two sets in convincing fashion and slumping to 0-3 down in the third set, the 30-year-old Australian, battling a niggling foot injury, conjured a remarkable comeback to take the match to a fourth set.
The lacklustre Djokovic finally awoke from his slumber to find some rhythm, breaking Hewitt's serve in the sixth game of the fourth set, before closing out the match in two hours and 56 minutes with a crisp forehand winner.
For Hewitt it brought to an end to another courageous Melbourne Park run after entering his 16th consecutive Australian Open as a wildcard with a lowly world ranking of 181.
He said he was pleased he was able to push the best player in the game to four sets.
"It was obviously satisfying because he was playing exceptional tennis and I was still able to find a way to get back in the match in some regards and at least put some pressure on him," he said.
"His moving, his ball striking, his serving was fantastic for two-and-a -half sets."
Hewitt appeared close to tears as he salvaged victory in the third set, but was not letting on whether this was his Melbourne Park swan song.
"The last few months I have been trying to focus on getting as much out of myself as possible - I haven't even thought about it," Hewitt said when asked about his future and expectations for the year.
"Considering where I was three or four weeks ago, it's been a pretty fair effort (at the Open).
"It's obviously disappointing anytime you lose. But I left it all on the court; that's all I could ask."
Hewitt was the last remaining Australian in the singles draw.
Djokovic paid tribute to Hewitt's fighting spirit but was less glowing about his own game, saying he had simply stopped moving during a fourth-set slump.
"I have to give credit to Lleyton, he never gives up. He is a great competitor and I have a lot of respect for him and wish him luck," Djokovic said after the match.
"He obviously made me play an extra shot and I made a couple of unforced errors and it got him back in the match.
"For two sets and 3-0 I was playing really well and then suddenly I stopped moving.
"Again I give credit to Lleyton. He was making me earn my points and I wasn't able to."
Djokovic grimaced in pain during a couple of points after rolling an ankle, but played down any fitness concerns.
"No. Actually, I don't (have any problems). It's just that I wasn't happy with my movement and my legs were not working," he said.
"I'm not looking for excuses... it's obviously the first match that I've been tested. It was against the player that I expected to be tested.
"Lleyton was playing in front of his crowd. Obviously he loves competing against the top guys on the big stage and he proved it again."
The win extended Djokovic's Australian Open record to 29-5 and it was his fifth win in six encounters with Hewitt.
Djokovic dominated last year, winning three of the four majors and up to Monday's fourth-round match had not dropped a set until he was pushed for the first time in the tournament by Hewitt.
Last year's Australian Open triumph over Andy Murray was the first of seven straight tournament wins for Djokovic, in a 41-match winning streak that was finally ended by Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open.
Djokovic leads his quarter-final opponent Ferrer 6-5 with the Spaniard winning two of their last four encounters.
ABC/wiresTags: australian-open, tennis, sport, melbourne-3000, vic, australia First posted January 24, 2012 01:21:00