Lleyton Hewitt can’t get excited, but Bernard Tomic will cherish his once-in-a-lifetime US Open clash with the retiring Australian tennis “legend” on Thursday.
Generations will collide at Flushing Meadows after Hewitt and Tomic set up an enthralling first-time meeting with contrasting first-round victories on a sweltering day in New York.
Hewitt, the 2001 Open champion, advanced to the second round for the 13th time when Kazakh Aleksandr Nedovyesov quit with a right shoulder injury while trailing 6-0 7-6 (7-2) 1-0.
Tomic confirmed his appointment with his Davis Cup teammate and mentor with a fighting 5-7 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 6-3 victory over Bosnian Damir Dzumhur.
“It’s not going to be easy for me. I look up to him a lot,” Tomic said.
“He is a legend to me, to a lot of people around the world and it is a shame that maybe, in the next month or so, he might stop.
“But it is an opportunity. I have never played him and it could be fun.
“We have played so many times in practice and it is fun always to play Lleyton. It is an opportunity for me to make my first third round in the US Open.”
Tomic and Hewitt have come full circle after Team Tomic famously snubbed the former world No.1 and dual grand slam champion when sounded out for a practise session at Wimbledon in 2009.
Six years on and Tomic said he feared he’d never get the chance to play Hewitt before he officially retires after a record 20th straight Australian Open tilt in January.
“It was almost a sign for us to never play, that is how I saw it, with the draws and stuff,” Tomic said.
“But we have to play once. Win or lose, we have to have fun, go for it.
“He has nothing to lose. He is going to be going for it so, for me, it is going to be more tough.”
Hewitt doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for the all-Australian showdown.
“It’s just awkward. That’s the only thing to summarise that,” the 34-year-old said.
“I get along great with Bernie. Helped him out a lot. Hit with him this week. Yeah, just awkward. I don’t like playing any of the Aussies.
“I had to play (Thanasi) Kokkinakis last year in Brisbane. I played `Grothy’ (Sam Groth) in Brisbane this year. I had to play J.P. Smith only a couple of weeks ago.
“For me, in the position that I’m in now, trying to help these guys especially with Davis Cup and the rest of it, it’s tough.”
If he topples Tomic, Hewitt at least won’t have to play Kokkinakis again, or Nick Kyrgios, after the Special Ks were both eliminated on Tuesday.
Kokkinakis was on track to pull off a major upset until cramping after he took a two-sets-to-one lead over Wimbledon semi-finalist Richard Gasquet and was reduced to under-arm serving at one point as he struggled to move.
The score was locked at two sets apiece – 4-6 6-1 4-6 6-3 – when the 19-year-old was forced to call it a day after dropping serve to trail 2-0 in the deciding set.
In the night session Kyrgios took his first set in four meetings with Andy Murray, but was unable to spring another grand slam boilover, falling 7-5 6-3 4-6 6-1 loss to Scottish third seed in the feature night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Smith was gallant in a 6-1 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7-4) loss to experienced Russian Mikhail Youzhny, while Korean teenage sensation Hyeon Chung routed James Duckworth 6-3 6-1 6-2.
Former champion Samantha Stosur made a bright start to her campaign with a 6-3 6-4 win over Hungarian Timea Babos, but Ajla Tomljanovic and Jarmila Gajdosova both suffered tough three-set defeats.
Tomljanovic went down 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 6-4 to Karin Knapp while another Italian, 26th seed Flavia Pennetta, ousted Gajdosova 6-1 3-6 6-1.