Tennis Australia, in a nod to its most indefatigable star, declared the first Tuesday of the Australian Open would be ‘C’mon Day’.
This, of course, was problematic.
The 15,000 miniature Australian flags, ‘#HewBeauty’ hashtags and pre-match rendition of True Blue by John Williamson sat uneasily with some.
So too, did the very real prospect of an upset.
Lleyton Hewitt’s farewell lap was supposed to last deep into week one, after all.
And the signs weren’t good for the warhorses when, half an hour before Williamson started strumming, one of the greatest players of all time – Rafael Nadal – exited Rod Laver Arena looking bewildered and, (say it softly), old.
Though five years older than Nadal, former world No.1 Hewitt has much in common with the Spaniard, even though he hasn’t beaten him in nearly a decade.
Few tennis players have extracted more out of themselves. To beat either of them invariably takes five sets and a high pain threshold.
James Duckworth, ranked 129 in the world, cut an inoffensive figure.
His grandmother won the singles and doubles titles in Australia in 1955, around the time that Hewitt started plying his trade.
Still, his modest record belied what was a pretty handy game – a big serve and solid groundstrokes.
A pair of aces kicked off his night but he found himself in no-man’s land at times.
In terms of shot selection and eliminating the variables, Hewitt had an obvious edge.
At 5-5 in the first-set tiebreak, Duckworth fluffed a backhand volley and netted a tired backhand to hand Hewitt the set.
Several days ago, Duckworth was asked how he would feel if he ended Hewitt’s career.
“It’s not something that I’d like to do,” he said. “But I’ve sort of been put in this position now. Yeah, I mean, I guess if I win, I’ll apologise to him.”
Hardly fighting words.
Conversely, Hewitt, with his bung hip, foot and toe, was spoiling for a scrap.
And without trashing Duckworth, he didn’t exactly strike you as the type to leave parts of himself out on the plexicushion.
He had two break points to peg back an early break in the second but failed to capitalise. Hewitt was two sets the better, in complete control and enjoying himself immensely.
He went on to win 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 6-4 in front of a who’s who of Australian tennis, including Hewitt’s past four Davis Cup captains – John Newcombe, John Fitzgerald, Pat Rafter and Wally Masur.
Hewitt’s entire family – wife Bec, children Mia, Ava and Cruz, father Glynn and mother Cherilyn – were also on hand for his 50th appearance at Rod Laver Arena.
The second act of Hewitt’s career has been characterised by wars of attrition, by honourable losses, by an unlikely statesmanship.
Regulation, no-fuss wins haven’t really been his style, or his good fortune.
But Tuesday night’s match was a breeze, his first straight-sets win at the Australian Open since 2010.
The last time he won any grand slam match in straight sets was against former Australian Open champion Stanislas Warinka – then ranked No.11 in the world – in the first round of the 2013 US Open.
He closed things out with a trademark defensive forehand lob, sunk to his knees and contemplated a second-round bout with with fellow scrapper David Ferrer.
#HewBeauty, we’ll get to see Lleyton again. But the Spaniard, seeded eighth, might represent the end of the rocky road.