Melbourne, 14 January 2011 | AAP
Lleyton Hewitt will rekindle a bitter rivalry with David Nalbandian that stretches back to their junior days after the Australian’s nightmare run with grand slam draws continued today.
Hewitt has repeatedly drawn 16-times major winner Roger Federer and world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the early stages of the slams over the past few seasons and now he must overcome the rejuvenated Nalbandian in the first round to mount any sort of Australian Open challenge in Melbourne.
Like fellow 29-year-old Hewitt, Nalbandian is on the comeback trail from hip surgery that sidelined the South American for nine months.
Nalbandian showed his class last August when he won his 11th career title in Washington amid an 11-match winning streak that included seven top-25 scalps and he continued his ominous build-up to the Open with a charge to Saturday’s final in Auckland.
Hewitt’s intense rivalry with Nalbandian over the years includes Davis Cup stoushes, the 2002 Wimbledon final – which Australia’s former world No.1 won in straight sets – and their epic 2005 Australian Open quarter-final in which the home hope escaped 10-8 in the fifth set.
But Hewitt’s relationship with Nalbandian – and other Argentines Guillermo Coria and Juan Ignacio Chela – soured long before any of those meetings.
There has been lingering animosity between Hewitt and Nalbandian and Coria ever since the feisty South Australian clashed with the Argentine pair at the 1997 Junior Davis Cup in Canada.
Nalbandian and Coria were not amused when Hewitt hung a sign from his balcony that read: “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” after the South Americans, the defending 14-years-and-under champions, were eliminated from the tournament.
Hewitt was difficult enough for them to cope with on the court and the fact that he also enjoyed an off-court relationship with one of Argentina’s leading junior girl players during his teenage days only added to the enmity.
Hewitt, now ranked No.54 in the world, has matured and mellowed somewhat since then, but his manager on Friday said their history of bad blood would make for a mouth-watering duel at Melbourne Park.
“It’s a long rivalry through Davis Cups, etc. and obviously they’re not known as the best of friends,” David Drysdale told AAP.
“Both players will be desperately wanting to win this match badly, which is going to make it a hell of a first-round match.”
While Nalbandian has won their past two encounters, Hewitt leads their career series 3-2 and the two have not locked horns for two years.
Should the unseeded Hewitt – who is riding a wave of confidence after a solid Hopman Cup campaign and victory over world No.10 Mikhail Youzhny at this week’s Kooyong Classic – he will face either fellow Australian Marinko Matosevic or talented Lithuanian Richard Berankis.
Seventh seed David Ferrer is likely to be lying in wait in the third round, while Hewitt could strike Youzhny again in the round of 16.
Hewitt is projected to run into world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.
“It could have been a worse draw and it could have been a whole lot better,” Drysdale said.
“If you want to do well in this tournament, you’ve got to go out there and do it and, as everyone knows, Lleyton will be giving it absolutely everything he’s got.”