Melbourne, Australia, 25 January 2012 | AAP

Retirement remains a dirty word as the resurgent Lleyton Hewitt eyes a full playing schedule in 2012 after exceeding “all expectations” at the Australian Open.

Hewitt is hunting down wildcards for the lucrative Indian Wells and Miami Masters after his vintage run to the Open’s last 16 on the back of just one competitive outing in four months.

The little marvel even stole the first set of the tournament off world No.1 Novak Djokovic to briefly raise hopes of another famous Hewitt triumph at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.

“He exceeded all expectations,” Hewitt’s manager David Drysdale said on Tuesday before predicting the dual major winner to return for a 17th successive crack at the Open in 2013.

“The body’s going to determine what happens but, if you ask me now, I expect to see him back next year.

“The body’s going to determine everything but he’s striking the ball well, he’s mentally as tough as anyone and there’s absolutely no talk of retirement.”

Turning 31 next month, Hewitt’s immediate focus is on teaming with Bernard Tomic for Australia’s Davis Cup World Group II playoff with China in Geelong from February 10-12.

“Then he’s got wildcards for Memphis and San Jose and we’re looking for wildcards into Miami and Indian Wells,” Drysdale said.

Hewitt’s charge to the second week – which will lift his ranking from 181st to around 130 – even pleased Roger Federer.

“I was really happy for him because he hasn’t gotten a fair chance to prove still how good he is,” Federer said after staying up late to watch his career-long rival’s thrilling journey to the fourth round.

“Some judge him on his ranking, which is obviously not telling the truth.

“I think he’s been playing really well still the last two years – just didn’t get enough matches and never really got on a roll because he was always interrupted the whole time.

“So I was really happy because he’s had a really difficult draw. The first guy, (Cedrik-Marcel) Stebe, played amazing as well and I thought Lleyton did so well to come through.

“I was just really happy from then on that he’s won another two matches in a great way.”

Despite bowing out, Hewitt once again revelled in his beloved Rod Laver Arena as he fought back doggedly to force Djokovic to pull out all stops to reach the quarter-finals for the sixth straight year.

“Considering where I was a few months ago, three or four months ago, it’s a pretty good effort,” Hewitt said.

“It was a great atmosphere. Towards the end of the third set and the whole fourth set, the crowd got involved in it. It’s great.

“They’re the moments you play tennis for, to be out there in those situations.

“It’s obviously disappointing anytime you lose, but I left it all on the court. That’s all I could ask.”