LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Australian standard bearer Lleyton Hewitt scrapped to his 145th victory in grand slam play at Wimbledon on Tuesday and, for a change, he will have plenty of company in the second round.
The 33-year-old former champion has all too often had to carry the fight alone for a nation once blessed with male grand slam champions but the signs are that a new generation are ready to finally come to the fore.
After victories for Bernard Tomic, Marinko Matosevic and qualifier Luke Saville on Monday, towering 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios marked his Wimbledon debut on Tuesday with a 7-6(2) 7-6(1) 6-7(6) 6-2 defeat of Frenchman Stephane Robert.
Though 22-year-old James Duckworth lost a five-setter to 13th seed Richard Gasquet and Matthew Ebden was out-hit by eighth seed Milos Raonic on Tuesday, there will be five Australian men in the second round - the most since 1999.
“Yeah, it’s good. Obviously I‘m really happy for some of the young boys,” former world No.1 and 2002 Wimbledon champion Hewitt, told reporters.
”Sav (Saville) obviously winning his first tour match at a grand slam, Wimbledon, fantastic, especially after saving a match point in his last round of quallies, as well.
“Bernie did his job yesterday and Marinko, he won his first match at Wimbledon, which is huge for him. Moving forward, he’s a late developer. He beat a quality player in (Fernando) Verdasco. There’s been some good wins.”
Tomic, who is still only 21, was once regarded as the natural successor to Hewitt, some off-court issues and injuries have stalled his progress.
While he clearly has the pedigree to rise back up the rankings from the 86th spot he currently occupies, it is the 6ft 4ins (1.93 metres) Kyrgios who is currently turning heads.
The fast-rising Greek-Malaysian-Australian won the junior title at his home grand slam last year and his fan club includes the likes of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray who described Kyrgios this month as the “Next big Aussie star.”
“We will be seeing a lot of him very shortly on the main tour,” Murray added of the strapping youngster who almost pursued a career in professional basketball.
Hewitt, too, believes Kyrgios, who will play Gasquet on Thursday, has the weapons to have a shot at one day emulating himself, Pat Cash, John Newcombe and Rod Laver on the lawns of the All England Club.
“He’s got a game that I‘m sure over time could definitely get better and suited to grass,” he said.
“He returns serve pretty well for a big guy. He’s obviously got a big ball himself. It’s good for him that he got through.”
Happy as he is at the progress of his countrymen, Hewitt is not ready to slip into the shadows and is gunning for big-serving Pole Jerzy Janowicz in the second round.
It is the kind of match he lives for.
“I’ll have to weather the storm out there,” Hewitt, who also won the U.S. Open in 2001, said. “You don’t get sick of coming out here and playing at Wimbledon.” (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)