The No.3 seed was down a break in the fourth set, and when it appeared last year’s finalist was on his way out of the tournament, Hewitt dug deep to break back and then clinch the set in a tie-breaker.
Vik appeared to tire in the deciding set, as Hewitt closed out the match 6-4 2-6 5-7 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 in three hours and 45 minutes to rapturous acknowledgement from a packed Vodafone Arena. Hewitt was relaxed after the match, joking to Jim Courier that he felt good enough to have a swim in the nearby Yarra river, in reference to the former champion’s method of celebration.
But he also admitted that it was a draining encounter, hoping that it will hold him in good stead for the next two weeks. “It’s always tough, it’s a tough surface on your body,” Hewitt said. “It was nearly a four hour match, tough conditions and long rallies from the baseline – we’re both not big servers.” Hewitt now faces old foe Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, who the Australian played in a fiery match in the 2005 Open.
Earlier, fellow Australian Peter Luczak advanced to the second round with a solid defeat of Czech Ivo Minar. Luczak was the first Australian to make it through the first round in both the men’s and women’s draw, with a 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 victory.
The Melbourne-based player was in good form for most of the match, and his first serve in particular was an effective weapon against Minar. Luczak served 15 aces, but fired down many more that were next to unplayable. The Polish-born Luczak was delighted with the result, and celebrated with a mini victory-lap in front of the patriotic crowd.
Meanwhile, Nathan Healey is also through to the second round after taking the first two sets against Italian Fillipo Volandri, who then retired hurt. Veteran Wayne Arthurs didn’t join the party though, losing to Serbia’s Boris Pashanski 6-3 6-4 4-6 7-6 (7-2).
In the women’s draw, Nicole Pratt was thrashed by French fifth seed Mary Pierce 6-1 6-1. But Samantha Stosur advanced to round two with a 6-3 6-4 victory over France’s Severine Bremond.
Dokic loses in Australian return
Meanwhile, Jelena Dokic’s first round defeat at the hands of Virginie Razzano has overshadowed her much publicised return to the Australian Open. The former world No.4 appeared certain for victory with two match points in the second set, but she was unable to capitalise before completely struggling with her game in the decider to go down 3-6 7-6 6-1.
Dokic thought she had won through to the second round in straight sets on her first match point, as she belted a forehand past her opponent, only for the ball to be called out. The Australian argued the call with the chair umpire, and it would prove a pivotal moment in the match, as she never got back on track after wasting her second match point with a muffed return that failed to clear the net.
Dokic admitted after the match that it was hard to knuckle down to the task after having the elation of a first round win rubbed out by the linesman’s call. “It was more the fact that I was already, you know, pretty much with my hands up winning the match,” she said. “If it was a normal point and I lost it, I would have been in a much better position. But coming so close, it was a different story.”
For the 22-year-old Dokic, currently ranked 370th in the world, the early exit comes on the back of her December decision to represent Australia again after a stint as a national for Serbia-Montenegro. Dokic threatened in 2001 that she would never return to Australia after her controversial father Damir declared that the Open draw was rigged against her that year.