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Paris – Australia's former world number one Lleyton Hewitt made an early exit from the French Open on Monday, beaten in four sets by unheralded Slovenian Blaz Kavcic.
Two-time Grand Slam title winner Hewitt, 31, came here as a wildcard entry with little to lose having undergone radical foot surgery in February in a bid to prolong his career.
But despite occasional glimpses of his lingering top-drawer abilities, he was unable to prevent a 6-7 (2/7), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6 defeat in 3hr 50min as Kavcic earned the privilege of trying to topple world number one Novak Djokovic in round two, assuming the Serb later ousted Potito Starace of Italy.
Former Wimbledon and US Open champion Hewitt arrived at Roland Garros with two screws and a metal plate locking permanently into place in the big toe on his left foot to fight against arthritis.
The Australian, now ranked 175, had barely a fortnight of practice ahead of Monday's match and what adrenaline he could muster seeped away as he drove long to end the contest as Kavcic pumped his fist to the Court Seven crowd.
Facing defeat square on at two sets down, Hewitt, the youngest ever world number one at just 20, briefly rolled back the years as he scampered to get back a drop shot then put away a low volley as he pulled back the deficit to land the third set tiebreak.
But in the fourth he was clearly running on empty, dropping serve to go 2-4 down, and the writing was on the wall after Kavcic easily held to force his rival to serve to stay in the contest.
The Slovenian, the son of professional alpine skiers, had won their only previous meeting last year on hard court in the United States and although Hewitt moved into gear with an early first set break, showing his long experience of the red dirt, his rival swiftly dug in.
Kavcic broke for a 6-5 lead when Hewitt double-faulted but hit long to give the Aussie a break point back and then fired into the tramlines to herald the tiebreak which the Eastern European promptly blitzed through.
In the second set, Kavcic moved out to 5-3 and then saved two break points as he went two sets to the good before Hewitt's rally in the third set breaker which would prove only a false dawn.
Hewitt missed Paris last year with an ankle injury but earlier this season set a consecutive Australian Open appearances record with his 16th participation. – Sapa-AFP