at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London - Former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, reduced to being a wildcard at the tournament he won 10 years ago, could never match the firepower of number five seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who eased to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory in the first round on Tuesday.
But the gritty Australian is certainly not ready to say goodbye to the place that means so much to him.
Coming off Number One court, he heard that he had also been given a wildcard to the Olympics at Wimbledon next month.
“At least I get to play here again. That is a bonus,” he told reporters.
Hewitt scuttles around the court like a feisty terrier, never giving up and chasing every ball to the ends of the court.
That doggedness brought him two grand slam victories, the 2001 US Open and Wimbledon the following year. It also armed him with the determination to battle against a string of injuries from groin problems to toe surgery.
“I'm proud of myself for what I have been able to do, all the hard work it's taken to get here,” he said.
A 30-strong army of Hewitt fans, sporting green and yellow shirts and baseball caps in the colours of the Australian flag, chanted; “Let's Go Lleyton, Let's Go.”
But their rousing cheers were never enough to raise the game of the diminutive Hewitt against the mighty Frenchman who caused a major shock at Wimbledon last year when he beat Roger Federer after fighting back from two sets down.
Hewitt is 202nd in the world rankings and has won 105 matches on grass. Only Federer of active players, with 106, has more victories on the surface.
His devoted fans chorused “Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Hewitt wonderland”.
It was in vain, but at 31 years old Hewitt is in no hurry to head off into the sunset.
“I'd like to be back here next year,” he said. “Absolutely.”
“I'm an athlete. You never love losing. I'm still playing the game to compete, to be out there.” - Reuters