Australia has ended the first day of its Davis Cup world group playoff locked at 1-1 with Switzerland, although a result the local underdogs would have taken before play began would have been immeasurably, almost unimaginably, better had a gallant Lleyton Hewitt been able to finish the job started so impressively by teenager Bernard Tomic.
After Tomic extended an unbeaten cup record still in its infancy with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 defeat of world No.19 Stan Wawrinka to record his most significant cup result, Hewitt stunningly led his old rival Roger Federer by a set and 3-1 before the Swiss champion steadied to prevail 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-3 ahead of today's/Saturday's doubles rubber.
Hewitt will partner Victorian Chris Guccione, while Federer will return with Wawrinka but, regardless of which team carries a 2-1 lead into the final day, a live first reverse singles on Sunday is now assured between wonderboy Tomic and his idol Federer, in what will be the pair's first career meeting.
Tomic, ranked 59th, stunned Wawrinka in almost two-and-a-half hours on the intimate grasscourt surrounds of the Royal Sydney Golf Club as the hosts' strategic choice of surface paid an early dividend in the three-day tie that will decide which team earns a 2011 promotion to the elite tier of 16 nations.
A Wimbledon quarter-finalist at his last grasscourt event, 18-year-old Tomic worked his way on top of Wawrinka after a slightly nervous start, encouraged at courtside by Pat Rafter, the fellow Queenslander captaining his first home tie after succeeding John Fitzgerald last October.
"It was a very difficult match," said Tomic, who gradually grew in confidence, utilising his backhand slice, mixing his pace and spins and hitting out with more authority as the match continued. He also served efficiently, claiming the match with a scorching backhand down the line on his fourth match point.
"Really good, a good feeling, especially losing that first set. I didn't play my game but I started playing good, and I'm so happy that I got up 1-0 today," Tomic said. "He's a quality player, been there for a while now in the top 20 and the top 10, so he knows how to play tennis. Everyone can see he can play, and you give him a short ball, a chance, and the point's over. I'm happy with the way I played today, I think I played really good in the second and third set."
Playing just his fourth Davis Cup singles match, but first out of the Asia/Oceania zone, Tomic boldly extended his perfect record to four wins in his debut match against Wawrinka, the former world No.9, a winner of three ATP singles titles and Olympic gold medallist in partnership with his the more famous Swiss, Federer.
"He was playing great, he was doing a lot of changing rhythm a lot of times, and his game is perfect for grasscourts, so for me it was tough today and it's 1-0 for Australia," said Wawrinka. "He (does) have a great slice. He's serving not that fast but puts a lot of first serves in, he's mixing a lot and flat forehand and you can see, look, he enjoy to play on grass, because he can mix it, come to the net, make some drop shot.
"I need to say that when I was watching him all the year on grass or even Melbourne, I love to watch him play, because it's always fun. It's something different that you can't see on all the other players."
Next, the 26th career meeting between the pair of former No.1s and Wimbledon champions started unexpectedly, with Hewitt serving out a tight first set after breaking Federer in the 11th game. As the Swiss struggled with unforced errors, particularly off the forehand side, Hewitt appeared untroubled in the early stages by the toe injury that is likely to prematurely end his year.
When he again broke serve in the third game of the second set, it appeared just possible that the South Australian veteran could repeat his previous effort on grass against the 16-slam champion - an upset win in the Halle final last June to end a 15-match drought over seven fruitless years - who had only arrived from the US open via Dubai on Wednesday.
But if Federer is not quite the player he was, then he could still locate the gear he needed during the second set, and then closed out the next two, although Hewitt persisted bravely. The world No.199 earned multiple break chances in the fourth and sixth games of the final set, but was broken himself in between, Federer serving well in most of the clutch moments - including three aces early in the pivotal tiebreak - to draw Switzerland level at 1-1 as twilight approached.
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