The cries of "Come on, Tim!" seemed to grow louder with every passing year at Wimbledon, but here at Melbourne Park the shouts of "Go, Lleyton!" are carrying less conviction with each Australian Open. Like Tim Henman, Lleyton Hewitt may be destined never to win his home Grand Slam tournament. Unlike their British counterparts, however, the Australian public do not appear inclined to hold their heroic losers in quite the same affection.
Some faces in the crowd were painted yellow and green and the "Fanatics", Australia's version of the Barmy Army, did their best to raise spirits in Rod Laver Arena, but there was an inevitability about Hewitt's 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 defeat to Novak Djokovic yesterday.
Although the competitive fire may still burn in Hewitt, the man who once covered more of the court and ran down more balls than any of his opponents is now being outrun and outhit by the tiros. This was his eighth defeat in his last nine matches against players in the world's top 10.
In contrast to Henman, Hewitt has rarely played his best in front of his home audience. Although he reached the final in 2005, losing to Roger Federer, that was the only time in 12 attempts that he has even reached the quarter-finals.
Djokovic, the world No 3 and a growing threat to the supremacy of Rafael Nadal and Federer, was too good in every department, despite a sluggish start. The pre-match speculation had centred on whether Hewitt, the world No 22, would have recovered after his marathon against Marcos Baghdatis ended at 4.30am on Sunday here, but in the early stages it was Djokovic who looked in need of an extra hour or two in bed.
Hewitt broke to lead 3-2, only for Djokovic to level at 4-4 and take the set after breaking to love at 6-5. Hewitt again made the early break in the second set, but from 2-1 up he won only four of the last 15 games.
The flame flickered briefly when Hewitt saved two match points at 5-2 in the third set, breaking Djokovic's serve from 40-15 down, but the Serb, who has not dropped a set in four rounds here, responded in kind to reach his first Australian Open quarter-final.
Hewitt admitted that playing so late in the previous round had not helped his chances, but when asked whether it was to blame for his defeat he replied: "Absolutely not. He was too good tonight." Was his dream of winning the Australian Open beginning to fade? "This year it has." Did he think he might win here in the future? "Who knows?"
Ana Ivanovic made the last eight for the third time in the last four Grand Slam tournaments by beating Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki 6-1, 7-6. The 20-year-old Serb now faces Venus Williams, who beat Poland's Marta Domachowska 6-4, 6-4. "I consider myself a big-match player," Williams said. "I enjoy the battle. I enjoy the challenge.".
British interest in the senior competitions ended when Jamie Murray and America's Liezel Huber were beaten by Nenad Zimonjic and Sun Tiantian, of Serbia and China, in the second round of the mixed doubles.
* Mahesh Bhupathi said yesterday that he was approached to fix a result in an Indian Davis Cup tie "10 or 12 years ago". He added: "I immediately changed my phone numbers and I never got that call again. It definitely freaked me out."
R Federer (1) (Swit) v J Blake (12) (US)
R Nadal (2) (Sp) v J Nieminen (24) (Fin)
N Djokovic (3) (Serb) v D Ferrer (5) (Sp)
M Youzhny (14) Rus v J-W Tsonga (Fr)
J Henin (1) (Bel) v M Sharapova (5) (Rus)
J Jankovic (3) (Serb) v S Williams (7) (US)
A Ivanovic (4) (Serb) v V Williams (8) (US)
D Hantuchova (9) (Slovak) v A Radwanska (29) (Pol)