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Hewitt faces wily Stepanek in tough start
Jim Morton
17:24 AEST Sat Dec 29 2012

There's no easing into 2013 for Lleyton Hewitt, who will start his Australian Open preparations against Brisbane International specialist Radek Stepanek.

Making his own Brisbane debut, Hewitt on Saturday copped an extremely tough first-round draw against the man who has won more matches at the Queensland Tennis Centre than any other.

The wily Stepanek is the inaugural Brisbane International champion - upsetting Fernando Verdasco in 2009 - and has continued to enjoy a love affair with Pat Rafter Arena, racking up a formidable 14-3 record.

The world No.31 also has recent form over Hewitt, towelling the former world No.1 up 7-5 6-1 in the first round of the Shanghai Masters in October.

While the 34-year-old failed to make a final in 2012, Stepanek finished the season with a flourish by clinching a stirring Davis Cup triumph over Spain for the Czech Republic.

The pair will headline Tuesday night's New Year's evening session at Pat Rafter Arena where the victor will then set course for a quarter-final clash with top seed Andy Murray.

World No.3 Murray has a first-round bye before cruising into the new year with a second-round match against either Japan's Tatsuma Ito or a qualifier.

Like wildcard Hewitt, Australia's new top-ranked player Marinko Matosevic copped a tough draw by being pitted against Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori.

Gold Coast youngster Ben Mitchell will play 2006 Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis first up, while fellow wildcard Matt Ebden meets Belgian David Goffin.

Despite Hewitt's injury troubles and a fall to No.83 in the rankings, Ebden believes the South Australian will show his true colours in Brisbane.

"His hunger for the game remains and he's so tenacious and you see why he won grand slams and was No.1 in the world," Ebden said.

"He's an incredible competitor and we're going to see that this week."

Local fans enjoyed John Millman's display on Saturday as the Brisbane baseliner progressed through to the second round of qualifying with a 6-2 6-2 win over compatriot Luke Saville.


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