London: Wimbledon's honours board is littered with Australian greats but the gradual decline in the country's fortunes on the famous lawns reached a new low on Tuesday when, for the first time since 1938, they failed to get a man into the second round.
Lleyton Hewitt, the last Australian to win the title in 2002, was beaten in straight sets by fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; new kid on the block Bernard Tomic capitulated against a Belgian wildcard; and Matthew Ebden was also bundled out.
Not since Mark Philippoussis was beaten by Roger Federer in the 2003 final has an Australian threatened the men's crown.
It is all a far cry from the country's halcyon days when the likes of the John Newcombe, champion in 1967, 1970 and 1971, and before him Rod Laver, who claimed four titles, were dominating. Add in the names of other champions such as Pat Cash, Roy Emerson and Ken Rosewall, who threatened regularly but never won the title, and the contrast to this year is stark.
Former world number one Hewitt can be excused having represented his country with pride over the years. The 31-year-old has defied a series of injuries to extend his career and needed a wildcard this year. He was his usual gutsy self against Tsonga but was powerless to prevent a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 defeat.
"Really the boys didn't have the best day today," Hewitt, who also won the 2001 US Open during a brief spell of dominance, told reporters when asked about Australia's dismal showing in the men's singles.
"There're a lot of different reasons it could have been. Draws, matchups, whatever. But at least three of us, the three guys that played today, I know we could have beaten a lot of guys that are still going in the tournament. That's just how it falls."
While Hewitt's defeat was expected, Tomic's loss to 21-year-old wildcard David Goffin, making his Wimbledon debut, was a surprise given his quarter-final run last year. The 19-year-old Tomic, ranked 28th in the world, admitted that he had not been working hard enough recently.
"I have sort of slacked off a little bit and look what it's costing me. Last eight, nine weeks I'm losing a lot of first, second rounds," he said.
Hewitt said Tomic needed to continue grafting. "It's tough, I think, that sort of next year after you sort of break through to keep it up and continue doing it," he said. "Everybody obviously had massive expectations for him to do well. This is his best surface.
"Training-wise I don't know what he's been doing. I wouldn't have a clue. But obviously he's had a frustrating last couple of weeks."
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