The answer will be revealed tonight. Has Lleyton Hewitt’s chance of winning his first Australian Open been nobbled by the organisers’ decision to stage the Open’s inaugural dusk-to-dawn session on Saturday night?

Hewitt’s five-hour, five-set marathon against Marcos Baghdatis began on Rod Laver Arena at 11.49pm, finished at 4.34am yesterday and he didn’t get to sleep until 8am.

He now faces third-seed Novak Djokovic first up on centre court tonight, about 7.30pm. So thrown into disarray will be his body clock, the Australian will be feeling as though he has just stepped off a long-distance flight from New York.

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Some pundits, such as Todd Woodbridge, feel the task is now beyond Hewitt; that the scheduling of the Baghdatis match has put paid to his hopes of winning his national title in 2008.

Hewitt will undoubtedly see the organisers’ decision to start his match so late as part of some greater conspiracy to rob him of the championship he most wants to win. Like the too-slow Rebound Ace surface which he carped on about for six years.

But, in this case, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the little Aussie battler. He has been dealt a rum hand. Djokovic will be presented tonight with an opponent ripe for the picking.

The Australian Open has an 11pm curfew, but that is only invoked at the referee’s discretion. Venus Williams and Sania Mirza refused to budge when asked to move their match. So, stuck between a rock and hard place, referee Wayne McKewen and tournament director Craig Tiley decided to abandon the 11pm curfew and go on with the show. People had paid good money for tickets to the late session, host broadcaster Channel Seven had an audience to think of, and the following day’s schedule would have been thrown into turmoil.

So Hewitt finds himself in this unhappy position. Many will say: so what’s the fuss? That this is just another example of overpaid, overpampered sporting divas bleating when they are inconvenienced just a tiny weeny bit. Poor diddums.

And, in winning the Baghdatis match, Hewitt is guaranteed to earn at least $85,000 in prizemoney this fortnight. How many Jackos and Maccas will be clocking on for night shift at the factory tonight, and earning maybe a couple of hundred bucks, less tax, for their trouble? The following day, the don’t get the chance to sleep in a five-start suite either, with room service, eggs Benedict and Bec Cartwright waiting for them in the morning.

Perhaps Hewitt could take a leaf from the book of Britain’s champion pug, and home-spun philosopher, Ricky Hatton. When Hatton fought Kostya Tszyu in 2005, the match took place at 2am in Manchester to satisfy some pay-TV deal. Asked if he had a problem with the bout starting that late, the Mancunian replied: “Every f-cker fights at two in the morning in Manchester.”

Well, Rusty, the time for feeling sorry for yourself is over; the time for fighting starts now.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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