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Hewitt and Nalbandian share two things in common: hip injuries and long-standing enmity.
Hewitt, ranked 54th in the world and unseeded, leads Nalbandian 3-2 but has not beaten the Argentine since the pair's epic and controversial 2005 Australian Open quarterfinal. Nalbandian bumped into Hewitt at a change of ends in the match, prompting a war of words.
Nalbandian said Hewitt was "not a gentleman"' and "nobody is friends" with the Australian. Hewitt returned fire by saying Nalbandian was "not the cleanest guy." The Aussie thrashed the tournament's 27th seed in the 2002 Wimbledon final but the pair has not played since the Argentine's quarter-final victory in Sydney two years ago.
Both men, now 29, are showing encouraging form.
Nalbandian was a semifinalist in Auckland last week while Hewitt was also in the same stage at the Kooyon exhibition. This is Nalbandian's 9th Australian Open. He missed the event last year with an abdominal tear. His best result at Melbourne Park is a semifinal appearance in 2006.
Meanwhile Hewitt will be playing for a 15th straight Australian Open. He now holds the Open Era men’s record for most consecutive appearances here. He is also joint-first on the men’s list of all-time consecutive Australian Open appearances equal with Jack Crawford and Harry Hopman, who both played in their 15th – and final - Australian Open in 1940. No other Australian Open champion in the Open Era has had to wait this long to win their first title.
A reminder also that Hewitt finished runner-up here in 2005, becoming the first Australian to reach an Australian Open Final since Pat Cash in 1988. He lost to Marat Safin and had carried a hip injury throughout the whole tournament.