Lleyton Hewitt's promising Australian Open build-up has ended in despair with a four-hour, five-set first-round loss at Melbourne Park.
Hewitt's impressive victories over Roger Federer and Andy Murray in an unbeaten start to the summer counted for nothing as the veteran bowed out with a 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 7-5 loss to Italian 24th seed Andreas Seppi.
Adding to Hewitt's heartbreak, after blowing a two-set advantage Seppi had to save a match point serving at 4-5 and 30-40 in the tension-filled fifth set.
Australia's former world number one arrived with such high hopes but departed with a second straight first-round exit from the Open, his last victory at his home grand slam coming in a run to the fourth round in 2012.
Hewitt couldn't hide his disappointment.
"Every grand slam loss is tough. There's no easy ones," he said.
"Obviously if you come close to winning, even though it's a first round match, it's still frustrating."
Contesting his record 18th consecutive Australian Open, Hewitt was playing catch-up almost from the outset.
He had to rally back from a break down to force the first-set tiebreaker, which Seppi took with a service winner.
In 40-plus degree temperatures, it was already a long way back - even for Hewitt.
Perhaps suffering from a let-down, Hewitt dropped his opening service game in the second set.
It was the only invitation the Italian needed as he claimed the set with a big ace to take a stranglehold on the match.
Hewitt found himself in a deep, deep hole when he again lost his first service game at the start of the third set.
Typically, though, he launched a fightback, breaking straight back and then whipping the crowd at Rod Laver Arena into a frenzy when he snatched the set on a Seppi backhand error.
Again, though, he faltered on his opening service game in the fourth set, handing Seppi another early break with a double-fault.
Hewitt jumped around like his hero Rocky Balboa, punching jabs to the crowd as he bounded to his changeover chair after breaking straight back again and holding for 2-1 in the fourth set.
He raised his arms in triumph after seizing the set to ensure the 53rd five-set match of his celebrated career.
No active player can match Hewitt's 32 five-set victories - but there was not to be a 33rd on Tuesday at the Open.
For the fourth consecutive set, the 32-year-old was broken on his opening service game.
Yet again Hewitt fought back to conjure his sole match point, but alas Seppi saved with his 17th ace.
Seppi gained the decisive final service break when Hewitt pushed a forehand wide and this time there was no way back as the Italian held his nerve to close out victory after four hours and 18 minutes.
Kyrgios marches into second round
Meanwhile, rising Australian teenage star Nick Kyrgios has marched into the second round of the Australian Open with an impressive victory over experienced German Benjamin Becker.
The reigning Australian Open junior champion continued his seamless graduation to senior ranks, defying the searing heat and a shoulder problem to win 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) and set up a second-round clash with Frenchman Benoit Paire, the number 25 seed.
Kyrgios claimed his maiden grand slam match victory at last year's French Open against Radek Stepanek and took just as much out of Tuesday's win.
"The one at the French was in straight sets, whereas this one I had to dig deeper," he said.
"Obviously today it started a bit tough for both of us.
"The temperature got up to 43 degrees or something and we were both struggling physically in the conditions.
"But this is my home and I came out and defended my home."
Kyrgios had treatment on his right shoulder early in the fourth set.
"I'm obviously going to be feeling it a bit, but it's good enough for me to play," he said.