Hewitt typically fought to the very end in front of a packed crowd in Rod Laver Arena but was unable to beat the classy Ferrer, who won 6-2 6-4 6-4 to reach the third round.
The 34-year-old had made clear his intention to retire at the end of this fortnight’s tournament, his 20th Australian Open, and bring an end to a career that has included winning the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002.
In an interview on court after the defeat, Hewitt told his home fans it had been the perfect way to go out.
“It’s a weird emotion, I don’t think it’ll fully settle in until a couple of days’ time,” Hewitt said.
“It was obviously in the back of my mind coming into every match this week but I’ve had a fantastic last month playing in what feels like every major city in this great country.
“I feel honoured to have the support and love from this crowd, it means so much to me. I’ve had such great success on this court and I feel fortunate to finish here.”
Hewitt’s farewell tournament has been soured by allegations of match- fixing within tennis after an investigation carried out by the BBC and Buzzfeed claimed 16 players under suspicion were allowed to continue playing unchecked.
An online blog, showlegend.tumblr.com, mentioned Hewitt in connection to the investigation, but he strenuously denied any involvement in fixing. Like Novak Djokovic on Wednesday, Hewitt said it was “absurd” to be linked with the saga.
“I think it’s a joke to deal with it,” Hewitt said. “You know, obviously, there’s no possible way. I know my name’s now been thrown into it. I don’t think anyone here would think I’ve done anything corruption or match-fixing. It’s just absurd. For anyone that tries to go any further with it, then good luck. Take me on with it. It’s disappointing. I think throwing my name out there with it makes the whole thing an absolute farce.”
Hewitt’s fighting spirit often boiled over in his career and it did against Ferrer too when the Australian took exception to a linesman handing him a foot-fault.
At the change of ends Hewitt told umpire Pascal Maria: “You’re a fr****** idiot. That’s why everyone in the locker room thinks you’re so full of yourself.” The pair shook hands, however, at the end of the match and Ferrer now goes through to meet American 31st seed Steve Johnson in the next round.
Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic also made progress but Rafa Nadal’s conqueror Fernando Verdasco tumbled out after he lost in four sets to Dudi Sela of Israel.
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