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Tomic makes history Down Under

AUSTRALIA'S long search for a successor to Lleyton Hewitt might not be as far away as once feared after teenager Bernard Tomic made a spectacular start to his grand slam career at the Australian Open yesterday in Melbourne.

The teenager from the Gold Coast became the youngest man in professional tennis to win a match at the Australian Open when he defeated Italy's Potito Starace 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).

At 16 years and 89 days old, Tomic is 94 days younger than fellow Australian Todd Woodbridge was when he beat American John Letts in the opening round at Melbourne Park in 1988.

"It's a dream come true to win a first round in my first grand slam," Tomic said.

"I'm just thrilled that I could pull off a win today. With the crowd behind me, it was an unbelievable experience."

With Hewitt struggling with injuries in recent seasons and without a grand slam title since 2002, Australia have been anxious to find another man to fill the void.

Tomic emerged as the most likely candidate after winning last year's Australian Open junior title and announcing, at the end of the season, he was focussing on senior events this year even though he was still eligible to play juniors.

He played his first senior event at this year's Brisbane International, losing in the first round to Fernando Verdasco of Spain, but was awarded a wildcard into the Australian Open despite being ranked only 768th in the world.

"It's a big feeling to play a grand slam, my first one," he said.

"It's a great experience. Nothing could be better than winning a first round in your first one.

"Now I'm through. Things are getting better. So hopefully I can keep going well."

Tomic, playing in sunglasses and wearing a headband, demonstrated composure beyond his years with his win over Starace, ranked 73rd.

He won the opening set in a tiebreaker then kept his cool after losing the second to win another two tiebreakers, saving two set points in the fourth to seal victory.

"If the crowd wasn't there, I wouldn't have pulled it off in the end," said Tomic, who next faces Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.

"Anything can happen right now. I'm in the second round. Who knows, I could get through."


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