MELBOURNE, Australia -- For the first time in 15 years, five Australian singles players reached the third round of the Australian Open.
The last time that happened, back in 2004, Roger Federer had just one Grand Slam title to his name, Mark Philippoussis was the nation's highest-ranked player and the Melbourne Park courts were still green. Yep, that hideous bright green.
It's fair to say the past decade and a half has been a dry spell for Australian tennis, but the efforts of the country's top-ranked players, Ash Barty and Alex de Minaur, as well as little known wild cards Alex Bolt, Alexei Popyrin and Kimberly Birrell should be cause for excitement and celebration in 2019.
Emphasis on the word "should."
Whether right or wrong, Tomic's opening-day accusation that Australia's Davis Cup captain Hewitt has been promoting talent for his own personal gain -- something that has vehemently been denied by Hewitt and his management company -- ignited an issue that had been rumored for some time, and quickly became a raging fire that has dominated the media narrative in Australia ever since.
Tomic's verbal attack came just hours after he had bowed out of the tournament following a straight-sets loss to Marin Cilic.
"No one likes him anymore," Tomic said of Hewitt. "We have a lot of issues that not a lot of players are happy about. All these guys that got wild cards are under a system. They're all under Lleyton's wing, under his management company. What he's doing is wrong."
Tomic's comments sparked a weeklong war-of-words between some of Australian tennis' biggest names. Kyrgios, who was also sent packing in the first round, took to Instagram with a not-so-cryptic poll, which has since been deleted. With three Australians in action on Wednesday evening, Kyrgios asked his followers who Hewitt was watching, giving the options of de Minaur -- who Hewitt was cheering on from his players' box -- or no-one else. The implication being, Tomic was correct in his claims.
Then it was over to Hewitt, who initially chose to rise above the barbs and brush off the criticism, but who could hold his tongue no longer, and fired back at Tomic. Hewitt claimed he had been the target of "blackmail and physical threats" from Tomic, adding Tomic would not be a part of Australia's Davis Cup team as long as Hewitt was the coach. Tomic denied these allegations, calling the two-time grand slam champion a "liar."
Hewitt's desire in wanting to set the record straight is understandable, but by doing so, or at least attempting to, he has poured more fuel on what has been an unnecessary fire. He has taken the shine off his star pupil de Minaur, who was bundled out of the tournament by Rafael Nadal on Friday, as well as the other four Aussies, and he knows it.
"Those guys have worked their butts off this preseason, all of them. They got an opportunity and they've taken full advantage of it." Hewitt said when asked about the performances of the local contingent. "You can throw John Millman in that category and Jordan Thompson has had a great summer.
"For me, it's satisfying seeing those guys get results. There's no secret, 50 percent of tennis is going out there and doing the work."
And on Saturday, the feud escalated further after it emerged Tomic's father said he would begin legal action against Hewitt over an incident he alleges happened nine years ago between his son and the Australian legend.
Sure, this Tomic and Hewitt spat is a tennis-related issue, but it's one that goes beyond the tennis court. It's an unedifying episode in men's tennis in this country, involving three of its most combustible combatants. It's also a non-Australian Open issue that should not have been played out in this arena.
"It would be more normal if they sit and they talk more than do this thing here in the media," 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal said after knocking out de Minaur. "I have a good relationship with Bernard, I have a good relationship with Lleyton. I don't know all of what's going on out there."
Instead of this childish squabble, we should be discussing 19-year-old Popyrin's upset of seventh-seed Dominic Thiem, albeit with the Austrian retiring in the third set, or that Bolt survived four match points to defeat French journeyman Gilles Simon. What about world No. 240 Birrell and the fact that in one week she has already more than doubled her career prize money?
"There are [Australian] men and women performing well," Barty said following her straight-sets win over Maria Sakkari on Friday. "From my point of view, it's been a super positive week for the players involved.
"I think there are a million stories going on around Grand Slam time because there are so many matches. I have no knowledge of what's going on with the Davis Cup team."
Tennis Australia's chief tennis officer, Matt Dwyer, also felt the need to weigh in on the matter, reinforcing why the likes of Barty, de Minaur and Birrell had enjoyed success at this year's tournament.
"The common denominator of these successes has been each players' unwavering passion to compete and their genuine love of the game," Dwyer said in a statement on Friday. "Support and opportunities will be offered to players who live these values and demonstrate the commitment to maximize their potential."
It's clear the Davis Cup team is fractured beyond immediate repair, that has been obvious for a number of years. Tomic looks to be done for good, at least while Hewitt has the reins, while Kyrgios still has some work to do if he's to be back in consideration.
There's a time and place for everything and this trio, particularly Tomic and Hewitt, could not have picked a worse occasion to take their spat public.