Former world No.1 Pat Rafter has emerged from retirement to take a wildcard into the Australian Open doubles with Lleyton Hewitt
It may seem like pie-in-the-sky stuff, but Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt haven’t completely ruled out teaming up in Davis Cup after accepting a wildcard into the Australian Open doubles.
Rafter, who turned 41 last month, will emerge from more than a decade in retirement from the ATP Tour to reunite with Hewitt for the first time since they lost the pivotal doubles rubber in Australia’s Davis Cup final defeat to France in Melbourne back in 2001.
Now Cup captain, Rafter’s loss to Hewitt in his last-ever singles match a week earlier at the season-ending Masters Cup in Sydney also clinched Hewitt the world No.1 ranking for the first time.
Twelve years and one month on, Rafter and Hewitt will pair up against American Eric Butorac and South African Raven Klaasen in the first round of the doubles at Melbourne Park.
Despite both playing Rafter’s comeback down, the timing couldn’t be more suspicious with Australia taking on France in France the weekend after the Open in their long-awaited return to the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 2007.
Australia’s doubles options are limited, with Hewitt in recent years having to carry the full load of singles and doubles duties.
Asked if they’d consider rekindling their Davis Cup partnership if they went well this week, Hewitt said: “I doubt it. We won’t have anybody to sit on the side of the court. We can’t do that”.
Rafter was equally coy when the Davis Cup theory was put to him.
“I hope not. There would have to be food poisoning, sicknesses. That would be my worst nightmare,” he said.
Hewitt, who even gatecrashed Rafter’s press conference to joke about the one-time world No.1’s comeback, maintained playing doubles together at the Open with his long-time friend was “just a bit of fun”.
“I actually asked him a little while ago,” Hewitt said.
“He still hits a lot at the Davis Cup ties, works us out a bit. Yeah, it’s just a bit of fun.
“It will be nice on my off days – hopefully I’m still in the singles – to go out and play dubs with Pat.
“He’s hitting the ball well enough. He beat Ivanisevic and Henman and those guys over in the seniors tour.”
An ITF spokesman said Rafter was eligible to play at the Open because he never actually retired from the Tennis Anti-Doping Program.
If he had, the two-time US Open champion would have had to apply for a return and wait three months for an all-clear.
“I obviously looked up to Pat a hell of a lot growing up,” Hewitt said.
“He really helped me out. It’s great that he’s Davis Cup captain for me now, as well. Most likely I’ll finish my career with him as Davis Cup captain, which is fantastic for me as well.
“While we’re still able to move around the court together, it’s nice we can go out there and play in a grand slam.”
Unbeaten in six matches this summer and full of confidence after knocking over Roger Federer in Brisbane and Andy Murray at the Kooyong Classic, Hewitt will open his 18th straight singles bid in Melbourne on Tuesday against Italian 24th seed Andreas Seppi.