Rafter falls in Australian Open doubles comeback

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Melbourne, Australia (AP)β€”The stars of yesterday keep popping up at the Australian Open. Most of the familiar faces are old players back in action as new coaches.

Not 41-year-old Pat Rafter.

After a decade of retirement, the Australian two-time Grand Slam winner dusted off his tennis skills to try his luck at doubles alongside his close friend Lleyton Hewitt.

It turned out the comeback lasted for one night only β€” or 73 minutes to be exact.

''I probably should have practiced a bit more,'' Rafter said after the straight-sets loss to American Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen of South Africa, 6-4, 7-5. ''I don't think it will happen again, but it was good fun while it lasted.''

Rafter has remained in tennis as Australia's Davis Cup captain, but said most of his coaching involves hitting the ball to players and not returning.

''I just don't return. I knew that was going to be the worst part of my game, and it was,'' said Rafter, winner of the U.S. Open in 1997 and 1998.

''I served better than I thought I would. I volleyed OK,'' Rafter said. ''I just wish I'd returned a bit better.''

There were a few fly balls and embarrassing errors but Rafter also served five aces and hit a stinging backhand winner on a service return early in the first set, drawing roars from an adoring crowd. He picked up several points at net, showing glimmers of his old serve and volley game.

Hewitt, also a two-time Grand Slam winner, summed up Rafter's performance after the match.

''As he said, he served very well,'' the 32-year-old Hewitt said, deadpan. The former No. 1-ranked Hewitt lost his first-round singles match Tuesday.

The pairing of the Australian icons drew the largest crowd in recent memory to a first-round doubles match at Melbourne Park.

Part of the fun was hearing Rafter share some of the commentary offered by his tennis peers.

''Lendl is a menace. He's an absolute pest of a guy. He was giving it to me,'' Rafter said during an on-court interview at Hisense Arena, the venue's second show court.

Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Grand Slam winner, has been coaching Andy Murray since the run-up to last year's Australian Open, and may have started a new trend.

Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, both six-time major winners, have reported for coaching duty for the first time at a Grand Slam to train Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, respectively.

Former No. 2-ranked player Goran Ivanisevic β€” who defeated Rafter in the 2001 Wimbledon final β€” has been working with Marin Cilic since November. But he watched the Rafter match Wednesday night.

''He gave it to me afterwards. He couldn't believe how bad my return was,'' Rafter said, bleeping out the word Ivanisevic used to describe his hitting. ''He said it ... not just bad, it was really bad.''

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COMEBACK FROM CANCER: After surviving cancer, British tennis player Ross Hutchins returned to the Australian Open to win his first-round doubles match.

Almost one year ago, Hutchins was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells, and underwent several months of chemotherapy.

Hutchins and his doubles partner Colin Fleming reunited earlier this year to play season-opening tournaments in Brisbane and Auckland, losing both in the first round.

On Wednesday, the pair advanced to the second round in Melbourne after defeating Marinko Matosevic and Michal Przysiezny 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.

''It's an amazing feeling to be back, and especially to get our first win,'' Hutchins said. ''I think we did well to dig out a win today. It was actually brilliant to be honest, and I'm loving the feeling right now.''

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BOY WHO CRIED WOLF: Bernard Tomic has been called the bad boy of Australian tennis and mocked by local media as ''Tomic the Tank Engine.'' He got a new nickname Wednesday: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Tomic felt compelled to call a news conference to prove that he really was too injured to finish his first-round match a day earlier against No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

When Tomic retired Tuesday after losing the first set 6-4, the crowd booed loudly. Australian commentators cast doubt on Tomic's claim of a groin injury at his post-match news conference. Some recalled accusations at the 2012 U.S. Open that he ''tanked,'' or deliberately lost a match against Andy Roddick.

''I think I was misunderstood,'' the 21-year-old said Wednesday. This time he brought a doctor for back-up.

''Had the scan this morning, which confirmed that obviously I was right,'' said Tomic. He described the injury as a small tear in his groin.

The doctor, Martin Clark, specified it was an adductor longus tear, which should heal in one to three weeks.

''Had he played on, it could have been a three- to four-month injury,'' said Clark. ''The scan is entirely consistent with his symptoms yesterday and completely vindicate his coming off.''

Former Australian player, coach and now television commentator Darren Cahill said the crowd's reaction Tuesday was a sign of built-up frustration over Tomic.

''It's a little bit like the boy who cried wolf,'' Cahill said on ESPN.

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