Nervy Rafter could 'choke' in doubles return with Hewitt

Sun Jan 12, 2014 1:45am EST
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter has enjoyed smiting foes in the senior's tour since his retirement, but fears he may have bitten off more than he can chew by agreeing to partner Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open doubles.

The partnership with Hewitt, the most recent of Australia's grand slam winners, may leave sentimental locals misty-eyed as it hearkens back to the days when Australian men walked tall on the tour at the turn of the century.

For twice U.S. Open champion Rafter, who will return to the A-grade at the age of 41, the feelings are rather different.

Rafter bowed out of tennis after his last match-up with Hewitt, a doubles rubber defeat against France, effectively lost Australia the 2001 Davis Cup.

"Under pressure, I'll probably choke," the former world number one joked to reporters. "Expect that to happen."

Rafter's Davis Cup tie with Hewitt is in Australian folklore as one of the most calamitous collaborations in the country's sporting history.

The pair were thrown together for the doubles in a surprise move, with an injured Rafter swapping with doubles specialist Wayne Arthurs.

They lost to Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro in four sets and, amid worries that Rafter's shoulder would not survive another best-of-five singles, Arthurs was thrown to the wolves and lost the rubber and the Cup to France.   Continued...

Roger Federer of Switzerland (2nd R) smiles as he goes to shake hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain (R) as Lleyton Hewitt of Australia (2nd L) and compatriot Patrick Rafter shake hands during the Kids Tennis Day before the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 11, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray