Nov/10

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Patrick Rafter Plays Peacemaker

Newly-named Australian Davis Cup captain Patrick Rafter will try to play the role of peacemaker and bring together two of Australia’s top singles players. Rafter said he is aiming to end the feud between Lleyton Hewitt and 18-year-old Bernard Tomic, who some Australian coaches believe is Hewitt’s heir as a future Australian No. 1.

Rafter, who played doubles with Hewitt during his career, said he plans to call a meeting between the two players, who are reportedly barely on speaking terms.

“It’s something we will work on over the next few months,” Rafter said at a Brisbane press conference. “It’s no secret they have had issues but I really believe we can sit down and can resolve this.”

Friction between Hewitt and Tomic erupted in June of 2009 when Hewitt asked Tomic to practice with him at Wimbledon and Tomic declined. Tomic’s father later said his son was ill, but there remains underlying tension between Hewitt and Tomic.

Rafter, who settled amicably settled own rivalry with Mark Philippoussis during his Davis Cup playing career, believes he can can help get to the root of the rift and broker a tennis truce between the two camps.

The two-time US Open champion believes the 54th-ranked Hewitt can be a mentor to the 219th-ranked Tomic.

“It would be really important for Bernard to have someone like Lleyton around — he would offer him so much,” Rafter said, adding coach Tony Roche, widely regarded as owner of one of the finest backhand volleys in tennis history, can help the 6-foot-4 Tomic maximize his talent.

“”I think his (Tomic’s) father has done a good job with him but I think it would be good if he did some work with someone like Rochey,” Rafter said. “For him to use Rochey would be very advantageous for him — I really hope he does take advantage of him.”

Hewitt, who underwent a second hip surgery in January, is Australia’s all-time leading Davis Cup singles winner with a 36-9 record and Rafter says the former World No. 1 is the key component to Australia’s Davis Cup aspirations.

“You don’t see a Lleyton come around very often, maybe once every 20 years — he was a freak,” Rafter said. “So we don’t have a Lleyton coming through but guys like Bernard Tomic — and there’s young kids like James Duckworth, Jason Kubler and Ben Mitchell — we can create really good players out of these guys. But obviously Lleyton is one of the greatest Davis Cup players the world has ever seen. He is integral to Australia right now — he’s the man we need. Hopefully the young guys will be able to feed off him.”

The challenges Rafter and Roche face in leading Australia back to the World Group are considerable. Australia missed out on its shot to return to the World Group in suffering a 3-2 loss to visiting Belgium last month.

The defeat relegated Australia to the Asia/Oceania Group I where it will face the winner of the China and Chinese Taipei tie in the second round. Hewitt is the only Australian man ranked inside the top 100 and while Rafter told Tennis Now he believes Tomic is a future top 50 player, Rafter conceded he has reservations about Tomic’s athleticism.

“The one thing every one worries about with Tomic is he’s probably not as good of an athlete (as top 20 players). He’s long and lanky and he’s only 17 so he could grow into it,” Rafter told Tennis Now. “I haven’t seen any signs of him being a great athlete yet. What he has got that is a lot of other skills that other players don’t have. I believe he is a top 50 player and can be there in the next couple of years if he knuckles down. These days you have to be a great athlete. When you played in my era, you could say top 20 (players) don’t have to be great athletes. Right now, everyone is 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 (and) runs well. I think he’s the real deal. He’s got some beautiful skills. I’m watching him and commentating during the Australian Open and I’m being asked about him. I don’t know. I can’t work the guy out. Something about him is awkward. Yes, I think he’s the real deal.”

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4 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Really enjoyed this article. Very interesting and unusual controversy. Unbelievable that an unproven kid would reject being asked to play by a former #1 and Wimbledon champ at Wimbledon. If he was sick or not, you still go out and hit with Hewitt there. The kid was flat out wrong and should flat out apologize to Hewitt and change his attitude. Rafter has a tricky job to mend this wound, hopefully he can settle this dispute and get the best out of both Hewitt and Tomic but it might not be so easy. You look at all those kids who jump at the chance to hit with Federer and Nadal now, and Tomic pulls that stunt? Not sure how Hewitt is going to respond to this.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I was told it might have been a case of the father influencing Tomic’s decision making process but still agree with you: Hewitt asks you to hit you hit regardless of how you’re feeling. Tomic could learn from Hewitt and it sounds like Rafter is wisely trying to achieve two objectives here: 1. Mend the rift between the two which is obviously vital for Australia to have them both playing singles to get back to the world group, 2. By suggesting both Hewitt and Roche can mentor Tomic he’s subtly both trying to diminish the father’s influence (have heard stories the TA is concerned about Tomic senior’s influence over his son’s playing) and get Tomic around two guys who are proven winners and workers.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 2, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Boy, Scoop, you’re tough. No one knows the true nature of this story except the inside participants, but if the kid is sick and tells Hewitt that, he still should hit with Hewitt? That doesn’t make sense. Tennis Australia is in bad shape, when you’re relying on a guy with two hip surgeries and another who can’t break top-200 even at 18.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 2, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I like Tomic but come on, if he’s at the site, he’s not sick. Hewitt is no dummy, he knows what’s going on and reacted as necessary. It was ridiculous for Tomic to do that, just like it was ridiculous for Young to blow the chance to hit with Nadal. I spoke with Sock and JC Gomez who hit with Djokvoic and Nadal respectively at the US Open and it was clear how much of a thrill and positive learning experience it was for them both. It seems some of these young kids like Young and Tomic don’t have their heads on right. But if there’s some facts here that show Tomic was misunderstood, please present them..

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