| Lleyton Hewitt applauds teammate Wayne Arthurs during Davis Cup practice in Sydney on Tuesday. The World Group first-round tie begins on Friday. (Reuters)
Tennis Australia can expect to be fined up to £7,000 by the International Tennis Federation for the failure of world champion Lleyton Hewitt to attend a pre-match Davis Cup press conference here on Tuesday.
Hewitt, who leads the Australian team in the World Group match against Britain starting on Friday, became the first player to fall foul of a new Davis Cup rule.
The rule, which makes it obligatory for all teams to hold a pre-match press conference, was opposed by several of the Davis Cup captains, including Australia’s John Fitzgerald, who argued that the team press conference after the draw ceremony on the eve of the tie should be sufficient. It was eventually accepted as a way of giving individual team sponsors added exposure.
Hewitt’s absence did not come as much of a surprise, given his relationship with Australian journalists and team sponsor Optus.
Explaining it at a conference attended by the three other members of the Australian team — Todd Woodbridge, Wayne Arthurs and Mark Philippoussis — Fitzgerald said: “Lleyton’s feeling tired and needs time to get over the disappointment of his defeat at the Australian Open. But he’s ready to play.”
Without being over-confident Arthurs said that the Australian team, overwhelmingly favoured to win all five rubbers against an injury-hit British team, were looking at the tie as “hopefully one step towards another final”.
Fitzgerald, who has three members of the team who beat France on clay in Nice to win the Davis Cup in 1999, described the Australian line-up as “potentially a very strong team” and added: “If we get over this hurdle, I think we can do some damage [in later rounds].”
Asked what he was doing to counteract possible complacency among his players, Fitzgerald said: “I can honestly say there’s no negative talk about the British team in our locker room.”
Unlike the British captain Roger Taylor, who has to weigh up various factors before deciding who to nominate both for singles and doubles, Fitzgerald’s only quandary is his choice for the doubles rubber on Sunday.
Hewitt and Philippoussis will play singles. He intimated that it was a case of any two from four for the doubles, although the likelihood is that Woodbridge, one of the game’s most seasoned and successful doubles players, will partner Arthurs.
Meanwhile, as the British practice sessions intensified, there is a growing feeling that Taylor might pick his two youngest players, Alan Mackin, 21, and Alex Bogdanovic, 18, both newcomers, for the singles.
If so Mackin, a contemporary of Hewitt’s in junior days, will face Philippoussis in Friday’s singles and Bogdanovic, the national men’s champion, would play Hewitt.
The first Scot to be in line for Davis Cup singles since John Clifton 33 years ago, Mackin is the least known among the squad — but maybe not for much longer. He is the son of former Motherwell, Falkirk and Partick Thistle central defender, Alan Mackin, and jumped at the chance to train with the former Austrian player and coach, Ronnie Leitgeb in Monte Carlo, when it came his way as a junior.
Ironically if he plays on Friday it will be his first match of the year. He spent the first few weeks of the year in a planned “training phase” but when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski pulled out through injury, he was clearly delighted when the call came from Taylor to be in the team.
“Obviously we’re the underdogs,” he said. “But so long as we give it our best shot and do not just capitulate, we can look ourselves in the mirror and be happy with that.”