He may miss out on the title he desperately wants but Australian Open fans can send retiring Lleyton Hewitt out a winner with special celebrations planned for his final ever tournament.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley announced on Monday that the 34-year-old would receive a wildcard into the January tournament, which would be a record 20th consecutive Open campaign at Melbourne Park.
Tiley said they still had to work out the details of how the tournament would honour former No.1 Hewitt, as he drew the curtains on his career.
Now ranked 296, Hewitt’s best result is runner-up in 2005 while he hasn’t made it past the second round in the last three years.
“We want to celebrate the great career Lleyton’s had but we need to sit down and talk with him because he will also want to focus on doing the best he can at the Open,” Tiley said.
Hewitt intends to retire following the tournament and then take over Australia’s Davis Cup captaincy.
At 19, Thanasi Kokkinakis isn’t old enough to remember an Australian Open without his Davis Cup teammate in it and said it would be sad to see him go.
“He’s done so much for the sport here so it’s going to be disappointing,” Kokkinakis said.
“I know he’s always going to be involved in tennis so while it’s disappointing for the fans I think a few players can take a breath they don’t have to face him anymore.”
Meanwhile, Tiley announced prizemoney would rise by 10 per cent for next year’s tournament with a total of $44 million dollars on offer.
Organisers also announced a partnership with the Shanghai Masters to pool resources and open up the tournament to the Chinese market.
Kokkinakis, currently ranked world No.76, welcomed the boost in prizemoney.
“Tennis is a tough sport because everyone in the top 100 makes a good living but if you compare it to other sports, if you’re 200 in the world in other sports you can make a killing but in tennis it’s tough to get by.
“Every time there’s an increase in prizemoney it’s music to our ears.”