Lleyton Hewitt has hand-picked Thanasi Kokkinakis to be his doubles partner for his Wimbledon swan song next month in another huge confidence-booster for Australia’s teenage tennis prodigy.
Sixteen years after teaming with a rookie named Roger Federer on debut at the All England Club, Hewitt has chosen another precious teenager to go out with in his 17th and final Wimbledon appearance before retiring after a record 20th straight Australian Open tilt in January.
Impressed not only by Kokkinakis’s meteroic rise up the rankings, but also his attitude, Hewitt is taking his fellow South Australian under his wing for the 19-year-old’s own debut on London’s hallowed grass courts.
Grass is Kokkinakis’s least preferred surface and Hewitt, still one of the game’s most accomplished grasscourt exponents even at 34 and in the last months of his distinguished career, is intent on ensuring the youngster makes a comfortable transition from the clay.
“It’s great for me,” Kokkinakis said at Roland Garros ahead of his third-round French Open showdown with world No.1 Novak Djokovic on Saturday.
Wimbledon officials have yet to publicly announce a wildcard for the 108th-ranked Hewitt into the grasscourt major starting on June 29.
But as a life member after reigning at the All England Club in 2002, the former world No.1’s entry is a formality.
Spoilt for choice, Hewitt could have partnered any number of players in his final competitive appearance at SW19.
He didn’t contest the doubles for more than a decade after he and Federer lost a five-set third-round epic to Pat Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman in 1999.
But the dual grand slam singles champion has partnered great mate Chris Guccione in two of the past three years either side of a crack with his Bahamas neighbour Mark Knowles in 2013.
Choosing Kokkinakis is not only another nod of approval for the teenager – who is projected to rise to 68th in the world rankings following his Roland Garros run after opening last year at No.628 – but could also be a pointer to Australia’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan to be contested on grass in Darwin the week after Wimbledon.
Australia’s Davis Cup captain-in-waiting lost the doubles rubber with Sam Groth in the team’s first-round win over the Czech Republic in March.
With Nick Kyrgios expected to be available again after missing that tie with a back injury, interim Australian captain Wally Masur faces somewhat of a selection dilemma.
If fit, Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic and Hewitt are certain to be picked, leaving Kokkinakis and Groth fighting for the final position in Australia’s four-man team to face the Kazhaks from July 16-17.