SYDNEY: Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt will play January's Kooyong Classic for the first time in a revamped preparation for the Australian Open, which he still hopes to win, organisers said Tuesday.
Hewitt, 29, joins a strong field for the January 12-15 event in Melbourne although Open champion Roger Federer has opted to play Dubai instead and world number one Rafael Nadal is another likely no-show. Hewitt, the former world number one, US Open and Wimbledon champion, was a runner-up at the 2005 Australian Open and has reached the round of 16 twice since.
Czech Tomas Berdych, Russia's Mikhail Youzhny, Spaniard Fernando Verdasco and French players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils are also confirmed for the eight-man showpiece, leaving just one spot up for grabs if Nadal plays. "Nothing else has worked in relation to the Australian Open to (Hewitt's) ultimate satisfaction," said tournament director Colin Stubs.
"I'm being told he wants to vary his preparation for the Australian Open and I'm drawing a conclusion that that has to be the reason. "He still thinks he's capable of winning the Australian Open and he wants to try something different."
Stubs said he hoped to secure Sweden's Robin Soderling for the final spot, adding that he was "not very confident" about Nadal, who often does not play just before a grand slam. Federer declined after also playing in Dubai this year on his way to winning the Australian Open, his 16th grand slam title.