SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: New Australian No.1 Bernard Tomic opens against Swiss No.2 Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off on Friday, while former No.1s Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer resume their Davis Cup rivalry in a wildly anticipated second rubber.
On a sparkling Sydney Harbour, the two teams arrived for the draw ceremony, flags a-waving, on separate navy patrol boats, and came ashore at the chic Wharf Restaurant. With the backdrop of the city's landmark Coathanger (aka the Sydney Harbour Bridge), friendly foes Federer and Hewitt shook hands to symbolise the resumption of hostilities between them.
In their last Davis Cup encounter, the 2003 semifinal at Melbourne Park, the two served up one of the classic matches in the annals of the competition. Hewitt roared back to win from two sets and a service break down - a loss that Federer maintains cut deeper than his weekend loss to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the US Open.
'For me just to keep fighting and hang in there, it's one of my greatest memories,' Hewitt recalls. Seven years would pass before he beat the Swiss maestro again - the final at Halle in 2010 - but in Davis Cup, it's the Aussie who enjoys dominance, the only player to twice defeat Federer in singles (the first back in 2000).
In four Davis Cup meetings stretching back to 1930, the Swiss have never beaten Australia. But their all-star pairing of Federer and Wawrinka, ranked No.3 and No.19 respectively, and the Beijing gold medallists in doubles, have the visitors starting as favourites for the first time against Australia, ironically on the Aussies' beloved grass. Switzerland has never before played a Davis Cup on grass.
'Interesting choice,' Federer said of the surface, admitting to feeling 'a bit unusual' being in Australia and on grass out of season. But for the six-time Wimbledon champion grass poses fewer challenges than adjusting from a long-haul flight from New York that saw him arrive early Wednesday, leaving just two days for practice. Swiss captain Severin Luthi sees grass as the wildcard of the tie. 'We'll know after the tie how big a factor the grass is. It's a pretty open tie. Almost all the matches seem to be open.'
The Aussies have sacrificed the financial windfall of a sold-out stadium (the Olympic Park Tennis Centre across town seats 13,000) for the surface advantage of the grass tennis courts at Royal Sydney Golf Club, capacity 3700. In picturesque Rose Bay, Royal Sydney has a fin-de-siecle charm and boasts among its former members Sir Norman Brookes, Australia's first Wimbledon champion in 1907.
As well as the choice of Hewitt, Wimbledon champion in 2002, grass brings good vibes for 18-year-old Tomic, who created a sensation at Wimbledon by going from the qualifying to the quarterfinals, his deceptive, 'funky-junky' game at its most bamboozling on grass. The lanky youngster is now ranked inside the top 60, but has never faced Federer or Wawrinka.
The home team have no illusions about the obstacle 26-year-old Wawrinka poses. At the Australian Open, Hewitt watched his slashing wins over Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick from the commentary booth. 'He's a quality player - top 15 in the world - a tough match-up for both myself and Bernard,' Hewitt notes.
As for the aging warrior himself, despite being ranked a lowly 199, the Swiss are treating Hewitt with wary respect. 'Lleyton's ranking doesn't speak the truth,' Federer maintains. And after a long preparation, Hewitt's competitive juices are stirring. He's also been selected for doubles, alongside Chris Guccione.
'The great thing about Davis Cup - anything can happen,' affirms Australia's greatest winner in the competition. 'Doesn't matter what your ranking is.' Play begins at 11am.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Bernard Tomic (AUS) v Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)
R2: Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) v Roger Federer (SUI)
R3: Hewitt / Guccione (AUS) v Federer / Wawrinka (SUI)
R4: Bernard Tomic (AUS) v Roger Federer (SUI)
R5: Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) v Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)
Live scores and live streaming of this tie will be available on the Davis Cup website, and live radio commentary of the World Group semifinals will also be broadcast.
Roger Federer (SUI) - 15/09/2011
Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) - 15/09/2011
Bernard Tomic (AUS) - 15/09/2011
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 15/09/2011
Captain Patrick Rafter (AUS) - 15/09/2011
Captain Severin Luthi (SUI) - 15/09/2011