MELBOURNE, Australia — When the men’s doubles draw was released on Sunday afternoon one name jumped out: Patrick Rafter. The 41-year old Australian Davis Cup captain has signed up to play doubles with Lleyton Hewitt and the pair could face the top seeds, Bob and Mike Bryan, in the third round. Speaking to reporters, the always self-deprecating champion likened the pairing to “chocolate and broccoli.”
“I’ll be definitely the worst player in the competition out there,” Rafter said. “But I’ll have fun. I’m playing with one of the best players in the competition. Figure it’s like eating chocolate or having broccoli, sort of equal it out.”
“I think he still thinks he’s got it in him,” Hewitt joked earlier in the day before crashing Rafter’s press conference. “Hope I don’t have to carry him too much.”
The ITF requires players who come out of retirement to give the anti-doping authorities at least three months notice before competing, but that rule came into effect in 2009, after Rafter stopped playing. A two-time U.S. Open champion and former No. 1, he hasn’t played the Australian Open since 2001 and is listed as “Inactive” on the ATP website, but apparently he never officially retired, opening the door for the partnership. In any event, the ITF has cleared him to play.
“It’s just a bit of fun,” Hewitt said. The idea to pair up was his and he’s been chasing Rafter for a while. “It will be nice on my off days, hopefully I’m still in the singles, on my off days to go out and play dubs with Pat. He’s hitting the ball well enough. Beat Ivanisevic and Henman and those guys over in the seniors tour. Just going to be a bit of fun for both of us.”
Rafter jokingly hopes Hewitt does so well in singles that he pulls out of doubles and lets Rafter off the hook. “We’re in the draw, but it will all depend on how he goes,” Rafter said. “It’s really important for him to play great singles. That’s what it’s all about. He still likes playing competitive matches. He gets through the first singles, he feels comfortable, feeling he might want to play, it’s whatever Lleyton wants.”
Whatever happens, don’t expect Rafter to take the doubles court in any upcoming Davis Cup ties. “There would have to be food poisoning, sicknesses,” he said. “That would be my worst nightmare.”
Here’s some of the reaction on Twitter to the news of Rafter’s comeback. Needless to say, he is much beloved.
— Sergiy Stakhovsky (@Stako_tennis) January 12, 2014
Patrick Rafter is my idol’s idol! He is that cool. #AusOpen
— Amer Delic (@AmerDelic) January 12, 2014
Pat Rafter announces comeback. Instantly becomes Australia’s most popular active tennis player since Pat Rafter.
— Michael Auciello (@MichaelAuciello) January 12, 2014
Can’t wait for the mixed draw to come out. Goolagong/Matosevic FTW.
— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) January 12, 2014