Lleyton Hewitt has predicted a “brutal” year ahead for Australia’s top tennis stars, saying the road beyond the Australian Open will be “really hard”.
Six tournaments are being held simultaneously this week ahead of the Australian Open on February 8, when thousands of fans are expected to descend on Melbourne Park.
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But with Australia a world leader in containing the virus, Hewitt says he expects headaches when players like John Millman and Alex de Minaur plot their next moves.
The Brisbane-based Millman and Spain-based De Minaur will represent Australia this week in the ATP Cup.
“To be able to host events like this with crowds, it's unheard of right at the moment,” former World No.1 Hewitt said on Sunday.
“But as tennis players ... it’s the most brutal sport there is with the position that the tour is in as an individual sport on a global stage where you're playing in different countries.
“To use your passport every single week to go into different places, get visas, the quarantine procedures in every single country are so different as well.
“It makes it really hard for these guys ... Johnny is based in Brisbane, but for him to go off and try to compete for the whole year, possibly waste two weeks sitting in a hotel when he comes back at any stage isn’t easy.
“There's a lot of outside-the-box thinking that has to go on to be an Australian tennis player right now, but these guys want to get out there and compete and they're willing to do the hard yards and make sacrifices for that.”
Rafael Nadal heaps praise on Australia
Hewitt said that hardship is why the Australian Open looms as extra special, and that sentiment was shared by Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal.
“Well, I am not a specialist on this stuff, but from my humble opinion, can I just congratulate the country for an amazing effort that Australia did to contain the virus here,” the World No.2 said when asked if he feared the tournament could spark an outbreak.
“It is one of the best examples in the world about how to do things well in this particular case.
“There are no cases here ... we can't (afford to) be the ones who create a big problem in the country and I think they've taken all the necessary measures to avoid that.
“I think the country's safe. We just can say thanks for welcoming us.”
Nadal said he would continue to listen to the experts, including those tasked with organising July’s postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I think everybody wants to play in Olympic Games,” Nadal said.
“I am nobody to have a clear opinion on that.
“I am just a tennis player, a human person ... we're going to do what the people who know about the virus and who know about protecting the people in every single country (tell us).”
De Minaur pushed Nadal to uncomfortable emotional heights last year and the World No.2 expects an ever greater test against the improving Australian this week.
The host nation will begin its ATP Cup campaign against Nadal’s star-studded Spanish outfit on Tuesday night at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, before meeting Greece on Wednesday.
De Minaur took the first set off the Spaniard, who eventually prevailed in an intense semi-final that contributed to de Minaur missing the Australian Open after picking up an abdominal injury.
“(It was a) very emotional match, not great for me, but an emotional one, yes,” Nadal said of their last ATP Cup meeting.
“He's young, he's improving every year, he has lot of things amazing.
“It's going to be a tough battle for all of us playing against a great team like Australia so let's see if we are able to get ready for it.”
World No.23 de Minaur will partner Millman (No.38) in the teams event this week, Millman edging Nick Kyrgios after his ranking dropped to 47 in the world when he opted to stop competing during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
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