Aussie tennis veteran Hewitt to make Kooyong debut

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.

Bureau Report