The 2024 Australian Open guarantees top players to overshadow previous issues | By Courtney Walsh

Nearly twenty years after coming close to breaking a long-standing curse, retired top-ranked player Lleyton Hewitt appeared to be the epitome of an Australian at Melbourne Park on Wednesday.

The captain of the Davis Cup, despite still appearing physically capable of leading the baseline on Rod Laver Arena, will not do so. Instead, he will be honored alongside other Australian legends in January, as it was announced that Hewitt will be inducted into the Tennis Australia Hall of Fame at the launch of the 2024 Australian Open.

The South Australian was a record breaker as the youngest man ever to hold the No 1 spot as a 20-year-old in 2001, a crown that is now held by Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz. The pace of his induction alongside idols including Tony Roche and John Newcombe must be another – it is only three years since Hewitt featured in the Australian Open doubles.

Hewitt’s attempt to break a long-standing drought for Australian champions in 1976 was thwarted by Marat Safin in the 2005 Australian Open final. However, Todd Woodbridge, another Australian athlete, did have a question about the design of the bust that will be displayed alongside other greats in Garden Square at Melbourne Park. Will the bust of the Wimbledon champion feature a cap facing backwards?

Hewitt stated that he doubts anyone else will be wearing a backward cap like him. He also asked if Pat Cash is wearing his headband.

To clarify, he is participating. Despite the distractions, there was much discussion about the upcoming Australian Open in January. Craig Tiley, tournament director for the Australian Open and chief executive of Tennis Australia, has been promoting the event and announced that Rafael Nadal will be returning to Melbourne. Pictures of Nadal practicing on the court have been circulating for the past two weeks, but the renowned Spanish player has been absent from competition since January due to a significant foot injury.

The article “The Comeback Queens” announced the return of past winners Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, and Caroline Wozniacki. Nick Kyrgios, the 2022 Wimbledon runner-up who has not played much recently, is also determined to make a comeback according to Tiley.

Samantha Stosur, Lleyton Hewitt and Todd Woodbridge speak at the Australian Open 2024 launch in front of screen showing Hewitt playing on court

According to Tiley, his health is the main concern. He suffered a serious injury which could potentially end his career, so he is still recovering. However, Tiley has confidence in his ability to be present and perform for us, providing the entertainment we desire.

The warning regarding physical fitness must also be considered for the four previous winners, despite Tiley’s positive outlook. Osaka has shared videos of herself practicing as she aims to make a comeback after becoming a mother. Kerber is also making a return to the sport after giving birth earlier this year. Wozniacki, the 2019 champion, has at least been back in action, reaching the round of 16 at the US Open last month after being absent from the circuit for over three years.

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The Australian Open expansion, ticket prices, soft tennis balls, a festive court, and the extreme heat policy were all discussed with Tiley. He could not promise that changing the start date to a Sunday, making the tournament 15 days long, would prevent late finishes despite recent media attention.

He advised against starting the night session too late. By adding an extra day and spacing out the initial rounds, it may improve, but there are no guarantees.

Having an additional day will increase profits, which is crucial for a company that suffered financially from the high expenses of hosting two Australian Opens during the pandemic. The primary courts will now have two day matches instead of three, starting at noon. However, the cost of tickets for these courts may rise due to a “dynamic pricing policy.” Despite there being one fewer match each day on the primary courts, Tiley claims that this does not mean less entertainment, as ticket holders now have a higher chance of watching matches on other courts.

Tennis players have expressed frustration over the varying types of tennis balls used in different locations each week. Some have been highly critical of the quality of the 2023 AO tournament ball. The CEO of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, stated that they have made improvements to the ball and will continue to do so, but it will always be a difficult task due to the constantly changing conditions. However, he believes they are on track for a successful 2024 tournament.

In recent years, the Open has faced numerous challenges such as bushfires, pandemics, culture clashes, and match-fixing controversies. The upcoming 2024 edition is just under 100 days away. Tiley, who is always optimistic, will need to be as quick on his feet as Hewitt was in his prime to handle these new challenges.