If Australian Open organisers were looking for a way to increase interest in their already popular event, they found the perfect way yesterday as one of their favourite sons announced a return to grand slam action.
Pat Rafter, twice the US Open champion in the 1990s, is now his country's Davis Cup captain, but when the 41-year-old's name appeared on the drawsheet for the men's doubles, it was a genuine shock.
To almost everyone except Lleyton Hewitt, that is, for Australia's two best players of the past 20 years are to team up, some 12 years after Rafter last played on the main tour.
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Rafter retired at the end of 2001, the year he lost a five-set final to Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon. He also lost the final the year before. Yesterday, he was back on centre stage, only to be interrupted by Hewitt, who emerged from a TV interview to see Rafter hogging the microphone at a press conference. "This is a joke," laughed Hewitt. "What are you doing here? This is why you wanted to play. There should be two chairs, we're playing doubles. Look at this."
The announcement was soon all over Twitter, catching the imagination of their fellow players, with Sergiy Stakhovsky saying: "PLEASE can I get tickets for Rafter Hewitt doubles???? Legendary."
A Rafter-Hewitt doubles match - they play American Eric Butorac and Ravan Klaasen of South Africa - would surely be on a showcourt, but Rafter said there was a chance it wouldn't happen.
"Lleyton wanted to play maybe another match here [but] it depends on how he goes in singles," Rafter said. "If he played with Chris [Guccione, an Australian doubles specialist] or someone like that and he had a tough first-round singles [but won], he'd want to pull out of doubles. Well, I'm the guy [for that]."
Always self-deprecating, Rafter said it would be "beautiful" if Hewitt pulled out and that if they do play, "I'll probably choke." "We're in the draw, but it will all depend on how he goes. It's really important for him to play great singles. That's what it's all about. If he gets through the first singles, he feels comfortable, feeling he might want to play, it's whatever Lleyton wants.
"I'll definitely be the worst player in the competition, 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."
Rafter was told he might not be allowed to play because of anti-doping regulations that require retired players to give three months' notice if they want to come back but the International Tennis Federation said Rafter can play as he is not "officially retired", a guideline that came into operation in 2009.