With the Australian Open just days away, the world’s top players would all tell you that their focus is firmly on the season’s opening Grand Slam. At the same time, there are valuable competitive opportunities against similarly ambitious opponents at other events – such as the AAMI Classic at Kooyong, where many top names are competing this week.
Now in it’s 26th year, the exhibition event has become something of a pre-Australian Open tradition for both players and fans. Competitors this year include world No.7 Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka (No.8), Richard Gasquet (No.9), Kei Nishikori (No.17), Gilles Simon (No.19) Grigor Dimitrov (No.23) and Fernando Verdasco (No.33).
Lleyton Hewitt, two-time and defending champion at Kooyong, has withdrawn from the competition to recover from his grueling title-run in Brisbane – however in a testament to how valuable the players consider their preparation at Kooyong, Hewitt will play an exhibition match against Andy Murray on Friday.
“The past four days of playing four tough matches in a row, I’ve got to do the right thing by my body,” said Hewitt, adding he was thrilled to pave the way for young Australian Jordan Thompson, who earned a wildcard into Australian Open 2014 through a hard-fought victory in the pre-Christmas Play-off.
“I’ve always been looked after extremely well here at Kooyong. I take a lot of pride in obviously winning this tournament twice before and I want to help support Australian tennis as much as possible in these kinds of events. I’m thrilled that I can still come out and play a match on Friday as well, obviously against another quality player.”
Hewitt and Murray are not the only Grand Slam champions fans can see at Kooyong. Novak Djokovic, keen for some competition ahead of defending the Grand Slam he’s claimed on four occasions, will also play an exhibition at Kooyong, the world No.2 facing Juan Monaco on Thursday.
In the meantime, there will be some keenly fought matches in the AAMI Classic’s round robin stage. The eight-man field is divided into two groups –Berdych, Nishikori, Dimitrov, and Ferando Verdasco make up Pool 1 and Wawrinka, Gasquet, Simon and Thompson make up Pool 2.
Day one commences with Berdych facing Verdasco, followed by two of the game’s most promising names in Dimitrov and Nishikori. Having achieved his best Grand Slam result as an Australian Open quarterfinalist in 2012, is hoping that his good form will continue at Kooyong.
“This is an important week for me I hope to play a good three or four matches played here and hopefully this is going to be good preparation for next week,” he said.
In the third match at Kooyong, Thompson will face his toughest opposition yet in Gasquet. Wawrinka, who arrived in Melbourne after claiming his fifth career title in Chennai, India, will wrap up the day’s action when he takes on Simon.