Pat Rafter makes Aust Open doubles comeback

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - The stars of yesterday keep popping up at the Australian Open. Most of the familiar faces are old players back in action as new coaches.

Not 41-year-old Pat Rafter.

After a decade of retirement, the Australian two-time Grand Slam winner dusted off his tennis skills to try his luck at doubles alongside his close friend Lleyton Hewitt.

It turned out the comeback lasted for one night only - or 73 minutes to be exact.

“I probably should have practiced a bit more,” Rafter said after the straight-sets loss to American Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen of South Africa, 6-4, 7-5. “I don’t think it will happen again, but it was good fun while it lasted.”

Rafter has remained in tennis as Australia’s Davis Cup captain, but said most of his coaching involves hitting the ball to players and not returning.

“I just don’t return. I knew that was going to be the worst part of my game, and it was,” said Rafter, winner of the U.S. Open in 1997 and 1998.

“I served better than I thought I would. I volleyed OK,” Rafter said. “I just wish I’d returned a bit better.”

There were a few fly balls and embarrassing errors but Rafter also served five aces and hit a stinging backhand winner on a service return early in the first set, drawing roars from an adoring crowd. He picked up several points at net, showing glimmers of his old serve and volley game.

Hewitt, also a two-time Grand Slam winner, summed up Rafter’s performance after the match.

“As he said, he served very well,” the 32-year-old Hewitt said, deadpan. The former No. 1-ranked Hewitt lost his first-round singles match Tuesday.

The pairing of the Australian icons drew the largest crowd in recent memory to a first-round doubles match at Melbourne Park.

Part of the fun was hearing Rafter share some of the commentary offered by his tennis peers.

“Lendl is a menace. He’s an absolute pest of a guy. He was giving it to me,” Rafter said during an on-court interview at Hisense Arena, the venue’s second show court.

Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Grand Slam winner, has been coaching Andy Murray since the run-up to last year’s Australian Open, and may have started a new trend.

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