The 2012 Australian Open is now on the near horizon, as the draw will be released next Friday, Jan. 13. The wild cards for the first Grand Slam of the year are already known, and one player who received a wild card was former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, a player who will be 31 years old in February.
Hewitt received his wild card as an internal selection, and the Aussie will be hoping to play his best tennis at the Australian Open. He'll be hoping for that not just because the event at Melbourne Park is his home country's event, but because Hewitt is in desperate need of a jolt of ranking points.
Entering this week, Hewitt is ranked just 186th on tour, and his chances of ever making an impact on tour again are fading. Bernard Tomic, an ever-improving Aussie, is on the lips of tennis analysts much more than Hewitt is these days, and for good reason.
Where Hewitt won just one Grand Slam match in all of 2011, Tomic won multiple as the young Aussie went on a run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Last year at the Australian Open, we saw Hewitt play a classic match against rival David Nalbandian. The match, which ended at 9-7 in the fifth set, went in Nalbandian's favor as the Argentine scored his third straight win over Hewitt.
While the loss was disappointing for the Australian contingent, the flip side of it is Hewitt now has few ranking points to defend in Melbourne. A first-round exit at the 2011 Australian Open means Hewitt has just 10 ranking points to defend this season.
If he falls in a weak part of the draw, perhaps he can hope for a run to the third or fourth round, the latter of which would both help him leap over dozens of players in the ATP rankings and inject some life back into his fading career.
However if Hewitt should land right beside a top player, not much could be expected of the Aussie. He went just 9-11 last season, and the highest-ranked player he beat was Yen Hsun Lu, a player who was ranked 37th when Hewitt defeated him in the first round of ATP Memphis back in February.
While Hewitt's name is big enough to get him into his home country's major with a back-door wild card, you have to think that the only way he'll get into the Roland Garros draw is through the front door. He'll have to have the ranking to warrant automatic placement in the French Open field, or he'll have to plow his way through a bunch of 20-to-23-year-olds in the qualifying tournament.
Yes, his name is still good in Melbourne, but if he's to make it back to meaningful tour matches, the Aussie better be at 100 percent later this month. Not only that, but he better hope that he ends up beside a non-seeded, inexperienced player in the first round and a player seeded outside the Top 20 in the second round.
If Hewitt draws a player in the Top 15 in the first or second round, then he's not likely to see the third round. That, in turn, would make it that much harder to make a comeback on tour, with another Grand Slam and an opportunity to pick up some prime ranking points slipping away for the soon-to-be 31-year-old.