Davis Cup: Lleyton Hewitt replaces Nick Kyrgios for US clash

The withdrawal of Nick Kyrgios has not sapped captain Lleyton Hewitt's faith in a reshaped Davis Cup line-up in which he may yet play an active on-court role, despite naming Sam Groth for singles duty as well as the expected doubles partnership with debutant John Peers.

Kyrgios was ruled out of the first-round tie against the US on Thursday morning, having been debilitated by a virus he contracted last week in Dubai. Hewitt took his place in the four-man team but did not nominate himself for any of the five matches to be played over the next three days. That could still change, though, and well might.

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Hewitt explains why Kyrgios withdrew

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"We'll just take it one match at a time and see how it all pans out," Hewitt said after a draw that will see Groth open against world No.11 John Isner, with Bernard Tomic to follow against US No.2 Jack Sock.

"There's five matches and we've got to win three of 'em, and that's the focus right now and we've got to put our best options forward every single day. And we'll have a look at it after each day's play and work out the best strategy for the following day. But at the moment I'm very confident going into tomorrow.

Lleyton Hewitt and Jim Courier pose with the cup during the official draw.
Lleyton Hewitt and Jim Courier pose with the cup during the official draw. Photo: Getty Images

"A lot's going to depend on match-ups, and Grothy's obviously playing tomorrow, as well, in singles, and how he plays and pulls up after his singles, but we've got a lot of options, which is good."

That includes the veteran Hewitt in either Saturday's doubles or Sunday's reverse singles, just five weeks after what was supposed to be the final competitive match of a 20-year career. Indeed, what were the chances as recently as January that he would be at Kooyong in a potential playing role?


"Zero," Hewitt admitted. "Obviously with Nick, when we knew he had some issues, I tried to prepare as well as possible, just to be another option that we have ... You've just got to have back-ups and plan B's, plan C's, plan D's, you've got to have everything in place.

"I pride myself on preparation and doing all the right things and trying to think outside the box, and we've got as good a team as we can field going in, and I'm confident we can still win."

Lleyton Hewitt at his final tournament, the 2016 Australian Open.
Lleyton Hewitt at his final tournament, the 2016 Australian Open. Photo: Joe Armao

To that end, Groth has declared himself willing and ready to play on all three days if needed, starting against Isner in the first career meeting of the thunderous servers. The Australian said he would "try and serve big at the other end, and just get as many return points as I can. It's going to be about holding serve and taking your chances when they come. You can't expect probably a lot of long rallies, especially on a grass court. But for me I don't mind that. I'm gonna break his rhythm up, I'm gonna get forward and I'm gonna definitely make him feel uncomfortable."

Despite a lean start to the year, results-wise, Groth said he was "more than ready to go", after an intensive preparation under Hewitt and coaches Jason Stoltenberg and Tony Roche. "I'm a different player - especially when I come into this environment and come onto grass. It's my favourite surface, I've had my best results on this surface, and, yeah, I've lost a few tight matches over the last couple of weeks, but I'm not hitting the panic button at all.

"I actually went to Lleyton yesterday and said 'whatever you need me to do, I'm ready'. I actually feel like I'm hitting the ball as well as I could be hitting it."

Tomic, who has a fine Davis Cup record and has had a strong start to the season, believes the grass will also work in his favour as he seeks to correct a winless record against Sock. Tomic is 0-3, but all have been on hardcourts.

"He is a good player, he's almost top 20 and he's dangerous but I think this is the surface to get him on, and I think my game's gonna match up well against him on this surface," Tomic said. "And plus being very, very confident the last few months. I'm confident for tomorrow."

Kyrgios, meanwhile, managed to hit only once in the lead-up. According to Hewitt "he's struggling to get out of bed", and may be for some time.

"We took him through his paces a little bit this morning, just gave him a bit of a fitness test," Hewitt said. "We had to see how he pulled up from yesterday. It wasn't the toughest hit yesterday but he just wasn't fit enough to play this weekend, which is just unlucky. It was bad timing for us, but it was really out of our hands in the end.

"(The illness) is a kind of an unknown a little bit. You just don't know. But obviously before nine o'clock this morning we had to make the best possible decision for the team, and we were dealing with Nick on everything. He wanted to put his hand up and certainly didn't want to let the team down, and that's why it was a tough decision for everyone involved."