Melbourne, 3 December 2010 | Tim Rose

John Newcombe says he is humbled to be recognised with the inauguration of the Newcombe Medal, awarded to the elite Australian tennis performer of the year. The medal will be awarded as part of the Australian Tennis Awards, to be held at Melbourne Park on Friday night.

The medal was named in honour of Newcombe as recognition for a glittering career as a player, ambassador and coach that saw him claim 26 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles, and a Davis Cup win in 1999 as captain, which broke a 13-year drought in the tournament for Australia.

Newcombe, who called time on his playing days in 1981, paid tribute to the champions of the game to have played before him, saying that he had sought to emulate their performance and conduct throughout his career.

“As a player, I felt that I had a duty to represent the great players that had come before me, going right back to Sir Norman Brookes, in the way they behaved on and off the court, and represented their country and Tennis Australia.

“As a Davis Cup captain, I felt very strongly that when we finished our tenure, it would have been great to have won the Davis Cup, but more importantly it was to make sure that the players who were playing under us had a great understanding of what they were representing – that they were representing the Australian history of the Davis Cup competition and all the great players that had come before them,” he said, reflecting on his partnership with his former doubles partner Tony Roche, who coached the Davis Cup team during Newcombe’s reign as captain.

With Lleyton Hewitt, Sam Stosur, Anastasia Rodionova and Jarmila Groth in the running for the first Newcombe Medal, Newcombe said that while 2010 had its ups and downs for Australian tennis, there was plenty to be proud of and build upon for the future.

“I have great confidence in the ability of our youth to perform, and I think that the systems are in place to help them achieve their potential,” he said, making note of Stosur’s “outstanding” year, which saw her reach her maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros and finish the year as World No.6.

Evidence of Newcombe’s hope can be found in the nominees for Junior Athlete of the Year, which include Bernard Tomic, junior Wimbledon finalist Ben Mitchell and 14-year-old Ashleigh Barty, who is being touted as the next big thing in Australian women’s tennis.

Other awards on the night include those for Most Outstanding Tennis Community and a Volunteer Achievement Award, and Newcombe reiterated the importance of the work put in at grassroots level across the country, especially in regional areas, “where so many of our past champions came from.”

“It’s imperative.”

“The idea of a Newcombe Medal, to reward or acknowledge the outstanding player, the best and fairest player is great, but even more so [is] to acknowledge the work of thousands of people helping tennis around Australia. It’s great that they’ll all be acknowledged as well.”