Melbourne, 3 December 2010 | Tim Rose

Tonight sees the presentation of the inaugural Newcombe Medal at the Australian Tennis Awards, which will see one of four players crowned as the most outstanding elite player in the country for 2010. Ahead of the gala dinner at Melbourne Park, we take a look at the finalists and see how they fared in 2010.

Lleyton Hewitt
The sole male player nominated for the Newcombe Medal, Hewitt began 2010 with his 14th straight Australian Open, equalling the Open era record for most consecutive appearances, a testament to the former World No.1’s incredible durability. Not long after, however, he was struck down by injury, succumbing to a chronic hip injury. He returned with some good form, reaching the quarterfinals of his comeback tournament in Houston.

But it was in June that Hewitt hit his stride. Facing Roger Federer in the final in Halle, he snapped a losing streak against the Swiss maestro to extend his career finals record on grass to 7-0 and claim his 28th singles title. After Halle, the Adelaide native had the won the most matches on grass of any active professional player, with a remarkable career record of 98-23.

Always a passionate Davis Cup player, Hewitt then secured his place among Australia’s all-time greats in September during the World Group Play-off against Belgium. Hewitt’s victories in the opening singles rubber and the doubles saw him equal and then surpass Adrian Quist’s all-time record for most wins by an Australian in Davis Cup competition. After pulling out with injury for the reverse singles, Australia was unable to claim victory without him.

Further indication of the respect Hewitt is held in by the tennis community came at the World Team Championships in Dusseldorf, where he became just the second Australian after Pat Rafter to be awarded the Fair Play award, as voted by the participating team captains and tennis journalists.

Hewitt’s nomination is a just reward for the leading light of Australian men’s tennis.

Sam Stosur
Australia’s No.1 player had a superb year in 2010 after choosing to focus more of her attention on her singles career after a strong 2009 that saw her reach the semifinals at Roland Garros. After a solid start to the year that included a 4th round appearance at her home Grand Slam and an undefeated tie in the Fed Cup, it was the claycourt season that saw Stosur storm into the world’s top 10.

She embarked on a brilliant run, winning the second and biggest title of her career with her first tournament on clay for the season in Charleston. In doing so, she became the first Australian to claim the title in the tournament’s history.

After another dominant Fed Cup performance against the Ukraine, where Stosur was again undefeated and secured Australia’s berth in the World Group I for next year, she returned to the claycourt season in style. An unbeaten run of 11 straight matches ended with a loss in the final in Stuttgart to Justine Henin. Another quarterfinal appearance in Madrid saw Stosur enter the French Open in red-hot form and one of the title favourites as the No.7 seed.

Faced with the toughest section of the draw, Stosur stunned Henin to avenge the Stuttgart defeat, ending the Belgian’s dominance at Roland Garros, where she had not been defeated in 24 matches. Next faced with Serena Williams, who had ended her Australian Open dreams in January, Stosur saved a match point before grinding out one of the toughest wins of her career to enter the semifinals with an 8-6 victory in the deciding set. After promptly dispatching Jelena Jankovic 6-1 6-2 – incredibly, the third consecutive former World No.1 she’d defeated in a row – Stosur entered her maiden Grand Slam final in the form of her life. She fell agonisingly short of her first major title, losing to veteran Italian Francesca Schiavone.

A quarterfinal appearance at the US Open saw Stosur finish the year as World No.6, having equalled or surpassed her career-best results in three of the four Grand Slams.

On paper, Stosur appears the favourite for the Newcombe Medal, with the man himself commending her year as “outstanding”.

Jarmila Groth
Having represented Australia since 2007, Groth gained full Australian citizenship in late-2009 and began 2010 as a fully fledged Australian player. After claiming her 11th ITF title in March in Sydney, Groth took her career-best form to the majors. Back-to-back Grand Slam fourth-round appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon – the latter featuring a third-round win over fellow nominee Anastasia Rodionova – were career-best performances and due reward for Groth’s hard work. At Roland Garros, her effort made her the first wildcard to reach the round of 16 since 2002.

In Guangzhou in September as No.1 seed, Groth capped off a great year with her first tour level title. A straight sets victory in the final gave the young Australian yet another rankings boost, propelling her into the top 50 for the first time. The year’s end saw her finish at No.41, her current career peak and securing her place as Australia’s No.2 ranked woman; she will be striving to climb even higher in 2011.

Still only 23, the future looks bright for the popular Groth, who is married to fellow Australian professional Sam.

Anastasia Rodionova
Based in Melbourne, Anastasia Rodionova began representing her adopted country in 2009 after 12 years of competition under the Russian flag – and 2010 saw her relish the opportunity to do so. In April she made her debut for Australia in the Fed Cup, in the World Group Play-offs no less. After a nervous start, in which she lost the first seven games, she recovered brilliantly to win her singles rubber and send Australia on its way to a clean sweep over Ukraine.

A determined Rodionova then achieved career-best performances at both the French Open and Wimbledon, both times eliminating seeded players on the way to reaching the third round.

The highlight, however, came at the Commonwealth Games in Dehli, where she entered the tennis event as the No.1 seed in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. After breezing into the final against local favourite Sania Mirza, Rodionova held firm under pressure to claim gold after a nail-biting third-set tiebreaker. She then followed up her singles gold in the doubles event with Sally Peers, the pair claiming the gold medal in an all-Australian final against Olivia Rogowska and Jess Moore. She missed out on a perfect tournament by the narrowest of margins, winning a silver medal with Paul Hanley in the mixed doubles.

Australia’s No.3 woman, Rodionova’s doubles semifinal appearance at the US Open pushed her ranking to 26, a career best, while she finished the year at No.64 in singles and will be looking to push into the top 50 and beyond in 2011. Her nomination recognises her success this year, particularly in representative events.

Other Australian Tennis Awards to be presented tonight and the finalists are as follows:

Most Outstanding Tennis Community
Cairns Regional Tennis Centre (Qld), Kendall Tennis Club (NSW) and Bendigo Tennis Association (Vic).

Volunteer Achievement Award
Jean O’Brien (NSW), Ross and Alen Smythe (Qld) and Tom Hancy (Vic).

Most Outstanding Club
Geelong Lawn Tennis Club (Vic), Gove Peninsula Tennis Club (NT) and Kendall Tennis Club (NSW).

Most Outstanding Tournament
Burnie International (Tas), Cliffs Esperance International (WA) and Cairns International Pro Tour (Qld).

Excellence in Officiating
Kerrilyn Cramer (Vic), James Tucker (Qld) and Margaret Sheean (NSW).

Junior Athlete of the Year
Ashleigh Barty (Qld), Monika Wejnert (Qld), Jason Kubler (Qld), Ben Mitchell (Qld), Bernard Tomic (Qld) and James Duckworth (NSW).

Most Outstanding 35 Tennis Senior
Andrew Rae (Vic), Neville Halligan (Qld) and Carl Anjou (Vic).

Most Outstanding Athlete with a Disability
Daniela di Toro (Vic), Ben Weekes (NSW), Zvi Schwietzer (Vic) and Kelly Wren (NSW).

Coaching Excellence – High Performance
David Taylor (NSW), Scott Draper (Qld), Gary Stickler (Qld) and Nicole Pratt (Qld).

Coaching Excellence – Club
Brett Lennard (ACT), John Roberts (WA), Craig Louis (NSW), Lee Pearson (Vic), Matthew Limpus (Qld), Wes Horskins (Vic) and Pat Coburn (NT).

Coaching Excellence – MLC Tennis Hot Shots
Helen Rice (WA), Matthew Bull (WA) and Wes Horskins (VIC)