Ross Hutchins, the world No 28 in doubles and a regular member of Britain's Davis Cup team, has been diagnosed with cancer. The 27-year-old from Wimbledon revealed yesterday that he is suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands.
Hutchins disclosed his illness after Andy Murray dedicated his victory over Grigor Dimitrov in yesterday's final at the Brisbane International to "one of my best friends back home". His voice cracking with emotion at the presentation ceremony, Murray had added: "You're going to be OK. You're going to get through."
Hours later, Hutchins revealed on Twitter that he would be "away from tennis for a while" after receiving the diagnosis over Christmas. The disease often affects young people but can be treated very successfully if it is caught early. Hutchins, a gentle character who is hugely popular off the court, added: "I am doing well, very positive with excellent medical support, friends and family around me. Looking forward to being back on the court soon."
Hutchins said in a statement: "This came as a shock but I am ready to move forward with the necessary treatment. I look forward to getting over this hurdle and getting back to the ATP tour and full steam ahead with my tennis career."
Roger Draper, the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive, said: "Everyone in British tennis is behind Ross. He is a true ambassador for the sport both on and off the court, and I have no doubt he will overcome this setback."
The son of Paul Hutchins, a former British Davis Cup captain, Ross is one of Murray's closest friends. He has accompanied the Scot at his Florida training camps, regularly watches his matches on tour and has sometimes partnered him in doubles.
His own career has blossomed since he joined forces with Colin Fleming two years ago. Fleming and Hutchins have won three titles together on the main tour and went close to claiming one of the places in the elite eight-team field at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
Having made his Davis Cup debut five years ago, Hutchins has become a fixture in the British team. Fleming and Hutchins have established themselves as the first-choice doubles pair, winning their last three rubbers.
Murray's feelings were evident after his 7-6, 6-4 victory over Dimitrov, although he declined at the time to reveal the identity of someone he described only as "a sick friend".
Despite his concerns for Hutchins, the world No 3 is clearly in confident mood as he heads for Melbourne, where the Australian Open begins in seven days' time.
After his US Open triumph last year Murray will start as one of the event's favourites. "I do feel more relaxed one week out from a slam than I have done previously, that's for sure, so I hope that's a good sign," he said.
Dimitrov, a 21-year-old Bulgarian whose stylish game is regularly compared to Roger Federer's, showed no nerves in his first final, racing into a 5-2 lead with his attacking ground strokes. Murray recovered to win the first set tie-break 7-0 and claimed the 25th title of his career and his second in a row at Brisbane by winning the last three games of the match.
"I got off to not the best start and he was playing very aggressive, and by the end of the first set I had turned the tables and I was the one to make him do a lot of running," Murray said.
"It's a change of mentality really, and that doesn't happen in a few weeks. It's taken time to believe that that's the right thing to do, to be aggressive. That was what I worked on during December, and I worked on it for the majority of last year as well. I did it well today."
Murray has grown accustomed to starting the year in good form. He reached the Qatar Open final in the first week of the season in 2007 and also won the title there in both 2008 and 2009.
In 2010 Murray and Laura Robson lost in the final of the Hopman Cup mixed-team event in Perth and the Scot won all three of his singles matches there the following year.
Murray, who will spend this week practising in Melbourne, also has a fine record at the Australian Open. He reached the final in 2010 and 2011 and made the semi-finals last year.