By Matt Cronin
SYDNEY - Young Aussie Bernard Tomic is one of the most intriguing players on tour. Andy Murray says he’s his favorite up and comer to watch because he has so much variety. Lleyton Hewitt has lauded the enigmatic 20-year-old’s potential.
But no one can really get a handle on how far he can go, not when he’s brilliant one moment and then going into a swoon months at a time.
Last week, a rejuvenated Tomic won all of his three matches at the Hopman Cup, even upsetting No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He’s feeling great about the hard work he put in during the offseason and how well he played at in Perth, but the Hopman Cup is an exhibition and even though Tomic needed any kind of win after a desultory fall, his fine display there doesn’t mean that he’ll win the title in Sydney or go deep at the Australian Open.
Recall that he had a mountain of off court trouble last year involving traffic incidents and an early morning wrestling match with friend in a Jacuzzi. He was also accused of tanking his match at he US Open against Andy Roddick, and another one in the fall. Australian Davis Cup captain Patrick Rafter ripped into him, as did more than a handful of Aussie legends.
Australian tennis culture simply does not support a lack of effort, or a lack of courage under fire. It’s a put your nose-to-the-grindstone, be humble and dedicated culture, one that can be supportive of lesser talents who are unable to play with the elite, but one that has no tolerance for superior talents who aren’t dying to join and then beat the elite.
Rafter told Tomic to grow up, as did Tennis Australia, which booted him off the Davis Cup team for the 2013 first round tie and suspended his funding in the short term.
While it’s hard to say whether this tough love worked, at the very least, it appears to have at least temporarily turned his head around, as he’s now saying all the right things, even if he’s not thinking them.
“It was obviously hard, but I’ve learnt,” he said. “It’s just a learning curve. I’m happy it all happened in a way because you learn from your mistakes. Now I can continue to go forward and look to something bright this year.
Tomic says that he over played in 2012, which lead to burn out and perhaps that’s true as he played 27 tournaments and three Davis Cup ties. That’s a lot for anyone, but he also took a slew of first round losses, so it wasn’t as if he was physically grinding through every week, but perhaps mentally, it really did wear on him hopping from locale to locale.
“The biggest problems I had last year is I had no time to rest or train,” he said.” I played a whole bunch of tournaments in a row. Tournaments didn’t feel like tournaments to me at a stage because I was just playing. I didn’t know what I was playing. I didn’t have time to train or prepare. I think from now I’ve decided to not play more than three tournaments in a row and have two weeks off after sort of each period. That’s when I’m going to give myself the best chance, is when I’m fit and prepared to play each tournament and give 100%. :”
That sounds like a super sensible approach, but is that really the entire reason why a guy who reached the Wimbledon quarters at the age of 18 was unable to reach one semifinal all year?
No it’s not, especially in the case of guy with so many shots in his arsenal, who can not only caress drop shots, but bang lightening winners. The fact of the matter is that he is immature, even for a 20 year old. Some young players’ parents encourage this kids to get at least some so-called normal life experience before they go pro full time, which helps them get a grip when times get tough.
It appears that Bernard’s’ parents, or at least his father and coach John, did not, as Bernard, even though he’s seems like nice young guy, can also be petulant and confrontational. John obviously knows something about coaching, but his attempt to install an us against the world mentality in Bernard has backfired on occasion, because what it does is push his son away from the those people in the world who want to embrace him. Given that Australian men’s tennis — which has such a great tradition dating way back into the last century and into the Open era with the likes of Grand Slam champs Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Rafter and Hewitt – has had no elite singles players outside of Hewitt during the last five years has been painful. With Hewitt’s obvious decline due to age and injury, it’s become even more gut wrenching for the Aussie tennis public.
Tomic is the only Australian player who has arisen who clearly has top 10 potential, so the establishment wants to embrace him.
Now he has to decide whether he wants to be loved, or continue to butt heads with the tennis regulars like former Aussie and US Open finalist Mark Philippoussis did. Philippoussis did have a measure of success in his career, but he also spent a lot of time battling the media, the establishment, some of his fellow players and certain groups of fans.
Today, with very little money and no obvious post-retirement profession, he lives on fringe of tennis society. Had he made a decision at some point in his career to try and embrace those who wanted to help him, he might be, like some of his peers, holding down a steady job in the Aussie tennis industry.
Tomic’s tale has yet to be written but we do know one thing about him: even though he has been at odds with Australian tennis culture he always plays well Sown Under. Last year, he reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, his best tourney of the season with wins over Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey and Alex Dolgopolov.
At least he’s not shying away from taking on the challenge of being his nation’s greatest hope at his home Slam. Enigmatic or not, that’s an attitude every Aussie great would applaud.
“I play my best tennis when I am under pressure,” he said. “I love it. It’s a very different feeling. I love nothing more than playing in Australia. It is honestly the best place for me to play in the world, and that’s why I’ve done so well here the past years. The pressure is always there. It’s how you handle it.”
Topics: Andy Murray, Australian Open, Australian tennis news, Bernard Tomic, Hopman Cup, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Lleyton Hewitt, Matt Cronin, Novak Djokovic, Pat Rafter, Rod Laver, Sports, Sydney Tennis News