Bernard Tomic is one seriously talented sonofabic
When you hear the words “father”, “coach” and “talented young tennis player” in the same sentence, it’s usually time to oil the rifle. For now, though, let’s give young Australian tennis star Bernard Tomic the benefit of the doubt.
Overnight, Tomic became the only Australian men’s player other than Lleyton Hewitt to make the Wimbledon quarter finals since 2003 with his demolition of some Belgian dude with an X in his name. He’ll now face world number two Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in an exhibition match in Melbourne last summer.
In serious competition, Djokovic will likely whip Tomic. But as the youngest man in the draw, the Australian’s performances at Wimbledon this year prove beyond doubt that he has now officially arrived, after all the years of hype. So now that he’s here, what can we expect to see?
Well, hopefully less of his father for a start. John Tomic is Croatian who moved to Australia when Bernard was a toddler. He had no grounding in tennis, but after buying an old Slazenger racquet for 50 cents and watching his son bloom with said racquet in hand, John Tomic quickly displayed many symptoms of PTPS, or pushy tennis parent syndrome.
Among other colourful moments, John Tomic once said that Lleyton Hewitt drank too much, and is also said to have refused a practice session with Hewitt, on the grounds that Lleyton wasn’t good enough for his son. That same year, John Tomic reportedly threatened to return to Croatia after a spat with Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.
On that occasion, the elder Tomic had a reasonable point. Young Bernard’s second round match was scheduled ridiculously late for a (then) 17 year old. But overall, the father appears to enjoy his son’s reflected limelight just a little too much. Troublesome tennis dad Damir Dokic was once escorted out of the US Open for complaining about the price of salmon, and you sense that John Tomic would have done the same.
Young Bernard, however, seems to have a cooler head. When he himself complained about that 2010 Australian Open late match, some deemed it impetuous. They were wrong. Tomic had a fair point, and as the winner of the match, he was more than entitled to make his point without being branded a whinger.
The trick for Tomic is to keep improving, no matter what happens in the Wimbledon quarters. Now 193cm (six foot four), he has an exceptional junior record, and was touted for big things from a ridiculously early age. When he was 13 or 14, an Australian sports magazine did a major six page feature on him. The Times of London ran a feature on him when he was 15 and six foot one.
That’s the kind of intense spotlight under which many players have melted. Queenslander Mark Kratzmann was the world’s number one junior in 1984 and was tipped for greatness. It’s fair to say he didn’t reach the heights predicted.
Tomic, like Kratzmann, must live up to his fine junior record. But he has to do more. He has to carry the weight of a tennis nation in an age when its junior talent production line appears to have broken down irrevocably.
The dearth of Australian junior tennis talent has been the subject of review after review and even one of those terribly serious Four Corners investigations. The result? Nothing. The answers? None.
In truth, the level of expectation in Australian tennis is more skewed than the game’s structure. Australians tend to look at our tennis history through the same lens as we view our cricket history. In low points, we expect an imminent return to good times.
But there’s a key difference between tennis and cricket. In cricket, we still play the same extremely small club of nations we’ve always played, give or take Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So there is every reason to presume we’ll rise again. Well, as soon as we sack chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch, anyway.
Tennis is totally different. The tennis world expands every day. Players from nations on at least five continents are serious threats. Cold countries produce tennis players as readily as warm countries. Tennis players flourish in democracies and despotic regimes alike. Undoubtedly we’ve gotten worse, but the real story is that the world has gotten that much better.
Against this backdrop, young Bernard Tomic fights to make his name. A few good matches at Wimbledon does not a stellar career make. But the signs are positive. While his game lacks a major weapon, he has the hustle of Hewitt, is a genius at creating angles, and has the booming back-court groundstrokes of Nadal. Well, Nadal Lite. But one day he may be Nadal with added Taurine.
For now, we should just let Tomic be Tomic. He acts a bit cool for school, like he knows he belongs at the top, but that’s OK. A little arrogance takes you a long way in sport.
Whether he is embraced universally a la Pat Rafter, or becomes a divisive figure like Lleyton Hewitt, only time will tell. An interesting thing about both Hewitt and Rafter is that they are both gentlemen off the court. The moral of that story is that a little respect can propel you just as far, if not further, than all that arrogance.
That being the case, young Tomic might do well to surround himself with some solid tennis people and professional coaches, and politely tap his Dad on the shoulder and ask him to take a seat up in the bleachers.
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