It was one of those January Melbourne days where stepping outside felt like sticking your head in an oven. Into the furnace and against one of the best-conditioned athletes of his generation, Bernard Tomic attempted the seemingly impossible.
Just half an hour before, his countryman and polar opposite played the only way he knows how. Earlier on, Lleyton Hewitt had been two sets the worse against the very handy Italian Andreas Seppi. All around Melbourne Park, people were wilting, fainting and wandering about like lost dogs. Even the indefatigable and infernal Fanatics were slumped in their chairs.
But on a day when even Melbourne’s trains ground to a halt, Hewitt kept coming. He scrapped, improvised and dragged himself off the canvas innumerable times. He equalled his record for aces in a tennis match, held a match point (Seppi served an ace on his second serve) but ended up going down 6-4 in the fifth. It was hard to imagine a more honourable first round loss.
Prior to his match against Rafael Nadal, prevailing opinion had it that only a similarly Herculean effort would be enough for Bernie to earn the respect of Australian sporting fans. An open letter from Mark Philippoussis – of all people – drummed home similar themes. In reality – in such conditions and against such an opponent – winning over the once-a-year tennis fans was probably the furthest thing from his mind.
As tennis players and as personalities, Nadal and Tomic couldn’t be more different. The languid party boy and the borderline OCD Spaniard; the deft angler and the pulverizing baseliner; the burgeoning talent and the 13-time Grand Slam champion.
Early in the opening game, Tomic pulled up noticeably short after a first serve, having apparently strained an abductor or groin muscle. He was somehow winning points but was grimacing after every one of them. The better he played, the more he limped. Such is his laconic style, it can sometimes be hard to get a read on how he’s tracking. But when Nadal broke and served out the first set, Tomic hobbled to his chair and pulled up stumps. Bernie, like most of southern Australia, was cooked.
And so Rafa books a date with a gentleman by the name of Thanasi Kokkinakis, a string-bean, board-short wearing 17- year-old Australian who prevailed in a marathon Grand Slam debut. Nick Kyrgios and Olivia Rogowska also progressed while on the flipside, Storm Sanders was rolled by Camila Giorgi and James Duckworth went down to a certain Roger Federer. Having lost about half a stone in sweat but no admirers, Hewitt heads to the doubles tournament and the commentary box.
Meanwhile, those merry funsters at Sportsbet have released a market on which nightclub Tomic will limp into first. For the next week or so, that will presumably constitute the main Bernard Tomic story. For everyone else, progressing to the third round and avoiding heatstroke loom as the main priorities.