No matter how long Bernard Tomic plays tennis at the highest level, he will surely remember the 2014 Australian Open as one of his career low-points. But if he’s smart – and that’s a big ‘if’ judging by some of his public performances – it could be a turning-point.
If the events of the past week haven’t provided the wake-up call his professional tennis career demands, he should probably pursue another line of work. Nightclub ownership, perhaps. Maybe a sports-car dealership.
At this point, unlike others, I’m not going to draw a comparison with another tennis under-achiever, Mark Philippoussis. That’s because Philippoussis actually had a career and a good one at that.
Sure, it probably wasn’t the one his talents promised, but it was still impressive on a lot of levels: Philippoussis made two grand slam finals and helped Australia to a couple of Davis Cup wins. Tomic’s way short of that at this point and appears to be slipping further.
I can’t think of too many other Australians who’ve been cheered wildly onto centre court at the Australian Open, only to be booed and jeered about an hour later, as Tomic was last Tuesday.
The crowd reaction at Rod Laver Arena had more to do with Tomic’s history than the circumstances of the moment. Clearly the player was injured and couldn’t go on without risking long-term damage. I got that. But could the injury have had something to do with a lack of proper preparation?
Rightly or wrongly, Tomic’s past is catching up with him. As former US Davis Cup captain, Patrick McEnroe, observed: “He (Tomic) hasn’t dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’ off the court (with) his fitness, his training, his regimen, his team around him.”
Leaving many, including me, to conclude: If Tomic had been painstaking in his preparation, maybe his body wouldn’t have broken down in the first minutes of one of the biggest matches of his life.
A battle-scarred veteran and a couple of very special K’s – Kyrgios and Kokkinakis – put him to shame.
But the boos and jeers weren’t the only things that should sting Tomic. Elsewhere, a battle-scarred veteran and a couple of very special K’s – Kyrgios and Kokkinakis – were putting him to shame.
The comparison with Tomic’s limp performance against Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt’s astonishingly brave five-set loss to Italian seed, Andreas Seppi, couldn’t have been more stark. The media devoured it and Tomic was forced to call a press conference the next day to defend himself. (Memo Bernard: Never say in public you were “happy” to forfeit. It alienates those who spent money to watch you.)
If the goal of the press conference was to restore whatever is left of his reputation, it didn’t work. Tomic came across as a gormless teenager – which is odd, given he’s actually 21 now – who doesn’t grasp that time is rushing by. Not only that, you can’t pick and choose your time. Fate tends to do that for you, a fact recognised by none other than Rod Laver in discussing Tomic late last year.
“If you don’t put your best effort in every time, you won’t know when the best time is to play your best tennis,” Laver said at the launch of his memoir last October when asked about Tomic. He added: “There is no best time.”
Of course there isn’t. And don’t talk to me about daddy issues either. Tomic’s an adult now and should behave like one.
But what should be the biggest spur to Tomic’s spluttering career came a couple of days after his sad exit from the Open.
Within hours of each other, doubles partners and good mates, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, challenged Tomic in very real ways for the marketing-friendly and extremely lucrative mantle he’s enjoyed for five or so years now – the future of Australian tennis.
Seventeen-year-old Kokkinakis was brave and more than competitive against Nadal on centre court while 18-year-old Kyrgios was probably unlucky to lose against French seed, Benoit Paire. Pain and cramp intervened to leave Kyrgios well short of his game. But he was never going to give up, pointedly telling his post-match press conference he was determined to expend every ounce of energy he had on court.
When I heard him say that, I wondered if Tomic had caught it too.
In the hours after Tuesday night’s debacle Tomic tried to spin what had gone on. “You’ve got to look at it as a positive,” he said, somewhat bizarrely, “Use it to improve.”
I, for one, hope he was serious. Because if Tomic looks in the rear-vision mirror of that sports car he’s fond of driving at excessive speeds, he’ll see a couple of teenagers gaining on him. Fast.