Bernard Tomic is Australia's top men's hope at the first grand slam of 2014
The former junior world No. 1 has previously excelled in Melbourne event
But Tomic and his dad have more often than not made headlines for the wrong reasons
John Tomic received suspended sentence for assaulting son's ex-hitting partner
As a young teen, Bernard Tomic boasted he would win all four grand slams and become world No. 1. They were big words indeed.
So far, though, the 21-year-old’s indiscretions far outnumber any achievements with his tennis racquet.
Yet local hopes will realistically rest on the former junior No. 1 when the Australian Open begins next week, given the home struggles of the nation’s top female player, Samantha Stosur.
Tomic has had brushes with the law – caught speeding on multiple occasions, including once in his Ferrari – been accused of a “tank job” at a grand slam and admitted himself he hasn’t always given 100% in matches.
Call him tennis’ tainted talent.
But if you think that’s bad, wait until you hear about his dad, John.
He had long been labeled one of those difficult tennis parents even before being given an eight-month suspended sentence in September for headbutting his son’s former hitting partner, Thomas Drouet.
The elder Tomic has been banned from ATP tournaments until May and, just like at last year’s French Open and Wimbledon, won’t be allowed into the grounds at the Australian Open.
On the eve of the season’s first major, Patrick Rafter – captain of Australia’s Davis Cup men’s team and one in a long line of tennis greats the country has produced – said it’s time for Bernard to put everything behind him and live up to his own hype.
“He’s 21 but we’ve got to be careful we don’t keep calling him young because he’s a man now, he should be taking responsibility for himself,” Rafter told CNN’s Open Court. “We’ve seen a lot of other kids take responsibility for themselves.”
Rafter, usually mild mannered, ripped Tomic at the 2012 U.S. Open when he fell meekly to Andy Roddick, calling it a “disgraceful” performance. Tomic lost 6-3 6-4 6-0 and won just five points in the final set.
Outspoken former world No. 1 John McEnroe, now a television analyst, labeled it a “tank job” and legendary Aussie coach and ex-player Tony Roche reportedly berated Tomic during a Davis Cup encounter against Germany weeks later.
That October, Tomic said he gave merely “85%” in a defeat at the Shanghai Masters.
Lack of effort has never been an issue for his Davis Cup teammate Lleyton Hewitt – a two-time grand slam winner, and victor over Roger Federer in Sunday’s Brisbane final.
Tomic, in another faux pas, once turned down a chance to hit with his childhood hero Hewitt at Wimbledon.
A liking for Melbourne, London
And he ended 2013 by losing six straight matches, with his year-end ranking tumbling to 51st from a high-water mark of 27th in June 2012.
“He’s going through some tricky times with his family life, but that motivation, he doesn’t seem to really have it that much,” said Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champion.
Federer was quoted as saying by Fox Sports Australia in late December that “we all expect more from Bernard,” adding that 2014 would be pivotal.
“It’s going to be one of those seasons where he (needs to) prove himself on the tour and not (linger) around No. 50 in the world,” said Federer.
At his home major at least, Tomic’s issues seem to disappear.
With all of Australia behind him, Tomic fared well in 2011, 2012 and last year, with his talent – and unorthodox game – there for all to see. All three occasions he was stopped by either Rafael Nadal or Federer.
Wimbledon is the other major where he excels.
At the All England Club in 2011, Tomic became the youngest man in 25 years – since Boris Becker – to reach the quarterfinals.
“He has got youth on his side where he can develop over the next couple of years and become a great player,” said Rafter. “He’s had success, especially at Wimbledon, so there’s no reason why he can’t do well.”
Tomic couldn’t be reached for comment but his agent, Fraser Wright, said in an email that the player was devoting “total attention to the Aussie summer tournaments.”
And in December Tomic, while reiterating that his father was still a vital member of his team, told an Australian television show that he needed to become “wiser.”
“You’ve always got to think about what you’re doing and what the consequences are,” he said when asked about the lapdancing incident. “Sometimes I don’t think like that.
“I’ve got to become a little bit more wiser, and I think mature a little bit more.”
With Stosur perennially struggling in Melbourne, former world No. 1 Hewitt long past his best after years of injury problems, and three major prospects – Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Ashleigh Barty – perhaps not ready to make a splash, Tomic figures indeed to be Australia’s main contender in Melbourne.
But Kyrgios and Kokkinakis fill Rafter with hope.
“You see a lot of juniors come through and you wonder how they are going to fit in with the men’s and how they are going to make that step from juniors,” said Rafter.
“But these two boys seem to be very exciting that we’ve got coming through, and a couple other young kids.
“But a lot of things can go wrong. There can be injuries or mentally you can’t deal with it, so we’ve got to try to control that side of it a little bit as well.”
Tomic is proving to be a fine example.