There are two schools of thought on this one. First, the popular one.
He tanked. John McEnroe said it, and nearly everyone else believed it. Tomic lost to Andy Roddick in straight sets at the US Open in the kind of disinterested capitulation that’s just hard to watch. Even Roddick himself seemed annoyed that one of his final appearances on Arthur Ashe stadium was soured by his opponent’s weak effort. McEnroe intimated that, in that great Olympic badminton tradition, Bernie gave up and let it go. The last set gave credence to McEnroe’s argument – it lasted just 22 minutes, and all but 5 points were won by the former number one.
His immature antics in the post-match press conference only made it worse. He claimed to be overwhelmed by the occasion, despite making the quarter finals at Wimbledon. He claimed the crowd size put him off, despite there being just a few thousand more than on the centre court in Melbourne or Wimbledon – both courts he has played on, and well.
Tomic has divided public opinion ever since he ‘refused’ to hit up with Lleyton Hewitt in 2009. He is the anti-Hewitt. Where we used to complain about Lleyton’s incessant ‘C’mons’, we could never fault his effort. He has always given too much for himself and his country, and he still is. Just look at his injured, limping 5 set win this week over Gilles Muller, 11 long years since he won the tournament. It’s that kind of brutal against-the-odds battle that typifies Aussie sport.
What we wouldn’t give for a few fist pumps from Tomic.
But then, those leaping to his defence would have you remember he’s only 19 years old. He’s spent the last 4 years on tour and had a great rise, and he’s done that with the pressure of carrying on the proud tradition of Aussie men’s tennis in the stark absence of anyone to share it with. That kind of spotlight does two things: On the court, it piles the pressure on, and off? Well, what 19 year old wouldn’t be distracted by attention, fast cars and a house in Monaco?
Like anyone in the public eye, Bernard has ridden the wave of support and the money and adulation that comes with it. Now he is seeing the other side, and he doesn’t like it one bit. Pat Rafter – one of our most well liked sports stars, and Davis Cup captain – called Tomic’s effort against Roddick ‘disgraceful’, and it was. He played terribly, and he looked like he didn’t care. He then attacked reporters who questioned his effort. All very average from a kid who clearly has a lot to learn, and is facing the first real hurdle after a junior career that has been all too easy.
But how will he learn if Rafter then turns around and selects him in the Davis Cup team?
The simple fact we have no one else to back has given Tomic a protective barrier which he has drawn around himself with a nonchalance that irritates the public. Even on his worst day he is still a match for anyone else in green and gold. He knows there is no one else, and, like many teenagers who have been told they are the next big thing, he believes it. Perhaps an unceremonious dumping would open his eyes to the opportunity he has.
I sat courtside at the Olympics this year as Tomic lost to Kei Nishikori in another average effort, and interviewed him afterwards. He maintained he was happy with his performance, despite dropping 3 set points. Until the world shows Bernard Tomic he is not indispensable, and Tomic decides for himself that he wants it enough to hate losing, then none of us will ever see what he is capable of.
- Tennis officials clear Tomic of tanking (news.smh.com.au)
- Rafter to Tomic: shape up or you’re out (news.smh.com.au)