Bernard Tomic added another bad publicity moment to his year this past weekend when video surfaced of him getting berated on the sidelines by Australian tennis great Tony Roche. Roche, dismayed at Tomic’s losing performance in straight sets to Germany’s Florian Mayer, gave young Tomic a verbal tongue lashing while Australian Davis Cup coach Pat Rafter just smiled from the bench as Tomic raised his arms up in mild protest at Roche.
If Tomic feels besieged of late it’s not a surprise. Just a few weeks ago, he was accused of basically tanking his way to a straight sets loss against Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open. The Australian’s performance in that match wasn’t his best for sure, but there may have been something else going on. Roddick had just announced that the U.S. Open would be his final career event and so anyone who played him would face stiff opposition from the American crowd. Tomic was the next man to face Roddick after the American’s surprise announcement and though Roddick certainly played aggressive tennis from start to finish, Tomic’s lack of effort may have been, in part, due to the young Aussie not wanting to be the bad guy in taking out Roddick in his final match at his home Slam.
Being labeled as a “bad boy”, a “punk” or in Aussie slang a “hoon”, has been as much a part of Tomic’s season as has his wins and many losses on the tennis court. The Australian reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year, but has had a disappointing 2012 season with a total record so far of 24-23. And though Lleyton Hewitt has remained a presence on the tour, it’s 19-year-old Tomic who is viewed as the lone future hope for Australian men’s tennis and that could be a blessing and a curse for both him and a hungry nation desperate to recapture some of its former domination of the sport.
Tomic’s game itself could be one of the reasons that’s he’s earned a “slacker” reputation. After a generation of Australian serve and volleyers, the last great one being Rafter himself, then followed by the hustle and grind style of Hewitt, Tomic is the complete opposite. His game relies on his natural easy power that allows him to almost slap at the ball as he stays on the baseline content to rally for shots on end, until when you are almost asleep with boredom, he knocks an unexpected winner right past you.
For old school guys like Roche, Tomic’s game may look lazy hence why he decided to lay into him for not trying hard enough. If he is really trying his best to win matches is something only he knows himself. But the reality is that with Tomic’s game, he doesn’t really have to so long as he constructs a winning point at the end of a rally, something that hasn’t been happening enough this year.
Adding to the Aussie’s woes is his persona, something that is open to opinion. While at times Tomic does appear to have a massive ego, off the court many have said that he is personable and easy to approach. That could be a case of Tomic using the “charm offensive” to improve his reputation. Victoria Azarenka is currently doing the same to soften her image but it’s Azarenka’s impressive on-court results that have ultimately warmed more people over to her than anything. And it’s likely Tomic will have to do the same to improve his own rep. As they say, everyone loves a winner.
The 19 year old isn’t the only young player facing pressure to be the next big thing. American Ryan Harrison has certainly earned his fair share of praise and derision – especially for his penchant for tossing racquets over the fence after a losing point. But while Harrison appears to have earned a certain amount of respect from his elder U.S. Davis Cup teammates, Tomic has had issues with Hewitt in the past, though they seem to be on better terms now, but he still continues to hear negative comments from Rafter. Tomic who recently moved to Monte-Carlo in part to get away from the Australian media, may end up being a “lone wolf” for some time as one who holds an Australian passport but is viewed by many as still not being Aussie-enough.
At such a young age, Tomic certainly has plenty of time to change his reputation especially if ends up becoming a Grand Slam champion and/or number one as many have predicted he could be. Among all the young rising stars, he has probably got the most natural talent out of all of them, but it will be up to him to fully harness that talent through hard work and finding out ways to win matches when things aren’t going his way. Until that happens, Tomic will still be viewed as one of the tour’s underachievers especially among Australian tennis fans who, despite all their grumblings about him, will probably admit if you press them hard enough that they really do hope that this once described “hoon” will end up being their nation’s next great tennis champion.