Bernard Tomic lasted just a three days in the jungles of South Africa.
His stint in the Aussie version of “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” is already over after he became the first contestant to just walk out on the show.
Normally, players get eliminated on the basis of their failure to complete challenges, as part of the counting down to the winner that will be declared in about six weeks.
It was, not unexpectedly, a bit of a train wreck even if it was surprisingly revealing about the 25-year-old’s current state of mind.
This was not a surprise to most paying attention. But Tomic’s stint was even shorter than that of, say, American comedian Tom Arnold, who was the first one eliminated during the 2017 edition of the show.
And, in the process, as his conversations with his fellow campmates were broadcast on this live show, Tomic’s struggles with his life and his tennis life became cannon fodder for the Aussie media.
During his brief time in the jungle, he told the other contestants he was “depressed” on several occasions. And in his “exit interview” he said he had serious reservations about even travelling to South Africa in the first place to appear on the show.
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“After being there for a couple of days it made me depressed, and it made me a bit sad, and I didn’t want to continue doing that for myself. I needed to get back on the court. I definitely don’t see myself as quitting here, I see myself as making this wrong choice before I headed into this jungle,” he said.
Tomic got off to a weak start on the show, failing on his first challenge. Clearly not a fan of snakes.
“The last year I’ve been so confused. I haven’t played that much tennis. I’ve enjoyed my life, which I’m human, I deserve … Obviously needed a break the last sort of year. I didn’t really find the time, the energy and the space to clear my head, and clear my thoughts.
“Doing the right things for the last 6-8 weeks, starting to get back into it and training and doing the right things. For me, I finally got a bit of rhythm, a bit of something that I wanted. And I just don’t think it was the right choice for me coming here.”
Tomic was referring to getting back to training as he made a late decision to play in the Australian Open qualifying, after not receiving a wild card for the main draw from Tennis Australia and withdrawing from the tuneup event in Brisbane.
Surprise effort in qualifying
He appeared the day before his first round in Melbourne to play in the Kooyong exhibition. And then he took to the court at Melbourne Park and rolled over French lefty Vincent Millot in the first round.
Then, he defeated American Tommy Paul in a crazy match that ended 6-0, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4) before losing in the final round to obscure Italian Lorenzo Sonego. That one went 6-1, 6-7 (5) 6-4.
Tomic barely moved in the first set of that final match. Then, suddenly, he started to try. The crowd got behind him, he started to fist pump. And when he finally went down to defeat, he looked genuinely upset.
Afterwards, he dropped some snark on the media. “I just count money, that’s all I do. I count my millions,” he said.“You go do what I did. Bye-bye.”
Aussies piling on
In the aftermath, the 25-year-old has had everyone pile on him.
Jelena Dokic, a fellow Serbian-born Aussie whose life in tennis with her father Damir makes Tomic’s battles with father John look like a love-in, wrote in a column in the Herald Sun that Tomic was lost and needed help.
Sam Groth, who maximized his own more limited skill set during a career that ended at the Australian Open, echoed her thoughts in a radio interview.
“I’m not sure going off into the jungle to deal with it is the way to go about it. I think he has got some deep-seeded issues that he needs to talk to someone with,” Groth said. “Whatever he is struggling with right now, I don’t know if coming back on the tennis court is really going to help that.”
Another exit salvo from Tomic, speaking to a NewsCorp reporter who was in South Africa on a junket paid for by the television show: he said that Tennis Australia was a corrupt organization and that he may well let fly on that subject eventually.
He also said he hopes he can clear up his issues with the sport’s governing body, evoking fond memories of Davis Cup and insisting that if Australia wants to win it, it’s going to need his services.
Davis Cup Lleyton Hewitt isn’t quite as confident.
“I think with the team camaraderie that we have at the moment it’s as good as I’ve been a part of in a long time, and we fully believe the players we’ve got here we can go a long way,” Hewitt said Monday. “But it’s strange — you either want to be a tennis player or you don’t.”
Will Tomic return? Nothing planned so far
hat’s next for Tomic? Hopefully he gets back to training with a renewed sense of purpose. But it does seem as though whenever he’s not doing something, that’s when he seems to miss it.
His ATP Tour ranking stands at No. 168. But Tomic has virtually no points to defend the next four months. So there is plenty of opportunity to move up if he plays, and wins.
There’s a Challenger event in Launceston, Tasmania next week. But with Tennis Australia holding sway in terms of wild cards into its country’s events, that might not work.
Tomic hasn’t entered any events through the winter; perhaps he thought he’d still be in the South African jungle. There are some challengers in Japan and China with deadlines coming up. It’ll be interesting to see if he truly plans to get back to work.