MELBOURNE, Australia – Never let it be said that Bernard Tomic does things the typical way.
(Actually, nobody’s probably said that – ever).
On the eve of the 26-year-old’s Aussie Open prep matches at the Kooyong Classic, Tomic spent time on the practice court with … sister Sara.
He was doing a little coaching while he was at it.
Sara, still just 20, hasn’t played since last October. Both her singles and doubles rankings are outside the top 500. She received a wild card into the Australian Open qualifying four of the last five years. But not this year.
Here’s what the brother-sister session looked like.
The funniest part of it was that when Tomic spotted your Tennis.Life correspondent shutterbugging, he initiated a conversation. Clearly in a great mood, he was downright chatty with basically a stranger whose face might have seemed slightly familiar.
It was in sharp contrast to the last Tennis.Life/Tomic exchange, which was part of this classic Tomic press room moment at the French Open last year.
(The question was about why/how he played the qualifying wearing Lotto clothing – but turned up for his first-round main draw match wearing … Lacoste).
Sara Tomic and big brother took on another Aussie brother and sister pair, Sally and John Peers, in a one-set match at Kooyong Tuesday. They won it 6-4.
Tomic already had defeated Jack Sock 5-7, 6-4, [10-6] in his first men’s singles match. And then, on Wednesday, he took on fellow Aussie Nick Kyrgios.
It ended … thusly.
He wasn’t practicing that with his sister. It clearly was just a spur-of-the-moment bit of inspiration. And it was good enough for a 6-3, 6-4 win over Kyrgios.
Tomic’s single ranking currently stands at No. 85, even though he hasn’t played a tournament match since mid-October.
Passed over for a main-draw wild card a year ago in Melbourne, he fell in the final round of qualifying.
By May, Tomic’s singles ranking had fallen to No. 243.
So he did what Bernard Tomic would do: got inspired for a week and reached the final of a Challenger that week. That got him close to No. 200.
After some good results on grass, Tomic won a Challenger in Mallorca during themUS Open. He went back to Europe after losing in the first round of qualifying in New York to countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis.
A few weeks later, Tomic went from the qualifying to the title at the ATP Tour event in Chengdu. He defeated Fabio Fognini in a third-set tiebreak in the final here.
That effort moved the Aussie up nearly 40 spots, to No. 85. It sealed the deal in terms of returning to the Australian Open in 2019 without needing to depend on the largesse of Tennis Australia.
He played one more match, retiring in the second set of a first-round qualifying match in Stockholm in mid-October. And then pulled the plug on his season.
The mission had been accomplished.
What to expect from Tomic?
Tomic had been in the Australian Open main draw every year since 2009 – until last year. And he’s one of the few Aussies who typically has played well at home.
Every single player Tomic lost to in Melbourne between 2009 and 2016 was either a multiple Slam champion and former or current No. 1 (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray), or a Grand Slam champion (Marin Cilic) or a Grand Slam finalist and perennial top-10 player (Tomas Berdych).
But without any actual tournament play, there’s no way to know if the guy can become a first-week story at his home Slam, or a one-and-done.
Love him or list him, there’s never a dull moment.
Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN): No. 171 ——–> No. 95 (Nishioka tore his ACL in a hugely sad moment at the Miami Open in 2017 and missed the rest of the season. Going into that event, he was at a career high No. 58 and has been working his way back ever since).
Michael Mmoh (USA): No. 108 ——–> No. 96 (After two Challenger wins back-to-back in Columbus and Tiburon, the 20-year-old jumps into the top 100 for the first time).
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 147 ——–> No. 124 (The 18-year-old’s first career ATP quarterfinal pays dividends).
Denis Istomin (IST): No. 66 ——–> No. 103 (This is the downside of a big result as Istomin won the Chengdu title a year ago. But after retiring in the first round of the St. Petersburg Open last week with an ankle injury, did not play this year).
Marcos Baghdatis (CYP): No. 92 ——–> No. 116 (The 2017 Chengu finalist lost in the first round this year).
Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 120 ——–> No. 122 (The quest for 100 took a backward set, and Polansky isn’t in any of the Challenger draws this week).
Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR): No. 116 ——–> No. 173 (On the sidelines, Dolgopolov got to the Shenzhen final a year ago. He’ll watch another 160 points drop off this month – half his total – and will be in danger of dropping out of the top 300 even though he can use a protected ranking when he comes back).
Players will get $8,000 just for showing up, $16,000 if they can win a round, $30,000 if they can win two and reach the final round – and $54,000 if they can get through and reach the main draw.
It’s a tournament-within-a-tournament that generates plenty of storylines on its own. And the best is that admission is free, if you can get to New York City.
Former top players still fighting
Four years ago, the Latvian was in the top 10. In July 2017, he was No. 589. But while he has fought back up the ranks, playing the Challenger circuit, he still hasn’t yet broken back into the top 100.
And if it weren’t for his efforts at the last two Grand Slams, we probably wouldn’t be talking about him at all. He qualified and reached the second round in Paris. And then he qualified and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Since then, he has played two matches, and lost them both.
First-round opponent Christian Harrison qualified at Wimbledon for the first time last month. But he has a lot more experience at the US Open. So when you look at the other players in their section, that’s a tough one to kick it off.
At 39, the big-serving Croat is at his lowest ranking in five years. A year ago in New York, he was in the top 40.
Karlovic played the qualifying back in 2013, when he was coming back from a nasty Achilles injury. And he made it; he then upset James Blake in the first round before losing to Stan Wawrinka.
Before that, you have to go back to 2003.
Karlovic probably has more “big-league” experience than the rest of his section combined. Which doesn’t mean he’ll get through. But you kind of get the feeling he will.
Now, will this be his final Open? That’s another question.
At 36, you wondered if the former world No. 5 was going to make it back to the Grand Slam level, as he enters his third decade on Tour.
Robredo missed most of 2016 after right elbow surgery, something he had been struggling with for quite awhile.
He’s been inside the top 200 for about 14 months now. But he’s not tested himself in the majors beyond the French Open.
Robredo reached the second round of the main draw in 2017 on his protected ranking.
And this spring, he lost in the first round of qualifying to Simone Bolelli of Italy.
(Bolelli went on to get into the main draw as a lucky loser, the record fifth time for him in his career. But more on that later).
It feels though there are a lot of clay courters in this section. Imagine if Robredo and Nicolas Mahut – who is fourtmonths older – ended up the last two standing and played for a spot in the main draw.
Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis
The law of the draw will always turn on someone at a Grand Slam.
And this year, the hammer falls upon former top-20 player Bernard Tomic and former rising star Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Tomic, the ultimate enigma, had a super patch of play in May and June when he put together a nice streak of match wins after hardly playing at all the first four months of the season.
He reached the final of a Challenger in France and qualified for the French Open (where he lost to the feel-good story of the first week in Paris, Marco Trungelliti).
He went from the qualifying to the semifinals in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on grass, then qualified and reached the second round at Wimbledon.
But he lost his first match at his three appearances on the North American hard courts. And in the first round of qualifying at the Rogers Cup against American Bradley Klahn, he literally didn’t even try.
The reason given, after Tomic had played one match in each of the previous two weeks, was “fatigue”. He hasn’t played since, so he should be plenty rested.
As for Kokkinakis, the road back from shoulder surgery (and then an abdominal strain) has been a tough one. In 2015, there were only four teenagers in the top 100, and he was one of them (along with Coric, Chung and some kid named Alexander Zverev). He and Nick Kyrgios were going to be the new wave from Down Under. But the wave crashed, and Kokkinakis is still trying to come up for air.
He’s had his moments – beating Milos Raonic at Queen’s, Roger Federer in Miami this year. There have been plenty of “lowest-ranked player to beat so-and-so since … forever” type of milestones. But starting back without a ranking in May 2017, the best Kokkinakis has been able to reach is No. 148.
Kokkinakis won a Challenger in California two weeks ago, then pulled out of the Vancouver Challenger last week before his second-round match. The official reason was an abdominal strain.
Who will win this one? You’d expect a few Aussies to be watching even though Lleyton Hewitt, the Davis Cup captain, is busy playing doubles in Winston-Salem. You hope they’ll at least finish it.
The two played three times in 2015 – before both their careers stuttered. Tomic won both matches played on hard courts.
All eyes will be on Félix Auger-Aliassime, the newly-minted 18-year-old who upset Lucas Pouille in the first round of his first Rogers Cup main draw two weeks ago.
He nearly pulled off the next match, as well, before falling to Daniil Medvedev in a heartbreaker.
A year ago, as the defending US Open junior boys’ singles champion, Auger-Aliassime ran into veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of the qualifying.
This year, he returns as the No. 9 seed, at a career-high ranking, and you’d think he has a pretty good shot.
He doesn’t give up a ton of experience to the other players in his section, with the exception of Australian lefty Jürgen Melzer, who is twice his age.
As it happens, Auger-Aliassime ran into Antoine Hoang twice during his spring clay-court Challenger tour, and defeated him 6-3, 7-5 on both occasions.
Another Canadian, Filip Peliwo, drew No. 5 seed Marcel Granollers in the first round. Granollers, a top doubles player who also has been a very good singles player, has been playing all over the place this summer to try to raise his ranking.
Peliwo is capable – he posted a nifty straight-sets win over Malek Jaziri in the first round of the Rogers Cup.
This is Peliwo’s fourth attempt to qualify at a Slam this year. He lost in the first round the first three times although at Wimbledon, he had a tough draw in Gulbis.
Will Polansky be the luckiest loser?
As for the third Canadian, No. 12 seed Peter Polansky, all tennis fans with an eye for minutiae will be anxiously looking to see if he can pull off the quadruple-impossible: get into the main draw of a Grand Slam as a lucky loser for the fourth time in a season.
Polansky squeaked in in Australia, Paris and Wimbledon.
Let’s just say he’d rather get in by winning his final-round match. But he’s not unaware of what an anomaly that is.
As it happens, should Polansky get through to the final round and meet the other seed in his section, it will be lucky-loser central.
Simone Bolelli also made it into Roland Garros and Wimbledon as a lucky loser. They were the fourth and fifth such moments of luck in his career. And that’s a record.
Other than Donald Young, who has a fairly high ceiling, you’d have to think these two are the favorites to get to Friday.
Notes from here and there
**If Jürgen Melzer and Gerard Melzer win their first-round matches, they will meet.
That has happened just twice before, and never on a hard court.
**There are two players from the Dominican Republic in the draw, which probably has not happened before.
Victor Estrella Burgos, now 38 and ranked No. 265 (he squeezed into qualifying because his ranking was higher than that at the deadline), made his big splash here four years ago.
At 34, he was playing his first US Open main draw. And he got a whole lot of attention. He also defeated Igor Sisjling (then in the top 75) and a young Borna Coric in the second round, before putting up a lively fight in a loss to Milos Raonic.
He hasn’t won a match in New York since.
Right below him in the draw (but they’re not playing each other) is No. 227 Roberto Cid Subervi, who is playing in the first Grand Slam qualifying event of his career. It would have been too much, had they ended up meeting in the first round.
***An all-Brit affair between Liam Broady and Jay Clarke should be a good one.
*** The former top junior bowl: Miomir Kecmanovic vs. Reilly Opelka
The American Opelka, who turns 21 next week and is 6-foot-11, has had a pro career has been a slow-developing storm so far.
He was the Wimbledon junior champion in 2015. But after closing out his junior career the following month in New York, he’s been beset by some injuries and so far, his career-best ranking is No. 125. He currently stands at No. 173.
As for Kecmanovic, who turns 19 next week (three days after Opelka) he reached the junior boys’ final in New York two years ago (losing to Auger-Aliassime).
A few months later, he won the Eddie Herr – Orange Bowl double.
Currently at No. 199, Kecmanovic’smelze career high was No. 176, reached in Feb. 2018.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
The crew from Australia’s Channel 7 traveled to his home in Miami to shoot a no-holds-barred interview.
The interviewer was gentle, but didn’t shy away from asking what needed to be asked. Tomic’s facade broke, but just a little, when she showed him an interview done when he was 12.
Young Bernard said this:
“I’d like to have a heart like Lleyton Hewitt, the groundstrokes of Federer.I love (tennis). From the ground to the sky. It’s my soul.”
He feels quite differently about the game these days.
And the 24-year-old is fighting an inner battle between resting on what he’s already done and how much money he’s already made, and finding the mindset to keep on and hopefully achieve more.
It’s the classic dilemma faced by many tennis players (Andre Agassi most famous among them) who face a love-hate relationship with a sport that has brought them success beyond their imagination. It’s also a sport that they just, by fluke happen to have been born with a great talent for.
There’s no manual to handle sudden stardom and riches, especially the way they came to Tomic at such a young age. It’s especially true when a kid has no education, and comes from a modest background. There’s no timetable for figuring it out, either.
Some have it together early. Some never get it together. Most are in between.
We all think we know how we’d handle it, how we’d react, if we were in that situation. But unless it actually does, it’s just theory.
“Tennis chose me. I never chose tennis. Tennis chose me, I became to enjoy it at a young age. It’s something I never fell in love with. I like it. It’s like saying I like a girl, I don’t love her, but I like her. … It’s always been like that.”
On playing for another country
“Big offers to play for different countries, millions that people could only imagine. I never did that. I stayed loyal to Australia. It would have been tough playing matches at the Australian Open with your name under a different flag. At the time, I thought about it. The money was insane.”
On being accused of tanking at the US Open
“I’d never been on Center Court, it’s one of the biggest stages in tennis. I got out there. And I was nervous. I had all these actors watching. And I was a bit confused, I was a bit nervous. … But I don’t tank. I just get disappointed in myself and very angry. And I forget about what the score is. I forget about who I’m playing, and I think about different things, even when I’m on the tennis court.”
On Patrick Rafter
“Pat’s said a lot of bad things about me throughout my career. He’s always perceived as this nice guy, but people don’t know him in back of closed doors. He’s not that much of a nice guy, and he likes to put on a show.”
On who he is
“I would like people to know who I truly am. I’m not that much of a cocky person like they say. I am an honest person. I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if I didn’t have honest opinions and things I want to share. … Confused, That’s what I am. I’m a confusing player on the tennis court as well.”
On the Wimbledon affair
“It was a patch I was going through. I said my honest opinion and I wasn’t motivated the last 4-5 months. I was just going through the motions and it just happened to be at Wimbledon. So I feel like I need to find my balance, I need to find my mindset. Whether it’s now or in one month or three months, it will come. But it’s going to be on my terms, I guess.”
Too much, too soon
“Basically yeah, I didn’t come from a rich family, we had no money.I was 12 years old, 13, nobody knows this sort of life that I had. We came to Australia with basically nothing, it was tough. People don’t see. We had a car – $200, $300. Now, maybe going buying cars half a million dollars to a million dollars, it’s my choice. Living in these lavish houses, property around the world, It’s my choice. It’s something I’ve worked for and I’ve earned. Being 24 and achieving, in my opinion, a lot in the sport, it’s affected me a little bit mentally and emotionally. So now it’s just about finding my balance, and pushing on the next 10 years, and being successful even more.”
“I am a normal person, I’m human. I’m not Superman. I’m not Roger Federer. I’m not as bad of a person as people seem (to think) I am. I’m just Bernard.”
“You probably don’t like me but, at only 24, you guys can only dream about having what I have at 24,” he told the Herald Sun. “End of the day, don’t like me or whatever. Just go back dreaming about your dream car or house while I go buy them.”
Tomic left Wimbledon with a little less scratch to buy his big-ticket items. He was being assessed a hefty fine for his post-match comments after losing to Mischa Zverev in the first round.
Tomic’s father John was in so many ways the creator of this rather immature character. But even he has concluded that Bernie has gone a little too far.
“He’s my son, I love him, but I’m ashamed at how he’s approaching his business. It’s not good what he’s doing,” John Tomic told the Herald Sun. “I do not support such behaviour, especially at (a) unique grand slam like Wimbledon. You have to have respect and follow the rules. You have to work hard. And you have to put in 100 per cent and challenge yourself.”
Tomic père spoke out. But he wasn’t too thrilled with some of the former players who suggested his son should (practically) be run out of town on a rail.
Some of those people, of course, actually have bought their dream house or dream car. And, also, won Grand Slam titles. So it’s not only the great unwashed who take exception.
Later on Thursday, racquet sponsor Head dropped him.
Tomic lost his first-round singles match at Wimbledon to No. 27 seed Mischa Zverev 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday.
It was a tough first round from the get-go; the serve-and-volleying Zverev is a tough customer on grass.
But it was made significantly easier for Zverev by Tomic’s lack of commitment to the cause.
His comments after the match – while refreshingly candid – were what got him in trouble. Tomic admitted he took a medical timeout for his perfectly healthy back, merely to try to break his opponent’s momentum. That was probably not his best move.
“I was just playing very bad and feeling bad out there. Tried to use something different maybe, you know, slow him down a bit on the serve. … I just started bad the first set, and then, you know, mentally I wasn’t there after he broke me in the second.”
“It was definitely a mental issue out there. Yeah, I just tried to break a bit of momentum but just couldn’t find any rhythm and, you know, wasn’t mentally and physically there with my mental state to perform. I don’t know why, but, you know, I felt a little bit bored out there. You know, to be completely honest with you. So I tried at the end and stuff, he managed to win that set 6-3 or 6-4, but it was too late.”
Mid-career crisis, at least
Tomic’s monotone, dispassionate delivery, regardless of if he’s happy, sad or indifferent, admittedly doesn’t help him in terms of what he’s projecting.
Tomic said he’d felt this way “many times” in his career. And he said he was having a hard time staying inspired after having come on Tour as a teenager.
“Just trying to find something, you know, this is my eighth Wimbledon or ninth I think. I’m still 24, and it’s tough to find motivation, you know. Really, me being out there on the court, to be honest with you, I just couldn’t find any motivation.
“To me, this is one of the biggest tournaments in the world that I have done really well in my career, and, yeah, I just couldn’t find anything. It’s happened to me a lot. Just can’t find anything on the court.”
He spoke about having 10 years left in his career, and almost sounded resigned to it.
“I believe, you know, you have to respect the sport. But I think I don’t respect it enough,” he said.
Winning doesn’t do a thing
Tomic said he no longer felt any satisfaction from holding up the winner’s trophy.
“It’s not there. I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same. You know, I’m going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won’t have to work again,” he said. “So for me this is mental.
“Now it’s a roller coaster, and I just can’t seem to find, like, the commitment to work hard, to enjoy, and to lift trophies. Maybe I have to look at a few things and maybe play less tournaments.”
Not long after that, he said he was headed to the U.S. to play Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Canada, the US Open and whatever else was out there.
The fine for unsportsmanlike conduct from the International Tennis Federation in relation to the comments was announced Thursday, two days after the press conference.
The $15,000 total works out to about one-third of what Tomic earned for losing in the first round of singles.
In pulling their sponsorship, no doubt Head considered a long history of similar behaviour, although this might have been the most astonishingly frank set of statements from him.
Nike, in a statement to the British wire services, is staying.
Nike are sticking by Tomic – for now. Spokesman to PA Sport: "Bernard Tomic remains a Nike athlete."
But still; it seems pretty drastic. You’d think a public announcement of an effort to help Tomic deal with his current demons would go much further, publicity-wise, than just cutting him off.
Head breaks supportive precedent
Head, which is a privately-owned company and thus not beholden to shareholders, did not end its association with French player Richard Gasquet when he tested positive cocaine (a minute amount) back in 2009.
Gasquet’s original suspension was later reduced to 2 1/2 months after the anti-doping authorities were satisfied that his story of having inadvertently ingested the cocaine after kissing a women was credible.
But company owner Johan Eliasch announced at the time that not only was Head standing by her, it was looking to extend her contract. That remained so even when the company’s top endorser, world No. 1 Andy Murray, expressed his reservations about the unequivocal support.
Eliasch said Sharapova had “made an honest mistake”, and had “earned the benefit of the doubt.”
“The honesty and courage she displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable. Head is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract,” the statement said at the time. “We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships in the weeks and months ahead.”
Tomic’s association with Head had been a long one. He defected over to Yonex for a couple of years, but returned to then in 2014.