Tomic’s coming of age
By Rob O’Gorman
Bernard Tomic is making the transition from promising junior to successful senior faster than many expected but the teenager knows there is still plenty of hard work ahead if he is to make it to the top.
Tomic became the third youngest player in history to win an ATP Challenger Tour title on Sunday when he won the USD$50,000 Maccabi Men’s Challenger in East Bentleigh, Victoria.
He joins an illustrious group of players to have won a Challenger title at 16 years or under including Michael Chang, Richard Gasquet and current world No.1 Rafael Nadal.
It’s an ominous sign that four of the five players to have previously achieved this feat have later gone on to ascend into the top 10 world rankings.
Frenchman Gasquet won three ATP Challenger Tour titles at age 16 and four years after he won his third in April 2003, he rose to No.7 in the world.
“It’s a good achievement, I can’t be any happier,” Tomic told tennis.com.au.
“I played well over the summer, the Australian Open was big for me and to win a Challenger straight after that, it’s a big thing.”
“I’ve improved my ranking and it’s going well so hopefully I can win a few more Challengers this year.”
After playing juniors and Futures events for much of 2008, the Maccabi tournament was only the third Challenger of his career.
In just two months, Tomic has jumped almost 400 places in the rankings to No.382, making him the youngest player in the men’s top 500.
The rapid rise has forced the teenager to re-adjust his goals for the year ahead as he strives to continue his charge up the rankings.
“I think the main thing is to play well and break that mark where I can play qualifying for Grand Slams around 300 or 250,” he said.
“Then hopefully by next year I can step up the ladder to top 200, it’s possible but it’s a tough road because there’s a lot of tournaments.”
On paper, Tomic probably shouldn’t have beaten any of his opponents during last week’s tournament but he clearly relishes a challenge and knows how to win.
He methodically constructs every point he plays and drills backhand passing shots down the line on every chance he gets.
For a player so young, his composure on the big points was very much on show last week, in particular during his quarterfinal match against Jun Mitsuhashi when the Japanese player served for match in the second set.
“I just somehow got back into it, I just played the right shots at the right time and that’s what got me through,” Tomic said.
“I’ve always been good at it [handling pressure]. I had a tough draw with [Joe] Sirianni in the first round but after that the draw opened up a bit.”
Several thousand fans caught a glimpse of Tomic’s composure on day one of the 2009 Australian Open when he wore down Italian Potito Starace in four sets to become the youngest player to win a main draw match at Melbourne Park in the Open era.
Even more were made aware of his supreme talent when his second round match was played out in front of 15,000 fans on centre court and broadcast to a huge primetime television audience.
“I really wanted that first round win which I got and to play on Rod Laver Arena against [Gilles] Muller in the second round and to be one set to love up and have a chance was amazing and hopefully I can come back even more confident next year,” he said.
Between tournaments, Tomic also took part in a recent exhibition match with former Wimbledon doubles champion Geoff Masters and auctioned off several of his racquets and t-shirts to raise money for the victims of the Victorian bushfires.
The event was staged in Queensland and raised over $3,500 for the Bushfire Appeal.
“It felt good to raise some money for the tragedy that happened in Victoria, it was a pleasure and hopefully the money that we raised can be of good use,” Tomic said.
Tomic is unfazed by the hype that surrounds his career preferring instead to focus on what he can improve in his game to become a future champion.
“I definitely need to improve my strength around the court and become a better athlete,” he said.
“I’ve struggled a bit with movement over the last few years and now I’m becoming better at it and that’s why I have been playing better because I’ve been moving better and I’m prepared more for each shot.”
“Hopefully if I improve more strength wise then my game will come with it.”
To reward himself after a busy summer, Tomic is this week spending time away from the court fishing in the canals around his home on the Gold Coast.
He’s always been a keen angler and on his trip with the Davis Cup team to Chile last year even found some time to pull out the reel.
“More fishing and less tennis this week,” he said.
“Yesterday I caught a few flathead and few brim but I want to catch a bigger one tomorrow because they were too small to eat.”
It’s a well-deserved break for Tomic, who says he’s enjoying the rest but deep down can’t wait to get back out on court and continue to build towards a big future.
“If you like something you don’t get sick of it. The more you away from it, the more you just want to get back quickly.”