Bernard Tomic: I am immature at times but I am finding myself
After a string of controversies, Aussie bad boy admits it's time to turn negative headlines into positive, he tells Paul Newman
It has been a typically eventful Down Under summer for Bernard Tomic. In October police were called to an apartment in Surfers Paradise after reports that Australia's best tennis player and a male friend had been brawling in a hot-tub after a party. The incident was later described as "a misunderstanding". In November the former world junior No 1 was fined $1,750 (about £1,145) in court for driving offences, having twice been stopped by police earlier in the year.
In December Pat Rafter, Australia's Davis Cup captain, revealed that he was dropping Tomic from the team's next tie because of the 20-year-old's poor attitude. Tomic responded by announcing that he would not be making himself available for Australia's second tie of the year and did not expect to speak to Rafter again until September.
Nevertheless, in a reminder to the sporting world that he is a talented player as well as a tabloid news editor's dream, Tomic has begun the year in typically impressive fashion on the court. At the Hopman Cup last week he beat Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, and this week he has been blazing a trail through the field at the Sydney International. Yesterday's victory over Andreas Seppi put Tomic through to the final against Kevin Anderson.
With the Australian Open beginning in Melbourne on Monday, Tomic is the talk of the town. The world No 64, who has clearly worked hard on his fitness during the off season, was handed a winnable first-round draw yesterday against Argentina's Leonardo Mayer, after which he could face Slovakia's Martin Klizan. If he reaches the third round Tomic is likely to play Roger Federer, having lost to the Swiss in the fourth round here 12 months ago.
Tomic, who is the youngest player in the world's top 100 and regarded by many as the game's outstanding prospect, has always played well at his home Grand Slam tournament. When he beat Italy's Potito Starace at the age of 16 on his debut four years ago, he was the youngest ever winner of a men's singles match here.
A year later, ranked No 289 in the world, he took Marin Cilic, the world No 14, to five sets. Tomic reached the third round in 2011 and went one stage further last year after victories over Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey and Alexandr Dolgopolov.
"One thing that helps me a lot is the crowd," Tomic says. "The second and most important thing that helps me is that I have the chance to prepare myself for at least six or seven weeks before that event. I think that's why I've always played well in Australia.
"I grew up playing my best in Australia, I won my first junior Slam here and made my best results here growing up. I feel this is where I play my best. But it also shows me that I really work hard in December to get myself prepared as much as I can, and I spend a good quality four or five weeks preparing. I think if I prepare well for six or seven weeks before events like that, I can always do well.
"That's my tennis. If my body is well I can compete. I obviously don't move as well as [other] guys, so fitness is the key. When you have to travel to a lot of tournaments [during the rest of the year] it's tough to spend hours in the gym and get your body right."
When you speak to Tomic face-to-face, it is hard to imagine this is a man who seems in permanent confrontation with officialdom. He is willing to answer any questions and freely admits that he has found life on the professional tour hard. An inventive player with a deceptively languid style, he reached No 27 in the world last June only to slip down the rankings during a difficult second half of the season, when he struggled to cope with the sheer weight of the tournament schedule.
"I just felt like I was dragging myself out and playing all these tournaments and it's difficult to put in 100 per cent when you're playing so many matches," he says. "Every week you've got something that you've got to match, you've got a tournament, you've got to get ready.
"You realise that you win one or two matches in a tournament, you're playing the next one in two days and you don't have time to prepare. All of a sudden you're playing a big name the week later, first round, and it's just very difficult.
"I think I didn't plan the schedule the way I should have, and it cost me, but I feel like it's a lesson learned. I'm happy I'm learning this stuff at a young age. There's so much stuff thrown at you through pressure and performance, so it's a good thing that it's happening."
Tomic has only admiration for the way the top players cope. "That's why they're the best," he says. "They have something special. They're better than the rest in all areas, not just on-court, but off-court. They're more professional than others, they're dedicated to tennis more than other players and I think they work the hardest. And I think the more you train, the more you work, the better chance you have of playing better."
At last year's US Open, John McEnroe accused Tomic of not giving his all during a limp defeat to Andy Roddick. Rafter described Tomic's performance as "disgraceful". Later that month Tomic appeared to become involved in a heated exchange with Tony Roche, the Australian coach while losing a Davis Cup rubber and in October Tomic admitted that he had perhaps shown only "85 per cent" effort during a defeat in Shanghai.
"I'm young, I'm probably immature at times, but that's where I'm beginning to find myself," Tomic says. "I'm beginning to find who I really am, and how to deal with things, but I think it's much more difficult at an early age to find all these things and work everything out."
Tomic admits that it is "a very strange thing" to see his name constantly in the newspapers. "Whatever people say it's obviously a learning curve," he adds. "In a way it's probably not the best thing when you're in the papers for driving your car the wrong way, but I've come to learn what's happening. I feel that you can only stop learning when you die and I'm learning every day."
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