Can Tomic outgrow the Australian brat pack and sate home hopes for a hero?

The 18-year-old has the talent to restore the fortunes of men's tennis Down Under – if he can just behave

Australia loves a champion. And with Lleyton Hewitt on his way out, the search is on. But there is a problem and it is with a batch of junior male players who are threatening to waste their talent at the alter of indiscpline and brattishness.

Australia loves a champion. In Lleyton Hewitt the country has had a fighter in the best traditions of a nation that has produced so many sporting heroes, but the former Wimbledon champion is not the force he was. As Australia looks for its next generation of winners, the concern is that too many of its best young male players have become brats who lack the discipline needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

In stark contrast to tyros from regions like eastern Europe, for whom sport can offer a passport to a better life, many young Australians, like their counterparts from some of the other traditional English-speaking tennis nations, seem to lack the commitment and appetite for work of those from less privileged parts of the planet. Given the support of their cash-rich national federations, they find life too cosy.

Three of Australia's best youngsters, Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly, were banned from taking part in last month's play-offs for an Australian Open wild card because of what Todd Woodbridge, Tennis Australia's director of men's tennis, described as "numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally". Klein had earlier had his Tennis Australia coaching support withdrawn, having previously lost his scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport after a six-month suspension for racially abusing an opponent.

A fourth, and the best, Bernard Tomic, has also had run-ins with the powers-that-be. He failed to turn up at the play-offs, citing illness, but when there were reports that he had been spotted practising near his Gold Coast home on the day they began there was a widespread feeling here that he should not be given a wild card into the Grand Slam event.

Tomic, however, is an exceptional talent and after winning three matches against higher-ranked players in Sydney last week he was handed his free entry to Melbourne Park. His ability has never been in doubt and was underlined by his 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 second-round victory here yesterday over Spain's Feliciano Lopez, the world No 31. The 18-year-old Queenslander's reward for the best win of his career is a meeting tomorrow with Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, who continued his attempt to become only the third man to hold all four Grand Slam titles when he beat Ryan Sweeting 6-2, 6-1, 6-1.

There are distinct similarities between the lives of Tomic and Jelena Dokic, a former world No 4 whose career has been dogged by controversy, mostly surrounding her troubled father. Dokic, born in Croatia to a Serbian father and Croatian mother, has had an occasionally tempestuous relationship with her adopted country.

Tomic is of Croatian stock, with a physical frame already starting to match those of giants from that part of the world like Ivan Ljubicic and Ivo Karlovic. After a recent growth spurt he is nudging 6ft 5in. Although not the quickest of movers around the court, he is a wonderful ball-striker who can hit a tennis ball in the apparently effortless way that David Gower used to strike a cricket ball.

His parents left their war-torn homeland for Germany, where Bernard was born, but settled in Australia when he was three. His outspoken father, John, drove taxis for a living but now coaches Bernard. At one stage the family upped sticks and moved to Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, but they were home within six months.

Tomic senior has had brushes with authority. He told his son to walk off court in the middle of one match after complaining that his opponent was not being foot-faulted, after which Bernard was suspended by the International Tennis Federation. He has also had public spats with some leading figures in Australian tennis, including Roger Rasheed, Lleyton Hewitt's former coach. Tomic senior called Rasheed a "fitness co-ordinator not a coach" who had taken Hewitt, who is Australia's only top 100 male player, "from No 2 in the world to No 60".

The relationship between the Hewitt and Tomic camps has not been good. At Wimbledon two summers ago Tomic was said to have snubbed the former champion by turning down his invitation to practise with him. Tomic's agent was reported to have said: "Lleyton's not good enough."

Tomic junior, who caused a stir at the French Open boys' tournament when he was accused of not trying, won the junior title here three years ago at the age of 15. Twelve months later he became the youngest male winner of a match at the Australian Open when he beat Potito Starace, the world No 73.

Last year Tomic again won a round here, beating France's Guillaume Rufin, before losing in five sets to Marin Cilic in a night match on the main show court. Afterwards he complained that, as a 17-year-old, he should not have had to be out so late. He said he was normally in bed by 9pm.

Tomic's appearances on the senior tour have been limited. Since Wimbledon he has played only five tournaments, while his win over Andreas Seppi at Queen's Club last summer is the only tour-level match he has won outside the Australian Open. In recent months he has worked hard on improving his strength and fitness.

Yesterday's match showed his talent and his ability to handle the big occasion. "I can't believe that I'm playing him," Tomic said as he looked ahead to facing Nadal. "It's a dream come true. I've got nothing to lose. I'm hitting the ball great. My confidence is up there, especially after two matches." Asked to describe his game, Tomic said: "I catch a lot of guys out with not a lot of power. My strengths are that I can find players' weaknesses really quickly. I can hit the ball hard, but I don't do it a lot of the time. That's not my game. I like to make players miss."

Tomic was the only Australian to make it to the second round of the men's singles. Hewitt fell to David Nalbandian at the first hurdle, while the four other home players also lost. Moreover, only one Australian, Greg Jones, reached the last round of qualifying and he did not go any further.

Australia's women players have been more successful, though two of the three in the world's top 100 are "imports", Jarmila Groth having come from Slovakia and Anastasia Rodionova from Russia. Nevertheless Sam Stosur, the world No 6 and a finalist at last year's French Open, is a regular contender for major honours.

For a great sporting nation that once produced a succession of champions, it is a sorry state of affairs. Much is resting on Tomic's shoulders.

Aussies behaving badly

Brydan Klein

The 19-year-old was fined AUS$14,000 (£8,700) and suspended by the ATP after racially abusing Raven Klaasen during a match, this was followed up with a six-month ban and a further US$10,000 (£6,300) fine after an investigation.

Nick Lindahl

Has earned a reputation after several on-court outbursts including one incident in which he bounced his racket over a court fence and into the lap of an administrator. Has since decided to represent Sweden.

Dayne Kelly

Similarly to Lindahl, has earned himself a reputation for bad behaviour following several misdemeanours including racquet smashing, swearing at officials and repeatedly questioning line calls.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?