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 Klein had earlier had his Tennis Australia coaching support withdrawn, having previously lost his scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport after a six-month suspension for racially abusing an opponent.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.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
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.

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering