Whether you get your news via television, radio, newspapers, the internet or simply by nattering to your neighbour over the garden fence, it has been impossible to escape Bernard Tomic for the last week here. Australia's best prospect has been the talk of the town since the start of the year and his meeting with Roger Federer in last night's showcase match in Rod Laver Arena was the most eagerly awaited match so far at this Australian Open.
After Federer's 6-4 7-6 6-1 victory, however, the obsession with the 20-year-old from Queensland will at least slow down, unless there is a repeat of some of the off-court escapades which kept him in the headlines during the off season. They included a court appearance for driving offences in his brightly coloured sports car, a visit from the police after reports that he had been brawling with a male friend in a hot-tub after a party, and being dropped by his Davis Cup captain because of his poor attitude.
But for all the controversy that surrounds him, Tomic is an exceptional talent. The youngest player in the world's top 100, he showed against Federer many of the languid skills that make him such an entertainer.
"I was pretty satisfied with my tennis," Tomic said after his third-round defeat. "I was competing out there, trying to hang in there with him. He just came up with good stuff when he really needed it the most."
What Australia needs most is for Tomic to realise his potential, for these are dire times for tennis here. Only three of the 16 Australians in singles made it to the second round, the worst performance by home players here in the Open era. Sam Stosur and James Duckworth both lost in the second round.
That is painful for a sports-loving country which used to dominate tennis. Between 1956 and 1970, Australian men won the singles titles at 45 out of 61 Grand Slam tournaments played. When Rod Laver won his first pure Grand Slam in 1962 he had to beat a fellow Australian in all four of his finals, while all four semi-finalists at the Australian Open and Wimbledon were Australians. It was no surprise who won the Davis Cup that year.
No wonder Australians ask why they have so little success today. Millions of dollars have been spent on player development by Tennis Australia with limited results. The media have highlighted the generous support given to players and the growing number of staff employed by the governing body.
Sounds familiar? The Lawn Tennis Association has been criticised in Britain for similar reasons for many years. Another parallel with the LTA is the recent opening of a new National Tennis Centre at Melbourne Park, with facilities comparable to those at Roehampton. The centre here boasts 21 new indoor and outdoor courts plus an indoor running track.
Australians have tried to adopt other players as their own. Kim Clijsters, who was engaged to Lleyton Hewitt, and Ana Ivanovic, who has family here, quickly became known as "Aussie Kim" and "Aussie Ana", while their latest target is Britain's Laura Robson, who spent the first 18 months of her life here.
Nick Barrow, Channel Seven's executive producer of tennis, told one of the local newspapers here last week: "The Australian connection's definitely something we'd look to capitalise on and use. She was Australian-born and it'd be great to have her in the draw as an Aussie."
Robson, however, while welcoming the support, sees herself as a true Brit, which means that Australians will have to hope Tomic comes good. Since joining the senior ranks Tomic has mixed occasional brilliance with some woeful performances, but he is not short of confidence. "It's just a matter of time when I get up to the big group of boys in the top 10," he said last night. "I've got to believe and do the things that I was doing the last few weeks. I know I'm going to be in there with this attitude."
Federer, Tomic's boyhood hero, recently gave him a pep talk at the request of Pat Rafter, Australia's Davis Cup captain. The Swiss also had encouraging words for him after last night's match.
Tomic said: "He told me: 'Keep going, you improved.' Every time I played him, he mentioned: 'Well done, Bernie, keep going, keep improving', which is a good thing, hearing that from somebody that's giving some advice. It's important you take that on board because you know you can become a better player when you get information off the world's best."
Asked later for his verdict on Tomic, Federer said: "It's only over time that you're going to see. He's had a great run now. I hope he knows what he needs to do the next few months, weeks, and years ahead. It isn't always a two month tour. We play 10, 11 months of the year. You need to bring it every single day."Reuse content