Tomic rallies to the Aussie cause

Sixteen-year-old Croat is answering call to become the next Lleyton Hewitt, writes Paul Newman

Sit opposite Bernard Tomic and it is hard to believe you are talking to a boy not long past his 16th birthday. His 6ft 4in frame fills the chair and his long legs spill out from underneath the table as he talks in a matter-of-fact manner about fame.

"I was sitting in a train station about six months ago and this guy was looking at a newspaper which had a photograph of me on the front," Tomic said. "He kept looking at the paper and looking at me. He couldn't really decide for about 10 minutes whether it was me. Then he came over and asked me and I told him it was me."

How does it feel to be recognised like that? "It's weird but it's also nice," he said. "It's a good feeling to have."

Tomic, the best player in the world in his age group, became the youngest male to win a Grand Slam junior tennis title with success at his home tournament, the Australian Open, 13 months ago. One year later, the beach boy from Queensland's Gold Coast practised with Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park and was hailed as one for the future when he became the youngest male winner of a match at the Australian Open, beating Potito Starace, the world No 73.

For someone who admits he is normally asleep by 9pm, it was perhaps no surprise when he lost to Gilles Muller in the second round having gone on court after 10pm as the night's main attraction in Rod Laver Arena, his billing a reflection of Australia's desperation to find a successor to Lleyton Hewitt.

Tomic's fame has yet to spread much beyond his home country, but his talent has long been recognised. The only boy to win the under-12, under-14 and under-16 trophies at the prestigious Orange Bowl in Miami, he has been under the wing of the International Management Group since he was 12, and already has significant commercial contracts.

Team Tomic believe the time is now right to take on the men. In the coming weeks his family are likely to relocate either to London or to Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida as Bernard embarks on a programme of Challenger and Futures tournaments, the levels immediately below the main ATP tour.

Choosing when to join the big time is always a major decision. Donald Young, another outstanding junior, was thrown on to the senior stage at 15 only to suffer a succession of crushing defeats. Now aged 19, the American is struggling at No 133 in the world rankings. Andy Murray, in contrast, did not make his ATP debut until he was nearly 18. He was world No 4 within three-and-a-half years.

Tomic could accept wild cards into some bigger events – there is already talk of his playing in Miami next month – though his entourage want him to take one step at a time. "We know he has a couple of areas of his game that he has to improve and we don't want to throw him to the wolves before he's ready," said Lawrence Frankopan,his agent.

As a growing teenager Tomic's movement can seem cumbersome, but there are few doubts about his ball-striking ability. Last month Pat Cash said he had "a backhand down the line that's about as good as you ever see on the circuit".

While recognising the areas in which he needs to improve, Tomic himself is not short of confidence. "I can play like a top-10 player if the ball's coming at me," he said. "It's just the movement I'm lacking. If I had the movement of a [Novak] Djokovic I reckon I could be up there right now, but there's not too much I can expect at 16."

He did not start playing until his father bought him a 50-cent racket when he was seven. "I've been looking at statistics," Tomic said. "A lot of players play from about two years old and start achieving at 18. I reckon I've played less tennis than any of these guys. I've only played about eight years of tennis. Maybe if I'd started playing when I was two or three, who knows? I would have had the confidence of an extra four or five years behind me."

Tomic is of Croatian stock, with a physical frame already starting to match those of giant compatriots such as Mario Ancic, Goran Ivanisevic and Ivo Karlovic. His parents initially left their war-torn homeland for Germany, where Bernard was born, but settled in Australia when he was three.

His father drove taxis for a living at first but now coaches Bernard and his 10-year-old sister, Sara, another rising talent. John Tomic is a controversial figure and has had regular brushes with authority. In Perth in December, he told his son to walk off court in the middle of a match after complaining that his opponent was not being foot-faulted. The International TennisFederation are still investigatingthe incident.

Hewitt's former coach Roger Rasheed, who now works with Gaël Monfils, said recently that Tennis Australia should consider cutting ties with the Tomics if problems continued. John Tomic responded by calling Rasheed a "fitness co-ordinator, not a coach", who had taken Hewitt "from No 2 in the world to No 60". He added: "I think that Gaël Monfils should be very careful, because he could find himself struggling too pretty soon."

Comparisons with Jelena Dokic, who was born in Croatia of Serbian parents before moving with her family to Australia, are inevitable. Dokic, who is rebuilding her career, is now estranged from her father, Damir, who clashed regularly with officialdom.

But Frankopan insists that John Tomic is "misunderstood", explaining: "Because of the language barrier he sometimes presents things in what educated people would regard as an aggressive way, but if you understand the world where he comes from in Croatia and the Balkans, where it's a case of eat or be eaten, it's just the way it is. He's actually a lovely guy."

Bernard is equally defensive of his father. "He's helped me a lot," he said. "It's going to be tough in the next few years. There will be a lot of areasand benefits and there will alwaysbe mistakes to deal with. Everyone makes mistakes."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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.

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own