Tomic troubles show why this is now no game for young men
The only teenager in the men's top 100 admits to falling short yesterday, but nobody blames him
If confirmation were needed that the days when teenagers could take men's tennis by storm are long gone, it came out on Court Four here at the Qi Zhong Tennis Centre yesterday. Bernard Tomic, who will cease to be the only teenager in the world's top 100 when he celebrates his 20th birthday later this month, has long been regarded as the best player of his generation, but his 6-4, 6-0 mauling by Germany's Florian Mayer in the first round of the Shanghai Masters underlined how today's ATP circuit separates the men from the boys.
At 6ft 5in tall and weighing more than 14 stone, Tomic has the perfect physique for modern-day men's tennis. He also has a lovely, languid style, combining natural power with great skill and creativity, which many hardened professionals found hard to deal with during his first season on the tour last year, when he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and climbed 166 places in the rankings to finish at No 42 in the world.
This year began well enough for the former world junior No 1 – he reached the semi-finals in Brisbane before losing to Andy Murray, and the fourth round at the Australian Open before going down to Roger Federer – but now it cannot end soon enough for him. Tomic has been on the road throughout the last four months, having last spent time at his home in Monte Carlo just after the French Open, and has found the challenge of playing a full year on the tour too much.
The physical and mental demands of the modern game are such that it would be all but impossible to imagine anyone emulating Boris Becker, who won his first Grand Slam title at 17.
Tomic believes he attempted too much too quickly. "It's been a long year, I played a lot of tournaments and I haven't had time to rest," he said. "I think it's costing me now, the last few months. My performance has not been as good."
The Stuttgart-born Australian admitted that he had felt under pressure to defend ranking points this year. "I wasn't prone to pressure growing up, when I was 16 or 17," he said. "Now I think it's starting to hit me."
Tomic said he had come to realise the ATP circuit was "a very tough tour" and added: "The guys in the top five have to defend a lot of stuff. For them, I couldn't imagine the pressure they have."
At last month's US Open, Pat Rafter, Australia's Davis Cup captain, described Tomic's capitulation against Andy Roddick as "disgraceful". Yesterday the teenager was on court for just 45 minutes, lost the last nine games in a row and won just eight points in a 16-minute second set.
"Today I gave about 85 per cent," Tomic admitted. "I gave 100 per cent in the first set. I felt in the second set, my 100 per cent wasn't even close to where it should be. That's where I think the mental skill is one of my biggest problems."
In other circumstances the ATP might be asking questions of a player who admits to not giving his all, but it is clear that Tomic is struggling. It is an experience that has been shared, on occasions, by the three other youngest players in the world's top 50.
Belgium's David Goffin, 21, did not make it into the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament until this year's French Open, Japan's Kei Nishikori, 22, claimed his second title last weekend, four years after winning his first, and Canada's Milos Raonic, 21, has yet to make a major breakthrough at Grand Slam level.
Goffin is not here, but Nishikori and Raonic are aiming to build on their run to the final in Tokyo last Sunday. Both made winning starts here, Nishikori crushing China's Di Wu 6-2, 6-4 and Raonic beating Australia's Marinko Matosevic 7-6, 6-3.
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