Foot Fault!

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Bernard Tomic: The Hall Of Famer

In the iconic and legendary words of Justine Henin: “Now It’s Time.” Now it’s time to formally induct Bernie Tomic into the Hall of Fame for the most quotable tennis players in history. The Australian has always been candid and entertaining in press - remember when he blasted the Australian Open organizers in 2010 for scheduling his match so late? There was also him laughably claiming in 2011 that he would break into the top 10 a year later, and who can forget last year’s US Open when he hilariously issued a reporter with a The Godfather-style threat. Rarely has he shied away from offering himself a gratuitous self-pat on the back, but over the last few months he has taken this over-confidence to new, unheard of levels. And. It. Is. Brilliant.

It all kicked off mid-December when Pat Rafter and Tennis Australia booted him out of Australia’s first Davis Cup tie in 2013. He responded by essentially branding them liars, before then claiming in all seriousness that he was back on course to being “the greatest player, one day, to [ever] play the game.” He has quite simply hit a Peak Mary Pierce-esque purple patch of quotable quotes and so far in Sydney, plenty of his comments appear to something a top 5 player would utter, rather than someone ranked a glorious 64th on the ATP rankings.

But he’s not all talk.

The year and even this week may be young, but it’s difficult to see how Tomic could have started 2013 any more positively. Though an exhibition, his tennis impressed at the Hopman Cup. Firstly, he dug out an uncharacteristically gritty victory over Tommy Haas, before straight-setting the world number one and finishing with a 3-0 singles record overall. He later noted that Djokovic approached him afterwards, telling him “Good stuff. You were serving really well. I couldn’t do anything. Off the ground you were playing well.” This undoubtedly only reinforced his likely belief that he is God’s gift to mankind.

So far in Sydney it has been much of the same. A straight-sets win over current Aussie #1 Matosevic in the first round, followed by a hugely impressive performance over a nemesis in 2012, Florian Mayer. The improvement in Tomic’s serve has been immediately noticeable, and even more-so in his intentions off the first ball following his serve. Previously, he enjoyed easing into points slowly with a slice or a higher percentage strike, but today every single time his serve presented him with an opportunity to immediately shorten the point against Mayer, he grabbed it with both hands and attacked mercilessly.

He also appears to have a far clearer understanding of how to construct points. For a player who prides himself on his court sense and tennis IQ, his shot selection would often appear so random and illogical. Perhaps it was pure arrogance rather than naivety or a lack of awareness, but he would so frequently be seen monotonously slicing shot after shot while the point was free to be won, then slapping around inane winner attempts when pushed out of position with no realistic chance of making them. Such reckless decision-making was passable in juniors, but easily dealt with by most top 50 players in 2011 and 2012. He hinted that he has worked on specific shot patterns, and his unique strokes are certainly combining far better in 2012 while still maintaining the changes of pace, spontaneity and unpredictability in his shotmaking that makes him both dangerous and entertaining to watch.

Most importantly, he actually looks like he gives a damn. Of course, we will wait with baited breaths to see whether he will turn up and care tomorrow, let alone further down the line once the yearly attention and celebrity he enjoys in January dies down. We will also wait to see just much progress this so-called “new” Bernie T makes on the self-confessed “revenge tour” that is his 2013. But one thing’s for sure, triumph or trainwreck, all of Australia (and the tennis world) will be watching.

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