Try as Bernard Tomic might, he’s never been able to outrun his childhood.
The one he missed. The one spent on a tennis court. Dad’s gaze never far. Dad’s expectation covering him like the smoke did yesterday.
Tomic’s career has turned into a collection of yesterdays.
The latest one is a loss at the Australian Open six days before it actually starts. The newly named 1573 Arena the scene for the all-too-familiar.
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Tomic lost a tight first set. Denis Kudla, his opponent in first round qualies who scratched and fought and knuckled his way to ten years on tour, loved the scrap.
Tomic didn’t. His will cracked into a thousand pieces as it has done before. The smoke didn’t help. Nothing has for a while. And now he floats to near oblivion from everything he’s grown to know.
As that kid in the midst of his of his lost childhood he mentioned those famous words. Win some grand slams. Be number one.
As a young man, he made the quarters of Wimbledon. Won a few tournaments.
Then it hit. In cyclical bursts. A controversy, a rankings slide, then a rankings rise. On repeat.
In 2014, 2017, 2019.
For the one in 2017, he flamed out of Wimbledon and took no prisoners on the way, saying he was a bit bored. Having watched every point of that match against Mischa Zverev from our studio which overlooks Court 14, it was no lie.
Days later, we met in a Chipotle near Wimbledon. Tomic did all the talking. Hundred miles an hour. Didn’t admit he was wrong to say Wimbledon was boring. Looked ahead. Newport, his next tournament. He knew the entry list. Who he could beat, what seed he’d be, a possible path to the final, what points he’d get. The how many he’d look at getting across the US hard court summer. If a computer could talk about the data it was processing, that would be the sound.
If reality, it was a classic case of denialism. Not in the way one might imagine; as in he was in denial about his ability. Rather, he was, and perhaps still is, in denial about how good he thought he might be. Like he was comforting himself he could meander along inside the top 100.
For the most part, a professional tennis player exists inside Bernard Tomic.
As the collection of yesterdays stack up, that Tomic is no longer able to escape for an extended period of time, for one reason or another. One reason being his own fear. Another being he’ll never be number one in the world, no matter how hard he trains. He got closer than 99.9 per cent of people to ever pick up a racquet. But that doesn’t count.
He totally bypassed childhood. He can’t get through the past. He can’t see the future.
Who knows what it entails.
Well who cares: he’s a flog. Piss off, go drive one of ya cars, or count ya money. Go bitch about it, ya whinger.
Tomic’s character has been assassinated more times than just about any Australian sportsperson, much of it his own doing. Goodness he’s said and done some stupid things.
Beneath lies the truth very few care about.
An adult wondering, even for a brief moment, what the hell happened.
If only he knew, all those years ago, what dad’s stare and expectation would eventually get him.