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By Chris Oddo
Photo Credit: bernardtomic.com
Bernard Tomic - 2012 French Open
(June 21, 2012) It’s been nearly a year since Bernard Tomic blew our minds with his improbable run at Wimbledon, coming all the way from qualifying to take a set off of Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals at the age of 18. It was the beginning of a boon for the wily, unconventional Aussie, and his reputation as a gamer that may not play pretty but knows how to win on the big stage quickly surged with his success.

Suddenly, it seemed, tennis had its baseline-bashing antidote. A crafty, tasteful player that could make big hitters look like thumb-suckers with his deceptive, pace-deadening game. 

It didn’t hurt that Tomic had practically zero ranking points to defend for the next year, either. So when Tomic started off 2012 with a bang, reaching the semis in Brisbane and then wowing the Aussie crowds with a run to the last 16 at Melbourne, he jumped inside the top 40 and the hype machine started to purr.

Tomic, many would tell you, was going places. Never mind his lack of modern-tennis-defining power, and never mind the fact that his lanky body hadn’t yet caught up to his otherworldly hands. Those things would come. What was important was his ability to ruffle the feathers of his competition, and his icy demeanor. 

Still, Tomic has just turned 19. Young by any era’s standard, but decidedly so in an era when experience and fitness seem to be at the core of every success story, Tomic has a lot to learn. “It’s sort of still a type of junior tennis that he plays, but he’s getting better at it,” opines Darren Cahill, the fellow Aussie who knows a lot about the Aussie’s game.

In 2012, better has not always been good enough. Tomic, in spite what many perceived to be two breakout performances in the last four Slams, has proven that achieving success on a week-in, week-out basis is still a tall order for him on tour.

He’s yet to reach a semifinal since Brisbane, and he’s been surprisingly flat in the grass-court tune-ups, retiring in the first set against Tommy Haas in Halle and bowing out to Fabio Fognini in three sets today in his first match at Eastbourne.

“Bernie still has a lot to learn,” Darren Cahill told me. “Nobody has more upward swings and downward swings in the top 50 than Bernie does. If you want to jump on his train then that’s the ride you’re going to get.”

Tomic swung his way through the post-Australian Open section of the season with very little to hang his hat on, and yet he still finds himself at a career-high ranking of 27 a few days shy of Wimbledon.

While other youngsters, namely Grigor Dimitrov and Ryan Harrison, seem to be spinning their wheels outside the top 50 despite all their natural talents, Tomic just keeps moving forward—even when he doesn’t appear to be moving forward.

But don’t let the career-high ranking fool you; Tomic has not played well of late. And if he’s to maintain a top 30 ranking, he’ll need to pull a few rabbits out of his hat on the Wimbledon grass.

“He’s learning, he’s strengthening some areas of his game that need to be strengthened, so I wouldn’t place too much importance of him having to back up a great Wimbledon like he had last year,” said Cahill. “I think everything for him at the moment is a building process.”

Cahill is probably right. Careers need to be looked at with perspective. For Tomic to be where he is (he’ll enter The Championships as the No. 20 seed) is astoundingly good, especially considering that he entered them on a wing and a prayer, ranked at 158 last year.

Still, another nice run at Wimbledon wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it? At the very least it would prove that Tomic can sort of limp into a big event and flick the switch.

It’s a switch that John McEnroe, who reached the semifinals as a qualifier in his first Wimbledon in 1977, couldn’t flick the following year. Johnny Mac lost in the first round in 1978, but he bounced back to end Bjorn Borg’s run of five straight titles in 1981 and eventually went on to win a total of three Wimbledon titles.

Comparing Tomic to McEnroe is undoubtedly a bit premature—McEnroe harnessed his talent, Tomic merely appears to possess it—but then again, there’s no denying that the young Aussie does possess that streak of genius that tends to excite tennis people.

Will he harness it like McEnroe did?

Tune in and find out.

Win or lose at Wimbledon, he’ll be closer to where he needs to be when it’s all over.

 

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