Monday, January 16, 2012
Bernard Tomic buzz picking up steam
By Ravi Ubha
MELBOURNE, Australia -- It's official: Tomic mania has hit Australia.
The Age featured a picture of Bernard Tomic fist-pumping on its front page with the accompanying caption, "Comeback kid," after the 19-year-old rallied from two sets down to advance to the second round of the Australian Open and hand more misery to Fernando Verdasco. The Australian, another national newspaper, declared in a headline on its front page: "The fun is over: Tomic finds the heart to carry expectations." Melbourne's Herald Sun gave Tomic love on its front page.
Australian tennis fans are hoping this proud sporting nation can produce a winner at a second straight Grand Slam following Sam Stosur's triumph in New York, and Tomic, who hasn't always jelled with folks here, might be the leading candidate given Stosur's struggles in Melbourne.
Even Sam Querrey, Tomic's next opponent, couldn't help being a little awestruck. When Querrey took to the court Monday for his opener, Tomic trailed Verdasco by two sets. Once Querrey was done, Tomic and Verdasco were still slugging away in their thriller on Rod Laver Arena.
There is, according to Querrey, "definitely" a buzz about Tomic in the locker room. The boy who predicted at 13 that he'd win all four majors and be No. 1 by the time he was 18 is maturing on and off the court.
"He's got a great tennis sense," Querrey told reporters. "I feel he's a smart player. There's not really a weakness when you watch him play. He's pretty solid off both wings, got a good serve and return."
Added world No. 8 Mardy Fish, Querrey's pal who lost to Tomic at an exhibition last week and in China in the fall: "He's light-years ahead of me now, but especially when I was 19, at that time. Very impressive."
The Australian public no doubt expects Tomic to keep it up against Querrey. But as knowledgeable as the Aussies are, they'll know Querrey's ranking of 95th isn't a fair reflection of his ability. An elbow injury ruined Querrey's 2011, sending his ranking tumbling from inside the top 30 and forcing him to skip Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Twelve months ago he was inside the top 20.
After rehabbing his elbow, Querrey then needed an operation for a freakish umbilical cord infection. Three years ago, the Californian seriously injured his arm when he fell through a glass table in Thailand.
Querrey faced a wild card Monday, Frenchman Kenny De Schepper, and prevailed in straight sets. He was particularly happy with the way he struck his serve and forehand, his two main weapons -- and weapons they are.
"I was going into every service game with a little more intent," Querrey said. "I was stepping to the line and kind of pretending I was like Roger Clemens, like a baseball player delivering a pitch. In the past I felt sometimes I just kind of walked up and hit it. Now I'm going out there with a little more focus and purpose.
"If I play like I did [Monday] and really focus on my serve and play aggressive, I think I have a good shot."
Tomic's comparisons to Andy Murray are valid. He massages the ball, changes pace and thinks on court. But that, too, should hearten Querrey, since he toppled Murray in their last meeting and tested him at Wimbledon, both in 2010.
Querrey suspects fitness won't be an issue. Although Tomic's encounter in the intense afternoon heat lasted four hours, he's worked extensively in recent months on the physical aspect of his game.
"He's got a day and a half to recover, so I'm sure he'll be ready to go," Querrey said.
Despite his maturation, Tomic is still making predictions, essentially claiming over the weekend that he'd beat Verdasco. He expects a positive result against Querrey, too. Whether he'll play rope-a-dope if he falls behind two sets again, as he admitted to doing against Verdasco, remains to be seen.
"I know I play Sam now, which is a good match," Tomic said. "He's not a left-hander, so it's a bit easier in a way."
Easy or not, if Tomic wins the frenzy won't dissipate.
Prediction: Tomic in five.
Isner wasn't pleased with his first-round performance, despite beating Australian wild card Benjamin Mitchell in straight sets.
"I don't really feel like I'm in any sort of match shape," said Isner, who lost his only pre-Australian Open encounter in 2012.
Can one match really change that, as Isner, gunning for the top 10 this year, thought Monday's match did?
Nalbandian's window of opportunity, as it relates to challenging for Grand Slams, is now firmly shut. But the gifted Argentine defeated Isner in their only completed head-to-head during last year's Australian summer.
Will that matter?
Prediction: Isner in five.
Here was a surprise Monday: Baghdatis and Wawrinka, two talented underachievers, didn't spend more time on court than necessary. They dispatched Benjamin Becker and Benoit Paire, respectively, in straight sets.
Wawrinka didn't fare well heading into the Australian Open, suffering an upset loss in the quarterfinals of the Chennai Open as the defending champion. He's also defending a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne.
Baghdatis, whose splendid sprint to the final here is now six years old, had solid warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney.
And he still enjoys tremendous support in Australia.
Prediction: Baghdatis in four.
|John Isner isn't feeling fully fit, but if he can get that massive serve working, who knows how far he will go. |
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.