Britain’s Andy Murray (left) will provide an opportunity for Bernard Tomic to get closer to the top 10.So Bernard Tomic is miffed that Roger Federer wants to see some results to back up all this destined-for-the-top-10 talk from the world No.17. Puh. That old Swiss guy? Who’s he to judge, considering how far Federer is behind the current monarch, Novak Djokovic?
“Yeah, well, he has his predictions,” sniffed Tomic of Federer. “I think he’s also far away from Djokovic as well if he wants to say that … He’s nowhere near Novak’s tennis right now.”
Ouch. Take that, you 17-time grand slam champion, whose record 302 weeks at No.1 is exactly 16 spots higher than Tomic has ever been. The Australian is coming off his best season, yes, but his fourth-round result at Melbourne Park was the furthest he went at a major – and has been at any major, since his Wimbledon quarter-final in 2011 – and he did not beat any player ranked higher than No.8.
So to Monday night, on Rod Laver Arena, against second seed Andy Murray. Talk may be cheap, but a major grand slam upset against the four-time Australian Open finalist and dual major winner – a player he has failed to take a set from in three matches – would be worth plenty indeed.
“Bernie’s clearly got to serve very well,” says Davis Cup coach Jason Stoltenberg, brought in as new captain Lleyton Hewitt’s right-hand man. “Andy will be looking to expose his movement, and I think he’s just going to have to play tactically very smart. But Andy’s an incredibly intelligent tennis player, and I have no doubt that he has a few plans up his sleeve.”
Their last meeting was in the first reverse singles of the Davis Cup semi-final in Glasgow, when Murray prevailed 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. “Andy was just too good at the time, and I think Bernie has to take some chances and step up and executive his plan and serve well and play big. So he’ll have to play a very very good tennis match,” Stoltenberg said. “He’ll have to play as good as he can play.”
The intangible is the impact of the Nigel Sears health scare, Murray having not spoken publicly since being told after his slightly scratchy four-set defeat of Jose Sousa on Saturday night that the father of his pregnant-and-absent wife, Kim, had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
Murray went straight to the Epworth after the match; Sears, the coach of Ana Ivanovic, was released on Sunday afternoon after a battery of tests and cleared to soon fly home to the UK. Murray practised just after the release of the official statement, in which Sears thanked all those involved in his care. “I feel truly grateful to everyone involved for the manner in which this has been handled. While I appreciate the level of media interest in this story I would prefer not to comment any further, thanks.”
But Tomic, typically, had quite a bit to say after his three-set defeat of John Millman, having reached the last 16 of his most consistent tournament for the third time in his career. “So happy to be in this position. Playing Andy now is an amazing opportunity. One of the best players in the world. Have to go out there and play the right tennis like I’ve been playing in the last month,” he said.
“You have to take the ball to him, play aggressive, not too aggressive, and rally at the right time. He’s won two grand slams. Made like, six, seven finals. He should have won many more majors in his career. Amazing player. I have to play against No.2 in the world. It’s going to be so tough for me. I know the last three weeks I’ve been playing really good tennis. If I play the right way, the right tactic, serve well, there’s a huge chance for me.
“Playing like I’ve been playing the last year, I just feel so confident on court. Anyone can beat anyone now. Especially with the tennis I’m playing. I’ll go out there believing I can win and focus on my service games. I know I’ll get some chances on his.”
Serve, certainly, will be critical, for Tomic’s is improved after some concentrated pre-season work, deceptively effective, and now reliably delivering free points, while Murray’s second serve is the most vulnerable part of his very fine and otherwise complete game.
“Bernie’s not gonna win the physical battle, that’s for sure, so he’ll have to take some chances and play aggressive and take it to him, and that’s the only chance he’s got,” Stoltenberg said. “I think that’s what he tried to do in Glasgow, and he couldn’t sustain it. But it’s the fourth round and they’re obviously both playing well. He wouldn’t want to drag it out too much, though.”
The great Rod Laver thinks so, too. “He’s going to have to be very aggressive, not passive, and not having to hit 15, 20, 30 balls in a single point,” said the greatest Queenslander of all. “He’s got to be able to win the points outright and he’s got to put the pressure back on Murray.”
But enough talk, even if it was only 10 days ago that Tomic told chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani before retiring so controversially in Sydney that he was already thinking about Melbourne, and, well, pretty happy with his draw. It might not seem like such a good one right now. Could be better, though. Could be that Swiss bloke in Djokovic’s shade.
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