Bold claims have long been a Bernard Tomic trademark. At age 14 he was already declaring ownership of the world No.1 ranking within a matter of years; at the same time, the teenager asserted that all four Grand Slams titles would soon be his.
Whether you scoffed at the precociousness or admired the bravado, it was hard to dispute the special tennis ability that accompanied young Tomic’s ambitions. Junior milestones were significant and rapidly amassed as he collected prestigious Orange Bowl titles in all three age groups, the Australian Open boys’ event in 2008 (at age 15, Tomic was the youngest-ever champion) and the US Open boys’ trophy in 2009.
There’d soon be breakthroughs at a higher level, the 18-year-old Tomic becoming the youngest member of the world’s top 100 after he stunned more highly credentialled opponents in a quarter-final run at Wimbledon in 2011.
But reality checks were perhaps inevitable, and when they came in 2012, they were also painful. A first round loser at Wimbledon and a meek contender in a second round loss at the US Open, turmoil swirled as Tomic surrendered six opening round matches in 10 tournaments in the second half of 2012.
He needed to focus, train harder and side-step the controversies that had regrettably followed many impressive performances – and in 2013, Tomic has done exactly that. As he enters today’s second round match against Daniel Brands, he’s already claimed eight match wins for the season. One of them was in straight sets against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Perth and another, over South African Kevin Anderson, reaped Tomic’s first professional title in Sydney last week.
Tomic is still making his assertions – openly admitting he’s focused on entering the top 10 by season’s end – but now they seem less like a far-fetched wish list and more like the realistic objectives of a young man who understands the hard work required to deliver on his considerable potential.
A comfortable 6-3 6-2 6-3 winner over Leonardo Mayer on Tuesday, Tomic will be the clear favourite against Brands, even after the 120th ranked qualifier claimed one of his biggest career wins in ousting 27th seed Martin Klizan in the opening round. Rather than focus on the intricacies of the match that most expect will provide a ninth 2013 victory for the Queenslander, many observers are speculating instead on a potential third round blockbuster with Roger Federer.
Tomic, however, is not one of those people.
“Everyone expects and everyone draws it out before the tournament that probably we're going to meet. But you don't know. Tennis is very strange. I have learned that last year. I played a lot of strange matches and lost a lot of matches I should have won,” he noted after his first round victory.
“If everything goes according to plan we should get there, but the next round I have to play a player who I don't know as well. I haven't practiced with him a lot, and it can be as difficult. He just beat the top 30 players, so it's difficult.”
Indeed, having capitalised on that advantage in his own career, Tomic understands the danger in an opponent who found his form in the qualifying rounds and, with confidence growing, upset higher-ranked players early. Until recently, Brands’ most notable career performance was a fourth round showing at 2010 Wimbledon, but in 2013 he also outclassed Gael Monfils on the way to the Doha semi-finals.
“My main target is just playing the next match and winning,” said Tomic, admitting he’d be gaining some of his insights on the relatively unknown Brands through YouTube.
“That's why I'm doing a good job the last few weeks at this. I take every match seriously. I prepare every match, I mean, as 100 percent as I can,” he said.
Tomic is enjoying his tennis more than ever, which is providing a new appreciation of the rewards it might deliver.
“I sat down and really said what I want and how do change myself? Because, you know, I can be a good player always, but how do I become better and better and become possibly a great player in the future?”
Considering the season Tomic has enjoyed so far, it’s an almost measured outlook. As he targets another victory at Rod Laver Arena today, it’s clear he understands that while bold claims are one thing, bold steps are ultimately the most important.