Another day and yet another instalment in the Bernard Tomic saga.
Tomic fronted the media yesterday to declare he was not interested in talking with Tennis Australia, who had seemingly extended the olive branch to the 22-year-old, until he was “satisfied that TA had committed to funding the development of junior Australian talent” including that of his sister Sara, on “a non-discriminatory basis”.
Whether Tennis Australia should be funding Sara Tomic is a debatable point. Sara is ranked third in Australia for her age and has recently produced a set of results that would usually warrant funding from the national body. However the ongoing criticism from the Tomic family makes it understandably difficult for them to justify any financial support for the 17-year-old, no matter how many matches she wins.
Which is unfortunate, because she isn’t to blame.
A few weeks back I wrote an opinion piece on the public and media’s reaction to Nick Kyrgios – you can read it on The Roar or at bobnightly.com.au if you’d like, however the crux of it was just telling everyone to chill out a little and get some perspective.
Sure, Nick’s got a bit of a temper, he’s got a bit of attitude and he acts like a bit of a tool at times. But essentially, he’s 20, he’s no different to the vast majority of tennis players who succeed at a young age and he’s being hammered by the media in a way that I don’t think we’ve really experienced before – in this country at least.
To be honest, I watched all of his matches at Wimbledon and the most disappointing thing about his performance was that bloody ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ ad that was shown 413 times every night of the coverage.
When I started writing that article, my intentions were for it to be about both Nick and Bernard Tomic. It’s easy to group them together as there are some obvious similarities – both are young, talented Australian tennis players from multi-cultural backgrounds (contribution noted, Dawn).
However in the end I decided just to write about Nick, partially because I feel there are some major differences between their two situations – but mainly because I just found it a lot harder to defend Bernard.
First of all, Bernard’s a bit older and has been on the tour longer than Nick, so you could argue that after four or five years in the media spotlight he should have matured more. Lleyton Hewitt was pretty impressive off the court by that age, even though he still acted like Hayden Ballantyne on it.
At the same time we need to remember he’s only 22 years old – I remember being his age and waking up with a shopping trolley in my bed, then being reliably informed that someone pushed me home in it while I re-enacted the Melbourne Cup for the entire journey.
Being a bit of a knob is a right of passage for many of us, it seems.
Secondly, Tomic’s on-court behaviour isn’t questionable in the same way that Kyrgios’ is. He doesn’t lose his temper often, rarely argues with umpires and isn’t a racquet-breaker.
What does come under scrutiny regularly is his effort, or his perceived lack of it – and that’s one of the things that makes him harder to defend, because when he does get rolled easily it certainly appears he’s pretty happy to toss in the towel.
In having said that, tennis isn’t one size fits all – Tomic has a unique, relaxed style of play that never really appears as though he’s giving it his all, even when he wins through in tight matches.
He hits the ball flatter than just about everyone else in the men’s game and therefore doesn’t consistently generate anywhere near the amount of racquet head speed as most of the other male pros.
This means he relies on changes of pace and a use of slower balls that few other players do – a trait that can be praised as intelligent when he wins and easily interpreted as a lack of effort when he loses.
Another thing that many people don’t realise about Tomic is that he’s big. At 6’5” and over 90 kilograms he’s the same height as Lance Franklin and only eight kilograms lighter.
Guys that size don’t tend to scrap it out defensively like their smaller counterparts, they just don’t tend to have the physical attributes for that style of game. And let’s face it – Tomic is 22-years old and currently the 25th best tennis player in the world. You don’t get there on talent alone. However the question marks surrounding his commitment and effort are certainly there, and rightly so.
However it’s the third aspect that make he and Nick Kyrgios so different. And it’s the root cause of every problem the Australian media and general public have with the guy – his father.
Kyrgios appears to come from a stable and supportive family and while his attitude is an issue, I think most of us can see that deep down there’s a decent young bloke that knows he’s got a family that loves and supports him. And then there’s Bernard Tomic.
Simply dismissing his upbringing as ‘difficult’ is like saying that Tiger Woods used to enjoy ‘spending time’ with other women – it doesn’t really tell the whole story. We all see John Tomic in the news, we read the stories about him and we acknowledge that it must have been an extremely unhealthy environment to be raised in, but because very few of us have ever experienced anything like it.
We simply cannot relate to it we cop out and say things like “He’s an adult now, he just has to take responsibility for his own actions and move on from his father. Easy”.
Bulls**t. It’s not easy. We’re all happy to pass judgment on Bernard, myself included, yet most of us will never properly understand the damage that has been caused to this young bloke by his father.
Telling someone break that sort of oppressive cycle and just get on with things is like telling someone to snap out of depression. It’s naive and will probably make things worse.
I’m as guilty as anyone of being dismissive of his situation – yet when I played tennis as a kid if I saw my Dad at the back of the court shaking his head I’d almost shit my pants.
The worst-case scenario for me was that Mr. Nightly would tell me off for acting like a d*ckhead, which was usually a fairly accurate assessment of the situation, and maybe ban me from watching The Wonder Years that evening. Imagine going home with John Tomic after a loss.
I’m not going to defend Bernard’s comments about Tennis Australia, in particular his references to Craig Tiley and Pat Rafter. They were ignorant and an extremely obstinate interpretation of the facts. As are many of the things that he has said throughout his short career.
Likewise, the ‘Hall of Shame’ media release by Tennis Australia was a stupid thing to do, even though it was almost certainly the foolish actions of an individual within a big organisation.
Rest assured that it wasn’t a typo though – an quick look at your computer’s keyboard will probably go a long way towards demonstrating that. Unless you happen to have fingers like Clive Palmer you’re probably not going to mistakenly hit an ‘s’ and a ”h’ instead of an ‘f’.
Denying it also sets a dangerous precedent for people referring to their bosses as ‘a really fit bloke’ in workplace emails.
I honestly don’t know where I stand on this whole issue, which probably makes the fact I’ve written a long opinion piece about it rather pointless.
I don’t think Bernard Tomic should be given a permanent ‘get out of jail free’ card by Tennis Australia just because he’s a precocious talent that has had a dysfunctional upbringing.
And I believe that as a public figure who has been funded by the sport’s governing body he should be held accountable for his actions off the court, in the same way he is for his results on it.
However I also think we need to be careful just how far we take the personal slurs and insults we make about a guy that has been through what Bernard has, as this is one fire that doesn’t need any more fuel thrown on it.
For a satire writer Bernard Tomic is a dream come true, he’s basically the Joe Hockey of the sporting world. However as a lover of tennis I just find the whole thing a bit too familiar and most of all, sad.