Andy Roddick was asked about Ryan Harrison on Monday and he said something that's stuck with me. "The stuff that makes him annoying now is going to make him really good someday." Those words may apply to Harrison but the quote has popped in my head all week whenever I've heard, read, or seen anything about Bernard Tomic.
There is an arrogance about Tomic that just grates on you. The way he struts around a court, pointing to his towel as if he's too big time to ask for it politely. His sometimes lackadaisical attitude on court that projects to the world that he thinks he can win matches without even trying. And of course there are his comments in the past, whining about having to play a late match on Laver, refusing a practice partner invitation from Lleyton, and even today after the match, saying that he will definitely break through the top 100 this year. The shit just piles up and it absolutely grates. It's been said before and I'll say it again: You just want to punch the kid in the face.
But when he applies that arrogance to his tennis, I can't help but melt. His brand of intelligent, clever, witty tennis is exactly what made me fall in love with Andy Murray (well, and Andy's danshingly handsome mug, obvs). To have the cockiness to think that you can feather a perfect drop shot on Rafa, or cut a slice that looks like a defensive shot, but actually clips the line to set up a winner, that takes a certain mindset. "I'm better than you, I'm smarter than you, and you're never going to see this coming." Sometimes you'll look like an idiot of the highest order, as Bernie did when he pulled the ripcord on a long rally by going for a forehand slice dropper that clipped the tape and caused an entire media room to either laugh or face-palm. But other times you'll be praised as a tennis genius, who deigned see a shot that 99.9% of the tennis world couldn't even imagine existed. That brand of tennis gives me a tennis boner every time.
It wasn't that long ago that Muzz was widely regarded as an arrogant, miserable cock who frustrated opponents, fans, and media with equal skill. The difference is that Andy, over time, realized that he wasn't better or smarter than the other guys. He identified what was keeping him from competing with the top guys and made a concerted effort to get stronger and faster (remember when he debuted his increased fitness by flexing like the Hulk right here in Melbourne Park two years ago?), improved his serve, and added more offense, embracing (even if it's still rather reluctantly) the willingness to hit winners when he had to. But it took time for him to get there and being the arrogant asshole that he is (trust me, it takes one to know one) he had to do it on his own terms and not because someone from the sideline was yelling at him (*cough*BG*cough).
Tomic is talented. There is no doubt about it. To go 62 75 63 on Rafael Nadal (up 4-0 in the second even) is proof of that. He ran Rafa absolutely ragged and instead of trying to junk him to death, which is what he's known for and what he did against Jeremy and Feli in the first two rounds, Tomic stepped up and tried to Moose the guy. He has the ability to hit winners with angles that seem revelatory at times. Just like Andy, what he lacks in pure speed he compensates for in his ability to read the game and anticipate not just the next shot, but the shot after that, and after that, and after that. Whether you like him or not (ok, let's all just say not) you can't take your eyes off him when he plays. I caught myself point after point staring at the TV with a furrowed brow, simply wondering "Jesus, what's he going to do next?" His game is a curiosity and I'm completely hooked.
At some point, the arrogance will have to go. He will have to realize that, despite the oohs and ahhs of the crowd and the wake of broken racquets and despondent glares left in the wake of his dispatched opponents, he's going to have to take some risks and make the leap. He's just too talented not to. That part is up to Bernie and his team. ESPN reported that Tomic probably won't play Davis Cup despite the fact that Rafter wants him on the team and they insinuated that it was because of Tomic's dad. Oh, stage-parents. You're so adorable sometimes.
But the sky's the limit with the kid and he very firmly placed himself in the conversation alongside Ricardas Berankis, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov as the next class of potential tennis greats. But it's a long time off and it'll be interesting to see how Bernie & Co. handle his career going forward. As Rafa said, when asked what advice he would give Tomic, "I can only tell him what I did. Work." You heard him, Bernie. Get faster, get stronger, get fitter.
Oh, and maybe eat some Humble Pie Quelys. That's a thing, right?