Australian Open: Tomic the Tank Engine and Other Mysteries of the Game

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By Bill Simons

TWO WORDS THAT COME TO MIND WHEN THINKING OF MELBOURNE: Urban sanity.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE KIND OF ANTIQUATED WHEN…you’re riding along on the Melbourne tram, taking down some notes, when a nice old lady asks you what you do. You say you’re a reporter, and she replies, “Gee, I didn’t know reporters still used notebooks.”

TAKE THAT, NEW YORK CITY (OR SAN FRANCISCO, OR LA, OR …): There are plenty of parking spots in Melbourne.

THE MOST COMMON ACCESSORY IN TOASTY MELBOURNE: The water bottle.

NO KIDDING: The injured Bernard Tomic said, “It’s tough playing Rafa on two legs, let alone one.”

ANOTHER TUMULTUOUS TOMIC CHAPTER: Few pros in recent memory have had more perplexing, head-scratching incidents and implosions than Bernard Tomic.  The young, hunky Aussie found himself in a high-speed chase in his yellow Ferrari. The police later surrounded his house and he lost his license. His intense dad, John, attacked Bernie’s practice partner and broke the guy’s nose. A court case is pending in Madrid, and his Dad has been banned from the tour. And it didn’t help that before the Aussie Open, the papers had pictures featuring him shirtless, celebrating his 21st birthday with lap dances at the Sin City nightclub. Many a coach, like the iconic Patrick Rafter, has left the talented kid, complaining that he just didn’t listen. Plus, incredibly, Tomic, whose nickname is Tomic the Tank Engine, has openly admitted he’s tanked matches, even saying that he uses tanking as part of his game: “I sort of use it sometimes as a weapon. I sort of zone out for a few games, try to use it to my advantage to come back in. It’s helped me in the past a lot, I should say.”

This suspect approach contrasts sharply with one of Tomic’s fellow Aussies, Lleyton Hewitt, who battles for every point in every match, including the heroic five-set loss he suffered the night before Tomic retired just one set into his highly-anticipated first round match against Rafa Nadal, citing a groin injury. Tests proved Tomic was really hurt. Still, the crowd jeered him with gusto, and a huge headline in the morning paper read, “Tomic Bombs.”

To add spice to the Tomic stew, there are some hot, younger Aussies who could well emerge to steal his thunder in tennis-crazy Australia. Cynics are wondering: What could possibly happen next?

Under fire, Tomic called an additional press conference Wednesday, arguing that even though fans had paid lots of money for their tickets, he felt their the reaction was unfair. He felt that he was misunderstood, and said that if he’d gone on to battle Nadal for hours, he could have been hurt for months.

The Aussie told Inside Tennis that he sometimes asks himself, ‘Why me, why have all these things happened?’ He mused, “It’s the thing of being very young. You get thrown into a lot things … I’m still very young … [But] I know if I keep the right things going, I can improve a lot … Everything happens for a reason. You have to take whatever comes at you, and you’ve got to look at it as a positive … and learn to improve. I know I can get there.”

Indeed, a land of tennis fanatics certainly hopes so.

MIRACLE MAN: Ross Hutchins, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, underwent intense chemotherapy in 2012, losing all of his muscle mass. Amazingly, he has come back to health, and, now that his disease is in full remission, he’s teamed up with his old doubles partner, Colin Fleming. He told the London Times’ Neil Harman that he has “forgotten about thinking I was ill. I’m only looking forward. It was great to walk back through the gates here again knowing the significance.”

After the duo won their first-round match in doubles, the vastly-popular Hutchins told a large gathering of reporters that he didn’t want people to feel badly for him, and he wanted his foes to battle ruthlessly against him.

Hutchins used a diet he concocted himself to aid his recovery. From the start, his pal Andy Murray was incredibly supportive—Murray immediately researched Hutchins’ disease and was there to help and intervene at every turn, spearheading a pre-Wimbledon exhibition to aid him. (Who says elite athletes are always a vain, self-centered bunch?) Hutchins shared that his toughest moment came after his eighth or ninth chemotherapy session. He credited the enthusiastic support of the tennis community for a role in what has to be one of the most touching recent comeback tales in our sport.

THE CAPRIATI CASE: The battery and stalking charges lodged by Jennifer Capriati‘s former boyfriend—who claimed the Hall of Famer punched and stalked him—were dropped. According to the State’s Attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, Florida, Capriati completed four hours of anger management counseling and 30 hours of community service.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: After Li Na, 31, beat the Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who is about half her age, Inside Tennis rather rudely asked if playing a 16-year old made her feel like an old lady. She promptly replied, “No, I think I’m mostly young in this room, right?”

ROGUE THEORY: ESPN reported that an Australian doctor, Tim Wood, advised against drinking too much. He noted that deaths from dehydration are rare in comparison to those from over-hydration.

RISKE FACTOR: America’s delightful Alison Riske beat Yanina Wickmayer in 57 minutes to advance to the third round, where she will face German Angelique Kerber. She’s now progressed to the third round or further in three straight Slams.

IN A DARK ROOM FOR A DAY: Young, powerful Madison Keys was up two breaks against China’s Jie Zheng in the third set, but lost to the tough, diminutive baseliner 7-6, 1-6, 7-5. Still, after her loss, the personable 18-year old from Illinois was upbeat, saying, “It’s a huge improvement that I could come back and fight.” Keys reached the semis of a warm-up
tournament just prior to the Aussie Open. “You have to say [to yourself] good job,” she said, after the Zheng match. “Being horribly upset after a loss takes all the fun out of it. There were times after a loss when I would want to go and sit in a dark room for a day.”

QUESTION OF THE DAY: After Madison Keys showed the media a nasty bruise she accidentally inflicted on herself while serving, a reporter followed up by asking, “Do you have a long history of self-destruction?”

BEST NEW NICKNAME: Stan Wawrinka is “the Stan-a-bull.”

ROCKING FANS OF THE DAY: The boisterous Bosnians.

QUERREY ON FIRE: Serving with power, Sam Querrey swept by Ernests Gulbis, and now has a good shot to reach the round of 16. Like Sloane Stephens yesterday, the LA native spoke of Henry Talbert, the former Executive Director of the Southern California Tennis Association, who passed away earlier this week. Querrey said,  “Yes, I practice at UCLA all the time, he worked in an office there, and he used to always come on the courts and say hi’ which was nice. He has done so many things for Southern California tennis. He was always [supportive of] my career when I was growing up, from the time I was 13. I was sad to hear of his passing away—he was really influential with my junior and  pro career, [and] all the tournaments and [tennis activities] in Southern California. There were 50 times when I was practicing [when] he would take time out and come out and say hi, and that was pretty cool.”

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