Photo by SMP Images via DavisCup.com
So, have you been enjoying the matches Down Under? I’m still getting my head around the first week, mulling over everything from Andy Roddick’s retirement to the Nalbandian vs. Isner marathon. That’s the killer thing about Grand Slam tennis – an epic second round match becomes old news a day later. There are so many stories that come and go during the first week of any Major, and this week’s big story is already shaping up on the men’s side – and no, not the “Fedal Rift” as we feared. The story of the next generation of tennis players is the one capturing everyone’s imagination. (And isn’t it crazy to think that this no longer refers to Murray, Nole and Rafa?)
We have the rise of Bernard Tomic to thank for this, the feisty local boy performing marvelously in Rod Laver Arena, taking out Verdasco and Querrey in his first two rounds and playing what will stand as one of the most fascinating matches of 2012 last night vs. fellow up-and-gunner Alexandr Dolgopolov. Another young superstar in the making, Milos Raonic, plays old dog Lleyton Hewitt this evening in the hopes of joining Tomic in the 4th round (where he’ll likely play Djokovic, a whole three years his senior.)
Tomic’s 4th round opponent is none other than Roger Federer, the man who transformed the Post-Sampras era into the Golden Age of Federer. We all know what the GOAT from Switzerland has done to transform the game over the past decade – fusing virtuosic grace with futuristic power and making extraordinary shot making a matter of course. Roger’s had his trials and triumphs with the generation that’s come after him, and these guys are still his main competitors. We’re used to this set-up, maybe even a little bored by it. That’s why tomorrow’s Tomic vs. Federer match is so intriguing. It feels like the start of something new.
For Tomic, at least, this match-up is like a childhood dream come true (from last night’s transcript):
Q. Roger Federer?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. You know, can’t say much really. I hope I play good against him. I have to play good against him. I have to play good to have any chance, I think. I’m playing good and have a lot of confidence and it’s my home Grand Slam. People are going to support me.
Sometimes it’s not support. Against Roger you need to know how to play tennis and need to play tennis well if I have any chance of beating him. That’s why he’s the greatest to play the sport.
I’m happy to play him again. I had the experience in Davis Cup, which is good for me. Not sort of the one off one. I know sort of a way to sort of play him in a way, but Roger can play unbelievable. He’s my favorite player, so it’s always good to play him.
Q. Is it an advantage to have got that first game out of the way?
BERNARD TOMIC: It is, because I looked up to him a lot. He was like my idol. So to play him and have a feel for him, even on grass, like a match like this is good for me. To me, he’s the best player to play. I love watching Roger even on TV now and in the past, so it’s good to play him and get the opportunity to play him again.
Q. When you were about 12 meeting Roger, did you ever think you would be across the net playing him in a Grand Slam?
BERNARD TOMIC: No, not at that age. Not what I was thinking then. (Smiling.) I was probably into like Pokemon cards and that stuff at 12.
Q. Do you know what you’re thinking now?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. I’m beating the top players in the world and having chances, you know, playing for spots in quarterfinals of Grand Slams. It’s a big feeling, and I’m happy with what I achieved last year. This year has been great. It’s a start of a good year for me so I can’t wait to play Roger.
Q. How ardent were you in your support of Roger? Did you stay up late to watch matches, video them, and have posters?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, I’ve watched his matches since he won that first Wimbledon. With so many of the Grand Slams, I always tuned in to watch the finals when he plays Rafa or Novak. To me, I don’t enjoy watching tennis, but when Roger plays on TV, you know, it’s a pleasure to watch.
Q. So you don’t even watch it now?
BERNARD TOMIC: Well, for us players, we’re always in the locker room, looking at tennis. It’s a bit difficult. You’re always looking at tennis, so it becomes a little bit boring of.
For a player like that, when he plays, I’m going to sit and watch the whole match if I can.
Q. Did you have a conversation with him in Davis Cup?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. He gave me a few tips, which is good now because I play him. So thanks, Roger.
No, he said, you know, I was good and can improve. I play a different game. It’s good to get advice like that from someone like that when he beat me. I get the chance to play him now again, which is really good for me.
Q. (Question about parts of your game.)
BERNARD TOMIC: Slice, yeah. I had my own slice down the line. I looked up to him a lot slicing. Back three, four years ago, I started slicing a lot watching him and developing a slice like that. Now I have a really, really good slice, thanks to him.
Q. Idolizing Federer, was there anyone match that sticks in your mind?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, 16 Grand Slams. (Laughter.) That’s the only thing that comes to mind. It’s a scary number. What he’s achieved is unbelievable. I think nobody in tennis will ever achieve that.
In order to play him again is one of the biggest things. Now having played him before, I think I have an intense sense of what he can do and where he can hurt me, where he can’t. I got to go out there feeling good and have a go and try to win.
Q. You sound almost torn about playing him in a way because he was such a huge hero for you.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, we all are. He’s a very hard player to play. That’s why he’s the best that’s been in the sport of tennis. It’s tough having the mindset to beat a player like that. I have to go out there and believe in myself.
I’ve got the crowd on my side, and that’s all I can do.
Roger, like all elders, claims to be a bit mystified by this young generation. Here he is on Tomic:
Q. Can you tell us what you think about your potential opponents in the fourth round?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, I’ll follow it as much as I can, because both are quite particular. I’ve only played Bernard and Alexandr once each, I think, so I don’t know them that well.
Tomic obviously being young makes him still somewhat of a mystery maybe just because he’s changing his game as he’s progressing along the way.
Though this Fed Fan looks forward to a great show, and perhaps a rivalry in the future, here’s hoping that this match proves Fed’s staying power as much as it shows off the talents of a Next Big Thing.