The Bernard Tomic bandwagon has hit a speedbump. At least that’s the way the world will view his straight sets mauling at the hands of Roger Federer, a lesson in perspective from the multi-Grand Slam tournament champion.
Tomic was outclassed, outplayed and out-everything-ed by Federer under the night lights on Rod Laver Arena, prevented from playing his own game, prevented from doing anything other than set up the ball for Federer to put away.
But Australia’s newest national hero, his very first Australian Open fourth round under his belt, is not so worried. He sees the loss as educational and experiential, and, although he would have dearly loved to win, because who wouldn’t, it was simply another step along his yellow brick road to the top of the game.
“It's very good experience to play a player like that,” Tomic said afterwards. “I don't think there will ever be as good of a player as him. I think you can only learn what he does and take in what you learned.”
The age gap between these two players, after all, is an entire 11 years, pretty much precisely, given that Federer is an August baby and Tomic an October one. They are from different eras, not just generations. And so all Tomic can do is learn from his matches against Federer. Because they won’t be the ones that define his career.
“For me, it's a great pleasure and honour to play him,” Tomic said. “I think you learn a lot over the period when you play these top guys, top three or four guys. Last time I learned a lot of things when I played him, and this time I learned even more. You can just only get better if you lose against him.”
Let there be no doubt that all Tomic wants to do is get better. He is not the player to be content with a fair-to-middling career in the top 20. He has his sights set on the top four, top three, top two, even top one.
“The top four guys have something special,” Tomic said. “That's why they've all won slams, and that's why Murray plays so consistent. I think the rest, they are all beatable for me at my level.”
Confident, even arrogant, for a 19-year-old to say, you might think. But Tomic has proven his worth already in the past 12 months. A year ago, he lost a third round here in Melbourne. In 2012, he lost a fourth round. But he also reached a Wimbledon quarter-final along the way, and with it, a place in the top 40.
All analysts talk about is how progression in the men’s game is ageing. Players are breaking through far older than they used to. But not Tomic.
“Having played all the top four guys now and Roger twice, I think there is a lot for me in the future,” Tomic said. “I'm always going to get better and better. Looking back a year I was not as good as now. Looking back to next year, I'll probably be
even better. That's a scary part for me because I know I can improve a lot.”
He’s done the numbers, too.
“I'm just happy I don't have to defend any points for six months,” Tomic said. “I can play tournaments and play relaxed and know I'm just going to go up. Every match I win I go up.
“So it's a great feeling knowing till Wimbledon I have no points. I'm, 50, 60 points away being seeded at Grand Slams. That's a great thing, I think. You can be seeded at the Grand Slam like the French and Wimbledon, and becomes a bit easier then for rounds to get through and not play the big names.”
So although it may have been a schooling at the hands of the master, there is a lot more to come from Bernard Tomic. He’d be the first to tell you so.