A tale of two tennis players

A friend of mine at the tennis the other night posted a picture of the centre court and comment as the Bernard Tomic/Rafael Nadal match ended prematurely. ‘All over before it really begun’ she wrote. ‘That may be the epitaph for Tomic’s career’ I wrote back. Yesterday another friend sent me a message: you have to write about that loser Tomic, he said.

That sums up much of the attitude towards Tomic. There are few people in Oz who don’t see him as petulant, spoilt, arrogant, and lazy, among many other choice insults. This hasn’t happened overnight. He’s made big claims about himself since he was a kid, which is fine if you can back it up – or at least strive to make it so. None of the grand statements, nor undoubted talent, has translated into any meaningful success. That hasn’t made him humble. Nor has it inspired him to work harder. Instead he continues to act as if all his grandiose ambitions were reality – perhaps in his minds eye he is that person; and he carries on with a sense of grating entitlement that endears him to no-one.

On Tuesday he retired, injured, after the first set. It may well have been a legitimate injury and a sensible decision, and the boos he copped unfair. Except the boos were the expression of long simmering frustration with an Australian sportsman who talks big, but continues to disappoint. His history of lame effort, questionable attitude, dodgy excuses, and outright tanking sits very badly with Australian sports fans. We’ll forgive a lot, but not a puny heart.

It was apt that earlier in the night Lleyton Hewitt had played. Hewitt is another with a difficult relationship with the Australian public. Many times I’ve shaken my head at his antics, feeling sour at him. Coming after someone like Rafter he has often appeared utterly graceless. I’m not Robinson Crusoe thinking that.

The thing about him though is that you had to respect him. He’s a tough little competitor, and maybe the hardest fighter on the men’s circuit, and for many years. Once he takes the court he never gives anything but his best. When it might be easier to accept a creditable loss he’ll continue to dig deep. He never gives up.

This was again the case on Tuesday. Down 2 sets he fought back to take the match into the 5th set, in classic Hewitt style. He lost ultimately, but for all of his flaws he is a formidable character who has earned our grudging respect. We may not like him a lot, but he possesses something in spades we believe in, which we think to be innate in our character.

There was an obvious contrast between Tomic and Hewitt on Tuesday night, and the obvious question: would Hewitt have retired hurt? The consensus was, probably not. And maybe, regardless of risk, Tomic should have gone on to demonstrate something of his will.

We stand here in judgement of him, easy to do in the stands and on twitter and in blogs like this. We judge harshly sometimes, and unfairly. There is a lot of unnecessary venom. It goes with the territory though. You take the stage and you become fair game.

Tomic is still young, but runs the risk of squandering his talent, like so many before him. Whether he ever makes it big or not, he can still regain the respect of the Australian people by simply having a go. It’s the credo we hold most dear perhaps: have a go. Avagoyamug! Put the effort in. Fight. Do it with heart and pride.

That’s who we think we are, and it’s offensive to us to find one of our own who won’t even do that – and even worse carries on with a smug lack of humility. Until he changes his ways Tomic is a face that a lot of Aussie’s will just want to punch. As they in the vernacular, he has to wake up to himself – who he is, where’s he going, and begin acknowledging his mistakes. He appears oblivious of the ridicule he inspires. It’s in his hands to change that. Give up the fast cars, the lap dancers, the smug attitude. Work hard, sweat a bit, and show some willingness to fight, and Bernard, we’ll meet you halfway.

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