Tomic’s troubles a sad sporting tale

Young Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic is not the first person to struggle with life as a professional sports star.

Bernard Tomic is right.

He could kick around on the ATP Tour for another decade without breaking too much of a sweat, then retire with enough money to never have to work another day in his life.

At the end of the day, it’s his decision, his right and his life. And he’s certainly talented enough to pull it off.

But there’s something especially disturbing about Tomic’s brutally honest admission of his struggles with motivation and “boredom” following his meek Wimbledon exit on Wednesday.

It’s not just the way he’s flying in the face of Australia’s proud tennis history and the never-say-die spirit of legends like Lleyton Hewitt. Or the disrespect he’s showing the sport at its most historic, prestigious event. Or even the fact we’re watching so much potential slide down the drain.

It’s the fact that a decent young man with so much promise and the world still at his feet has even got to this point.

After a straight-sets loss to German veteran Mischa Zverev at the All England Club on Wednesday, Tomic confirmed what many in Australian tennis circles have suspected for some months now.

Against Zverev the longest rally was four shots.

He simply doesn’t care anymore.

“I wasn’t mentally and physically there with my mental state to perform. I felt a little bit bored,” Tomic said.

“I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round.

“To me, everything is the same. I’m going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won’t have to work again.

“You have to respect the sport. But I think I don’t respect it enough.

“It’s my choice. I know I have to work hard. For sure I don’t do the right work. … I just don’t know if I want to.”

Predictably, Tomic’s post-match bombshell sparked an outpouring of vitriol.

He’s been labelled everything from a “disgrace” to an “embarrassment”. Wimbledon legend Martina Navratilova suggested he retire and some fans on social media called for him to be deported.

But, really, we shouldn’t be angry. Just sad.

Sad for the wasted potential and talent, to this point. Sad for a behind-the-scenes likeable and kind-hearted bloke (he was one of the best athletes to deal with in my stint as a European correspondent) who seems lost, in tennis and perhaps in life.

Copping flak is nothing new to a man branded “Tomic the Tank Engine” years ago. That this time he’s not even willing to fight to protect his reputation says a lot.

How did things get this bad?

Tomic was talked up as a future grand slam winner and likely No.1 since bursting on to the scene as a teenager, making the 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finals.

Tomic during better times.

That assessment has since been revised — many feel Tomic lacks the necessary weapons to be among the elite of the elite — but there’s still a strong case to suggest he’s naturally talented enough to be a top 10 mainstay, if not better.

Bad luck with injuries has played a part in his unfulfilled potential (though a lack of hard work and conditioning might well have contributed to that). But seemingly the critical factor has been the relationship with his controversial father.

The stories around strict disciplinarian John Tomic are well-known but he has distanced himself from a coaching perspective in recent years. Many felt that breathing space would allow Tomic to flourish but, tellingly, he since hasn’t appointed a new full-time coach (Tony Roche was hired as a part-time mentor in 2015).

Perhaps after being ridden so hard for so long, the taste of new-found freedom was too sweet and tennis fell down the priority list.

Maybe Tomic is happy to enjoy his fast cars, nightclubs and live his sporting dreams through a gaming console, while playing a bit of tennis along the way and making a lot of cash. There will inevitably, and deservedly, be backlash for that kind of approach but Tomic seems willing to wear it.

Maybe at 24, he’s just realised what makes him tick and who he really is, and it’s far from the driven, obsessive persona of a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Maybe he truly is just lost in life and needs help.

Tomic’s ranking is likely to slip below 80 next week and if it continues to drop, he soon won’t get automatic entry to grand slams. That might suit him fine but if he’s struggling for motivation at Wimbledon, lower-tier ATP events in places like Marrakesh or Bangkok aren’t exactly going to float his boat.

Of course, it’s not over yet.

In a career of spectacular twists and turns, the next might be Tomic rediscovering his desire, drive and achieving what many thought he might. There’s still time and his best days aren’t exactly long gone (he was ranked a career-high 17 only in January last year).

But on current evidence, it’s realistic to think he won’t and while Tomic is enjoying his riches in retirement he’ll be remembered not for what he achieved but what he didn’t, as one of Australia’s saddest sporting tales.

This article originally appeared on FOX Sports Australia.

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