In recent months it has seemed that the only possible upside to Bernard Tomic's undignified stumble through the second half of the year was that it would temper Australian Open expectations as a consequence. Not so. Not now. Not since Wednesday night's stirring performance against world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
Yes, the Hopman Cup is an exhibition event, with no ATP rankings points at stake. No, Djokovic was not at his best in the Australian Open warm-up, only a few days after arriving from the Middle East, his true focus still several weeks away. But Tomic is showing the promising signs of some harsh lessons learnt and hard work completed.
Tomic's confidence on the rise
Bernard Tomic says he is looking to go deep at the Australian Open after posting his third consecutive victory at the Hopman Cup on Thursday.
Enough brickbats. Bravo.
Earlier this week I suggested to Tennis Australia's head of professional tennis, Todd Woodbridge, that perhaps it would help Tomic - after those miserable ''Tank Engine'' performances and subsequent Davis Cup suspension, and headlines for hot-spa high jinks and fast-car police charges that have subjected the 20-year-old to such ridicule - that the bar would be lower at Melbourne Park this year.
''Maybe the expectation's low, but the intensity and the attention is bigger than ever, so that's not going to be easy,'' Woodbridge said. ''But you know what? Bernie loves attention. I've always felt that he plays his best tennis at slams, in the spotlight. And I don't think that will worry him, as long as he feels he's comfortable with his form.
''We know he can play the tennis to rattle people and it's about competing mentally on the court for the duration of the match to get the result. We have seen it; we know it is possible.''
Later that night in Perth, Djokovic saw it, too. Through extra knee bend there was a heftier serve, an improved forehand and superior movement resulting from intense recent work with experienced Spanish trainer Salvador Sosa. And, even in the friendly circumstances, there were signs of the mental application first apparent during a spirited comeback against Tommy Haas three days earlier.
The defending Australian Open champion commented later on Tomic's innate court sense, touch and tactical awareness for his age, but also that he looked to be stronger physically and more confident. But Djokovic also stressed the importance of achieving consistent success during the season, including on clay. Said Djokovic, ''but he definitely has the game.''
And also, still, a lot to prove, but the signs were good. Very good. ''This is what you need and I think this is especially something I needed before the Australian Open,'' Tomic said.
''I'm playing the best tennis I've played in the last few years, so I'm really happy with myself, I couldn't have asked for anything more.
''The past year on the court was very difficult for me, I lacked concentration and I would play really well for a few sets and lose it, so I'm happy I'm not losing my focus and being able to hold service games and really focus when I need to, and that's why it's paying off I think. Absolutely it's very important to have this sort of feeling before leading into a grand slam, and I'm happy I came here. Playing tennis like I'm playing is huge to me and I'm really happy.''
So. Let's not overplay this, but accept it as a confidence-building exhibition win at the start of a long season in which Tomic has some ground and respect to recover. Yet also as a bright beginning - not even in the result so much as the attitude and execution.