Bernard Tomic plays a forehand in the Sydney International men's final against Kevin Anderson of South Africa. Photo: Getty Images
AUSTRALIA'S Bernard Tomic sealed a breakthrough victory when he defeated South African Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in the final of the Sydney International on Saturday night.
Tomic started like a locomotive but he was forced to fight back after Anderson took control of the second set. Playing in his first ATP world tour final, Tomic looked at home against the more experienced Anderson on centre court as he chased history.
He walked onto the Ken Rosewall Arena determined to become the ninth Australian to win the title in the Open era; he was also in a position to become the first 20-year-old since Roger Federer a decade ago to win the trophy.
Worth the wait ... Bernard Tomic with the trophy. Photo: Anthony Johnson
His quest started promisingly as Tomic quickly asserted himself by taking a rapid-fire 3-0 lead in the opening set, and when the world No.36 Anderson threatened to come back with Tomic leading 5-3, the Aussie displayed great poise to remain in control. Rather than try to blast his way out of trouble despite the score favouring Anderson 30-15, Tomic sacrificed pace for placement - serving at 170 km/h - and it paid off. His opponent couldn't reach the ball. That point paved the way for Tomic to take the set 6-3.
Anderson returned to win the opening game of the second set, and while Tomic managed to stay in the race there was concern when his footwork appeared heavy and his double-handed backhand sloppy. His tendency to play behind the baseline also worked in Anderson's favour.
It was a crucial period for Tomic, who had declared that his game - which saw him upstage world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the recent Hopman Cup - had benefited from a new fitness regimen and some techniques changes.
As Anderson regrouped in the second set and took a 4-2 lead, Tomic was being pushed around in the rallies by the South African, who was playing in his fourth World ATP final. Perhaps it was the result of big-match nerves, but there were times when Tomic, who had opened his assault on the title with aggression and flair, seemed content to play from behind a defensive shield as Anderson unleashed devastating serves. However, he dug deep to force the set to a tiebreak.
Though he lost it 7-2, Tomic's mettle impressed the home crowd, who delighted in the sometimes troubled player giving them a reason to embrace him.
Among those who applauded his effort was the great Ken Rosewall, who, only a few months ago, admitted he was concerned by headlines that documented, among other things, Tomic's brushes with the law for speeding in his sports car on the Gold Coast and a split with Australia's Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter.
Tomic returned for the third set displaying the spirit and aggression that allowed him to dominate the opening set. He returned shots with pace; the depth of those shots had increased and they put Anderson on the backfoot.
With Tomic leading the last set 3-2, Anderson requested the umpire to allow him to get a new pair of shoes because they had become buckets of sweat. He was heard to say before he resumed the match: "It's dangerous out here, there's water everywhere."
But so too was Tomic. He stormed home to take the third set 6-2 with a cross-court forehand.