Controversy continues to stalk Bernard Tomic, whose grand slam sequel to January's Australian Open retirement against Rafael Nadal was ended 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 by 12th seed Richard Gasquet in the first round at Roland Garros. Some honour was restored in a more competitive third set, but there were few positives to be found in the first two.
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There was an inevitable backlash on Twitter, and former great Fred Stolle in the commentary box was among those critical of Tomic’s effort. ‘‘To play a match like this against Richard Gasquet and not give it a go is disappointing," said Stolle, as longstanding doubts over the 21-year-old’s dedication to practice, and preparation, were also revived.
There was, however, plenty of spirit shown in the interview room, where Tomic labelled as ‘‘stupid and ‘‘berserk’’ a question over his father’s suitability to return as his coach after serving a 12-month ban for assaulting French practice partner Thomas Drouet, while a civil suit remains unsettled. Tomic senior, who made a hurried post-match exit from courtside, will resume solo duties from outgoing caretaker coach Velimir Zovko immediately.
Tomic junior also admitted his dislike of the claycourt grand slam where he has won just one match in five visits. ‘‘I mean, Paris is a beautiful city, but I really don't like this tournament. I’ve never played well,’’ said the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, whose preferred surface is grass.
What was just Tomic's sixth match since the double hip surgery that followed his Melbourne Park retirement was not a thrashing of Miami proportions, when the Queenslander lost to Jarko Nieminen in 28 minutes, but it lacked grit, and - seemingly - interest at times, played in a free-wheeling hit-or-miss fashion that was considerably more of the latter.
‘‘Yeah, it was (a) tough match,’’ he said. ‘‘Difficult for me to come out in this match. He's the favorite; he's playing at home. It's a different feeling to me playing back home.
‘‘But he played very good. The first set, set-and-a-half, I think I played very, very bad, and it was difficult for me to get in because I wasn't moving quite good because he was giving me different balls and pushing me out. I really struggled with his game, especially on clay. He really gave it to me today, and I could not do anything in the first few sets.’’
Not that the result was a surprise, for Tomic has only once passed the first round at Roland Garros, where he retired with a hamstring injury in the third set against Victor Hanescu last year, and was censured and sent home as a junior for failing to give his best effort back in 2007.
At least, this time, he played out the match to its conclusion, and clearly lacks match fitness and intensity.
"I know what it's like to come back from two hip operations,'' said his Davis Cup teammate and regular practice partner Lleyton Hewitt. "I had mine at different times. He obviously had his basically at the same time, very close together. It's not an easy thing to come back from.
"Yeah, he obviously tried coming back too early on the hard court season in Miami. But then even the clay, it took me a little while to push through that and get your confidence back in your movement.. my movement is obviously different to Bernie, but it's not going to happen overnight.
"But from what I saw in Madrid, he was serving really well, which is obviously one of the big keys for him, I think, moving forward. Yeah, he'll feel a lot better on the grass.''
Indeed, like Hewitt, Tomic will happily draw the curtain on an unsuccessful claycourt season, and plant his feet on the lawns where he broke through as a Wimbledon quarter-finalist back in 2011. "It's a tough little time for him at the moment,'' said Hewitt. "He's got to try and find a way through it, and I have no doubt he'll be back up there, though.''