FOR Bernard Tomic, the message has come repeatedly from Novak Djokovic, Patrick Rafter, and now Roger Federer. It is all very well to shine at home, to thrive on your local circuit. But part of the reason Tomic is still some distance from the top 10 position he covets is that although the tennis season starts in January, it doesn't end there.
Federer is qualified in his praise for the Queenslander, noting a little more maturity, some extra power to complement his renowned touch, variety and finesse, and the benefits of another year of experience on tour. Having agreed to a request from Rafter to advise his young opponent after the 2011 Davis Cup world group play-off in Sydney, Federer can see what Tomic needs to address next.
''He's had a great run now,'' the second seed said after Saturday night's 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 defeat of the world No.43. ''I hope he knows what he needs to do the next few months, weeks, and years ahead.
"I hope he knows what he needs to do the next few months, weeks, and years ahead" ... Roger Federer after defeating Australian Bernard Tomic. Photo: Pat Scala
''Isn't always a two-month tour. You know, we play 10, 11 months of the year, it's bring it every single day. He seemed like a very good player today to me. So you would definitely expect him to rise in the rankings, get better draws as we go forward, plays more consistent, gets more confident. That's how you make your move, really.''
In 2008, 15-year-old Tomic became the youngest Australian Open boys champion, then struggled to replicate that form in junior slams elsewhere. In 2010, a senior match win at Melbourne Park preceded just a single tour-level win for the rest of the year. In 2011, he qualified in Sydney and claimed two top-50 scalps at the Open, where he also pushed Rafael Nadal, before, the Wimbledon quarter-finals aside, managing just eight victories in 14 other tournaments on foreign soil.
Then last year. His debut ATP semi-final in Brisbane, then the fourth round of the Australian Open, for nine January wins, and losses only to Andy Murray and Federer. After that: 14-25 in tournaments outside Australia for the rest of a troubled season. The 20-year-old acknowledges it is not enough to be a hero at home; it is also important to show valour in the field. He has done it at Wimbledon, after all, and believes his improved pre-season attitude and effort have left him well-prepared to succeed further away.
''I didn't quite do it after I left here [last year],'' he said, having played some career-best tennis in the second set against Federer. ''I've got the right goal, the mindset to do what it is I need to do. I'm going to sit down and have my rest time, train, get ready for each tournament I play, like I did here, like I did last week and the week before. It's a challenge, but I've committed to myself I'm up for it.''
Federer spoke 12 months ago of the need for Tomic to perform reliably on the outside courts as well as at showtime, and Djokovic is among those waiting to see it, having stressed several times this month that the increasingly physical and competitive nature of tennis means that a significant rankings improvement relies on an ability to play on all surfaces, and play well, more often.
The world No.1 considers Tomic hugely talented, tactically savvy and stronger now, but tempers the compliments with the caveat that ''obviously for him it's important to be consistently successful throughout the whole year. I mean he has been playing really well in Australia the last few years but he wasn't managing to maintain that level so I guess it's up to him to see how he can adjust to many different surfaces. But he definitely has the game.''
Tomic, of course, is sure of it, having played more forcefully, and offensively, against Federer than the three times before. ''So now it's just a matter for him to keep it up,'' said the winner of 17 grand slams.