Davis Cup duo: Captain Pat Rafter (left) and Bernard Tomic. Photo: Joern Pollex
THROUGHOUT a storied career as grand slam champion, John Newcombe's doubles partner and coach to the stars, Tony Roche has rarely seemed much more animated than the net post. As a testament to this sanguine nature, when Roche mentored Ivan Lendl, the Czech was the more expressive of the pair.
So the image of Roche rising from his seat and providing some frank advice for Bernard Tomic during a Davis Cup tie in Germany was worth more than the customary 1000 words. It was the moment that convinced even those of us who have been hesitant to condemn the immature, sometimes irritating Tomic for his poor attitude, silly statements and disappointing results, that we had seen enough.
It has been suggested that, in comparison with Lleyton Hewitt, Tomic has been treated kindly by the media. Perhaps so. Yet, as teenagers, the two presented very different cases.
From his first public outings, Hewitt betrayed a sense of vitriol in the way he played, and the way he presented himself. Something apparent to those who witnessed his first match at the French Open, which ended in a blur of expletives directed at umpire and opponent, and a racquet thrown into the net.
In the context of that display, and others like it, Hewitt deserved opprobrium. Despite his carnivorous will to win, the failure of the media and some fans to fully embrace him was understandable. Just as the praise and respect he inspired with his courageous play and - in his later years - his more professional manner, was justified.
Tomic, in his first few years in public, was a more difficult study. He played without obvious rancour. His greatest sin was something even less forgivable, to many, than an audible obscenity - not trying, or at least appearing not to.
Otherwise, it was possible to forgive Tomic a few stumbles in an increasingly muscular game where mere teenagers were routinely crushed beneath giant sneakers. The defeats were inevitable for a boy growing into his body, and the occasional gaffes with the media or weak efforts seemed relatively inoffensive. Tomic was immature, not malicious. He would grow up. Snubbing Hewitt's offer of a training session at Wimbledon was, you figured, just a dumb rookie mistake. The role of Tomic's strong-willed father, John, added another layer to the story. In Australia, the role of tennis father-coach-minder has come to be defined by the loopy, sometimes downright abusive antics of Damir Dokic, a man whose public outbursts and private manipulation left scars on his poor daughter.
Yet, in an increasingly Eurocentric sport, it was getting more difficult to find a top-flight player who doesn't have a locker-room door parent driving him or her on. Was Tomic victim or beneficiary of his father's ambition? With obvious apprehension, Australian tennis has dealt with the relationship without completely indulging it. A couple of suspensions for breaches of discipline were imposed.
Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter took things a step further at the US Open with his assertion Tomic's performance against Andy Roddick had been ''disgraceful''. Words that were timely and brave. It was one thing for the media to condemn Tomic for inanely threatening a journalist who asked a reasonable questions after the Roddick match. Quite another for a figure of Rafter's authority to express such public disgust.
It was a calculated risk that, when Tomic won the first rubber of the Davis Cup tie in Germany, seemed to have paid off. Here was proof that Tomic could listen to criticism and respond in an appropriate manner. If we were yet to find compelling evidence Tomic had a brain, he had at least shown some heart.
So what went wrong between Tomic's first singles rubber, and his second? What prompted Roche, of all people, to admonish Tomic in public - even if, as Tennis Australia later insisted, he was merely ''encouraging'' him.
Lack of effort and application? Sheer frustration that a talented player was throwing away Australia's chance of promotion to the World Group? Whatever it was, Roche's stance has inspired this straggler to cross the line. To stop considering the excuses and instead study the lengthening rap sheet.
Once, we might have suggested Tomic at least won a singles rubber in Germany, while Hewitt lost both of his. Now, we will remember Hewitt's defeats are fully justifiable for a veteran who has extracted everything from an aching body. When Tomic loses, he must convince us he has not raised the white flag again.