The dwelling has begun again. Bernard Tomic made such a thumping start to the 2013 Australian Open on Tuesday night that the country will again dare to imagine he will still be there near the end. An obscure qualifier awaits in the next round, then prospectively Roger Federer on Saturday night. The heir to Lleyton Hewitt is almost fully apparent.
Tomic needed barely 1 hours to dispense with Leonardo Mayer. The Australian plays an arrhythmic game, and the Argentinian never grasped it. Before almost every Tomic shot there is a discernible pause, during which no one can predict what will ensue, least of all Mayer this night. Once, perhaps Tomic did not know either, but he does now. Mayer was wrong-footed more often than two blind men in a three-legged race.
This confounding applied even to his serve, previously considered a weakness. Tomic won almost 90 per cent of points on his first serve, mostly cheaply, and two-thirds on his second. He did not face one break point. In one early game, he won points with second serves at 207kmh and 124kmh. Both make only Tomic sense. By match’s end, Mayer would have needed to send his racquets away for re-framing.
Cruise control ... Australia's Bernard Tomic. Photo: Joe Armao
Tomic is a law unto himself. Sometimes, he seems to be playing for his own amusement, as if in his sports car, alternately cruising and surging. Sometimes, it is as if he is mimicking his opponent, just to show he can. But there is a grand plan, now emerging.
Seemingly, Tomic has made a career out of being young and promising. He is still just 20, still the youngest player in the top 100. But his coming of age is imminent.
Last year, he began brightly, but faded, as the physically immature do. Between seasons, he re-imagined everything. This year, he looks to have grown into his 196cm frame. He has won all nine matches he has played, including one against world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the Hopman Cup in Perth, and his first tour title in Sydney.
The world is becoming his oyster. This is how he has always said it would be, since he was 14 or so. From one so young, this was outrageous. But a band of the knowing kept saying: ‘‘He can play.’’ He is learning discretion. Once he drew a bead on all four majors. Now he says he is aiming for the top 10. Soon.
At first, Australian crowds did not know how to take him. The cockiness, the insouciance, the casual manner, the hint of a smirk, the way he seemed even to treat the Davis Cup as a pawn in a game: these were in such contrast to the intensity and naked patriotism of Hewitt and Pat Rafter, the most recent darlings. But there is another difference. Tomic is much taller than both, and tall men have a different bearing. He can still look dorky, until he has a tennis racquet in his hand.
Besides, winning is its own justification, and and Tuesday night’s crowd thrilled to it. ‘‘I feel like they’re on my side now,’’ he said. Of course, it will not always be this easy. Exhibition wins count for nothing in major tournaments. And when in charge, Tomic’s finesse sometimes turns into cuteness. Mayer could not punish him for it, but the luminaries will.