So confident … Tomic during his defeat of Daniel Brands at the Rod Laver Arena this week. Photo: Pat Scala
BERNARD TOMIC watched Roger Federer play Nikolay Davydenko on Thursday night, just as Federer would have monitored the young Australian's performance on Rod Laver Arena earlier that afternoon.
''My gut feeling is, when Roger was watching Bernie play [Daniel] Brands, and for sure he was watching, he would have been hoping Bernie won that match,'' says Darren Cahill, an expert who has spent time with both players.
''Roger would be excited by the challenge. That's one of the great things about Roger: he loves watching the young guys come through, and he's been in this position as well, looking forward to playing one of the greats in a Sampras or an Agassi and he revelled in it. So he knows exactly what Bernie is thinking; he's been in those shoes before.
''He's 31 years of age, he wants to get the best out of himself and he never steps sideways from a challenge.
''He loves the challenge of playing the new generation. And Bernie is going to be a good challenge for him.''
Tomic certainly thinks so, having talked up his chances like Ali before a title fight or a miked-up Warnie flagging his next victim from the top of his bowling mark. So confident. Unstoppable, even. Perfect time to play The Mighty Fed. I'm ready. Have the belief. Showed in Perth that I can beat these guys. Will now try to beat him.
Impressed? Not everyone. ''That's how he goes about it,'' said former great John Newcombe. ''I'm not sure that's a really smart tactic, but if he chooses to go about that it's fine … as long as you can back it up. If you don't back it up you look stupid.''
Federer, of course, is a master of the media room as well as the court, and there were some calculated messages among his words that followed his dismissal of Davydenko. Tomic's improvement? ''When you're younger, you have a tendency to improve really quickly. Then it's just hard to maintain that.'' So good luck with that, kid. let's see how well you go when it really counts. Against me.
On Tomic's trash-talking. ''I think it's important to be confident to a degree. It seems he has that. Now obviously we both have to live up to a big match, big hype, and then we can talk about it afterwards.'' You can yap all you like, but I'll tell you the score when you're done, and you won't like it.
On his opponent's good recent form: ''Right now I'm still at the beginning of the season. He's obviously played a bit more.'' Early-season nonsense. Puh! I'm still warming up.
Regarding the physical advantage: ''Look, I have so much more experience than him. Last year I reached my 1000th match on tour … I know how hard a five-setter can be. I know how intense a night session can be and all these things. Whatever that means, length of rally, length of match, intensity, I've been there.'' And, you, Bernie? How many matches did you say you've played?
On Tomic's improved serving: ''I have a feeling this surface is just a tiny bit faster. That may help all of us feeling like we're serving better. But then again, maybe he is serving better. That may be the case for him.'' Or maybe not. Regardless, the courts are helping everyone. Including ME.
Which all adds to the build-up befitting the Saturday night extravaganza between the winner of 17 grand slam titles and Australia's next great prospect of winning one, on the men's side, for the first time since Lleyton Hewitt's last, in 2002. In the first match between the pair, in wild and windy conditions on bumpy grass in a Sydney Davis Cup tie, the Australian pinched a set. In two matches last year, in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and then in Cincinnati, he did not. In Tomic's words: ''I got my arse kicked both times.''
He knows he can not allow Federer to get in front in this one, just as it is always best to keep one's enemies close. Winning the first set could change everything. Tomic: ''If he frees up and wins that first set, it's different.'' He looks back to last year, where he was broken at 4-4 in the first, never recovered. ''From there I couldn't get back into the match. It was all one way from him. But … I've got my serve, which is a weapon that I can keep holding now against him.''
Cahill predicts a Federer win, ''but I think we'll be pleasantly surprised by how it evolves''.