TONY ROCHE is keeping the faith that one of Australia's great sporting jigsaws, Bernard Tomic, can put it all together and fulfil his destiny as a long-term world top 10 player.
And the Australian Davis Cup mentor brushed aside any suggestion his relationship with the 20-year-old had suffered after he delivered a not-so-subtle courtside rev-up in a tie against Germany in Hamburg in September.
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Australia's Bernard Tomic admitted he was proud of the fighting spirit he needed to beat Tommy Haas in the Hopman Cup team competition
Tomic's career took a nosedive in a forgettable latter half of the year, combining brushes with police on the Gold Coast, a plummeting world ranking and suggestions from luminaries such as John McEnroe and Pat Rafter that he downed tools when matches were beyond his grasp.
He was bounced out in the first round of his final three tournaments and dropped from a career-high ranking of 27 in June to finish the year at 52.
The first evidence of the fresh summer of tennis has been more promising. Tomic staged a determined comeback against Tommy Haas in the Hopman Cup in Perth to show some serious signs of a beating heart, winning 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 7-5 and overcoming a 1-6 deficit in the first set tie-breaker.
It was the kind of courage Roche and Rafter, the Davis Cup captain, have long desired from Tomic, who was recently dumped from Rafter's team as he tries to rebuild his game and reputation.
Tomic was saying all the right things after beating Haas, indicating he had a new desire for the fight on the court and would chase down everything, much like the most-recent standard bearer of the Australian men's game, Lleyton Hewitt.
That is music to the ears of Roche, who retains confidence that Tomic can make the kind of choices that will help him become a staple among the top men over coming years.
''Obviously, you don't do as well as what he did at Wimbledon - and some of the matches at the Australian Open - without having a lot of talent. I think everybody knows that if Bernard puts his mind to it and gets stuck into training, he can be top 10. The ball's pretty much in Bernard's court,'' Roche said.
''I would hope he takes it [advice] all on board and says 'I'm at the age where I need to mature and let my racquet do the talking'.''
Tomic presents a conundrum to Australian tennis administrators. He brings a fistful of issues to the table but is the clear candidate to reinvigorate the Australian game after Hewitt.
Roche is gradually easing himself back from Davis Cup duties but has no issues working with Tomic, who has already cleared the air about their animated discussion in Tomic's match against Florian Mayer, a straight sets loss that helped ensure Australia remained in the second tier for the sixth consecutive year.
''It may have appeared worse than what it was. Bernard, he was struggling playing the guy. He was just frustrated. I said 'Look mate, just get stuck into it.' He said 'What's the point?' But we were fine. There was nothing in it really,'' Roche said.
''I think we all forget he's still very young. It's all very new to him. He's playing these hardened professionals. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time. But I have no doubt he's going to make it. And I think with all that's happened, he's going to be better for it.
''I get along well with Bernard. I've got a lot of time for him. He's got a funny side to him. If he can put it all together, he'll be a big star.''
Tomic doesn't boast the kind of power game like the top guns of the men's draw but Roche said he hoped he would persevere with his tricky style, which he believes can cause serious damage if he can add some refinements and court smarts.
''He plays a different style of game to most of the guys. I think he's got to continue doing that,'' Roche said. ''I hope he can continue to play that way but maybe a little bit smarter.''