Tomic v Kyrgios: Kooyong, but hardly a classic
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Tomic v Kyrgios: Kooyong, but hardly a classic

On paper, this the irresolute force versus the indifferent object, for an inconsequential stake. On court, it didn't have even that much intrigue. It was a practice session in the guise of an event. If anyone deserved appearance money, for being there when they otherwise might not have, it was the smattering of a crowd.

Apart from nationality, Bernie Tomic and Nick Kyrgios have in common freakish ability, chronic under-achievement (when measured against their own publicity) and no faculty to moderate or modulate what they say. Tomic had doubted that Kyrgios would be worth his while, Kyrgios sometimes wonders if the sport is worth his while, and Tomic often affects that it certainly is not worth his. On those terms, they were well met, these accidental Aussie aces. Who could care least? It might have given the occasion a bit of spice.

Nick Kyrgios (right) and Bernard Tomic after their friendly at Kooyong.

Nick Kyrgios (right) and Bernard Tomic after their friendly at Kooyong.Credit:AAP

Except that it was not an occasion, merely a rehearsal for one. Two points illustrate it. Mid-way through the second set, the players agreed to overrule a linesman's call in Tomic's favour. As they prepared to go again, Kyrgios was still muttering to himself, not at injustice here, since it had worked in his favour, but injustices certain to come. Tomic, by then in mid-service action, counselled from the far baseline: "Easy, brother."

Then at match point, Tomic, while bouncing one ball, flicked another around his legs, underhand. By the time it reached Kyrgios, it had bounced three times. All were taken by surprise. "G .. g .. game, set and match," intoned the chair umpire, uncertainly. Kyrgios laughed, and that was that.

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The low key was not the players' fault. Tomic has not played since winning a tournament in China in September, and Kyrgios has played only spasmodically in that time, so neither was going to spend himself out here. As Kyrgios later said, it would have been different if it was a week later, in the first round of the Australian Open.

The enigmatic pair sauntered onto the court carrying two racquets each, but nothing else, no cap, no towel, not even a bag, indisputably and for once no luggage. They would make this quick. On top of the studied nonchalance and calculated nonchalance of their on-court personae, there was now genuine nonchalance. Back-to-back Rocky airs to greet them were incongruous. Immoveable objects and irresistible forces used to meet headlong here, but that was in a more black-and-white day, now archived in Kooyong's hallowed hallways.

Exotica punctuated their exchanges. Tomic followed in a gentle service return, for no apparent reason. Kyrgios charged a first serve. Both served quickly; this was not the place or time for pregnant pauses. But Tomic looked askance at Kyrgios's aces, as if to ask how that was practice for either of them?

Duly, they knuckled down, but only a little. "Good shot," said someone in the crowd to Tomic. "Yeah, I saw it," he rejoined. Interviewed between sets, Tomic said: "I think I missed one ball", then pretended to count before affirming it: "Yeah, one ball."

Tomic did hit good shots, many of them. His touch always has been other-worldly ethereal, so antithetical to his heavy hand off-court. To win one point, he dangled his racquet at his feet and without looking blocked the ball back down a sideline. Kyrgios laughed. Tomic plays tennis as you like to think former Cat and Giant Stevie Johnson would (and probably did).

Bernard Tomic gestures while playing Nick Kyrgios at Kooyong.

Bernard Tomic gestures while playing Nick Kyrgios at Kooyong.Credit:AAP

Tomic has craft, but Kyrgios has game. This was a demi-match, but you imagine that if it was a semi, Kyrgios would prevail. Still, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions from a meeting that barely got to a beginning. The players didn't. At breaks, Tomic sat with one leg crossed over the other, as if in a hammock, and the pair yarned away amiably about the bounce of the ball and sundry matters. You suspect neither is quite so blase as he appears, but this was not a day for the baring of souls. In less than an hour, they were done.

The score? 6-3, 6-4 Tomic, I think. For once, though, each could ask as he has before, this time instead betraying existential torment about a career again running off the rails and the meaningless of life in general, but merely to tell the truth: "Who cares?"

Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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