Junior tennis champ Luke Saville working hard in the big league
Not everyone can be Nick Kyrgios (or, for that matter, and even more spectacularly, Bernard Tomic before him), but Luke Saville is still striving, working, hoping.
Once the biggest fish in the junior tennis pond, Saville admits the plunge into the deep end has been even more challenging than he expected. And so, if not quite learning to swim again, he recognises the need for some different strokes.
The 2011 Wimbledon and 2012 Australian Open boys champion had hoped to bring a sub-200 ranking back to Melbourne Park from his first full senior year on the circuit, but instead enters this week's wildcard play-off at No.400. Still, a progress report seemingly devoid of progress may be more a case of taking a step back to eventually get where he is still determined to go.
Since joining forces with coach Grant Doyle in January, the 19-year-old from South Australia's Riverland has been remodelling his game to add wattage to what was a tidy but - in the big boys' scheme of things - relatively unthreatening game.
Weaknesses are now becoming strengths, says Saville, who has recently seen tangible signs of progress after a difficult start.
''I feel like as a junior I was a really solid player all-round, and that's all you really need to do in juniors, if you keep your errors down,'' he says. ''But to make that next step, you've got to have a bit more than that; you've got to have probably two big weapons - a serve and a forehand, a lot of people have. So I need to try and develop those, and I'm on the road to doing it. I'm working day in, day out to make that next step, and hopefully it's going to come.''
Unsure what to expect after leaving the under-age levels behind, Saville knows only what he found: a men's tour in which the average age of the top 100 now exceeds 27, and a Kyrgios-like leap from the 800s to the 180s is more exception than rule.
''I won the Aussie junior last year and finished 350, and now I'm 400 on the dot, so I have gone backwards in the last 12 months, but it's been more of a development year, and I feel like I've learnt a lot,'' says Saville, whose only tour-level match was a straight-sets loss to Go Soeda in the first round of the Australian Open.
''As well as my body, I'm trying to develop my serve and a game style that's going to hold up over five sets against top-hundred players. I'm still working on that, but I'm starting to play much better than I was, say, six months ago.''
The play-off's opening day was a washout, and Kyrgios is still sidelined with a wrist injury, yet the 18-year-old Canberran remains both a close friend to Saville and an example of what can be done. ''Nick's an awesome talent, obviously … and works hard, but it is a bit of an eye-opener,'' he says. ''I used to train with him a lot. I still do. I used to travel with him a lot, and I feel like if he can make that big step, so can I.''
Meanwhile, Bernard Tomic says his new coach, Velimir Zovko, is developing a good early bond with his controversial father, John.
''He's starting to get into a good bond with my dad and team,'' Tomic told Channel Seven's Sunrise program. ''It's still important to have my dad there. It's very difficult for me to let him go. He knows what's best for me and my tennis.''
The enigmatic youngster admitted he still had some growing up to do. ''You've always got to think about what you're doing and what the consequences are. Sometimes I don't think like that.''