Player Profile: Bernard Tomic
The typically suave Australian teenager Bernard Tomic begins his ball toss at the 2011 Australian Open
In an era of tennis characterised by ever homogenising court surfaces, a static top ten and a rather tedious prevalence of baseline play, the sport is crying out for a top player to emerge who plays with something approaching flair, ingenuity and flamboyance. Roger Federer epitomizes these qualities but is nearing his thirties and has his best days behind him, while Andy Murray possesses the tools to play both a varied baseline game and to effectively finish points at the net, but lacks the mental intangibles to fully utilise his abilities on the biggest stage.
Going through the current ATP top 30 makes depressing reading – the vast majority of players have solid two handed backhands, possess excellent lateral movement and defense (those who move sluggishly tend to compensate with a cannon of a serve – read, John Isner, Andy Roddick) but move towards the net with a great reluctance and lack both volleying technique and the awareness of how to cut off angles for passing shots.
Tomic, not unlike fellow counter-puncher and strategist Andy Murray, does not suffer for lack of natural talent or variety in his game. On the surface his style has some facets which are symptomatic of the generic modern game – a two handed backhand, excellent defensive anticipation and a inclination toward prolonged baseline points. What separates Tomic from this group is his unique technique and tactical variety. His languid, relaxed style on the forehand and his willingness to hit a series of slow, floated slices followed by a flat, risky forehand are among the facets which mark him as a potential saviour from a future tennis scene dominated by those with great consistency and athletic talents but scant in the way of court craft or ingenuity (think along the lines of Viktor Troicki).
Strengths & Weaknesses
Tomic’s unusual forehand technique is perhaps the most notable of his traits. One feature of modern tennis is a progression of players hitting with greater amounts of topspin, especially on the forehand. Most players now employ a semi western or full western grip on their forehand and follow through on the shot with a high finish (occasionally, like Nadal, with a lasso style above-the-head finish), both of which combine to produce maximum topspin.
Tomic’s forehand does not conform to the modern standard, but is not exactly a traditional stroke either. He has a moderate semi-western grip, a short take back and a fairly lateral motion throughout the swing, as opposed to a low-to-high finish. Consequently, Tomic’s forehand is concurrently a strength and a weakness. As a more conservative rallying shot it is vulnerable to falling short and inviting pressure from the opponent, but equally when he decides to go for a flat hit, can act as a deadly and unexpected weapon (crucially, owing to his technique, Tomic can vary the pace on his forehand without changing the take back on his swing).
Tomic possesses other weapons which are a rarity on the tour today; an almost insultingly effortless slice backhand which he can skim low over the net cross-court or just as easily hit down the line with vicious side-spin, producing both shots with the kind of grace which makes a mockery of Nadal and Djokovic’s muscling of the ball; a beautiful feel on both sides, particularly for drop shots; solid, textbook volleying technique; a good return of serve aided by a short take back on both forehand and backhand; a good service action which, although has ample room for improvement, produces a pacey and dangerous first serve; the ability to change direction of the ball with ease; and a great spatial awareness on the court which helps to compensate for his lack of foot speed and aides his already intelligent shot selection.
While it may seem harsh to point out flaws while he is still so young, there are obviously areas for improvement in Tomic’s game. Besides the aforementioned weakness in his rallying forehand, he also needs work on his second serve, which unfortunately resembles too much that of Murray’s (slow, lacking kick and easily attackable). Some have placed question marks over his attitude, pointing out his occasional arrogant off-court statements and seemingly indifferent attitude on the court. While clearly he hasn’t fully developed physically, at present he certainly fits into the ‘lanky’ category, and his rather anaemic movement around the court reflects this (although some connect this to the aforementioned indifference on court).
Tomic will be a top 5 player and a grand slam contender within the next three years; TennisNiche predicts multiple grand slam titles and the no. 1 spot but this is heavily dependant on how Tomic’s character develops and whether he can stay injury free.
As for 2012, TennisNiche will go out on a limb and predict the following:
1 Grand Slam semi-final (Wimbledon or the US Open) and one 4th round. An early exit at Roland Garros seems a near certainty owing to his lack of wins on clay at the professional level.
1 Masters Series final (probably later in the year, at Shanghai or Paris), and one semi-final.
1 victory over the ‘top 4′ of Federer/ Nadal/ Djokovic/ Murray in a best of 3 format.