No Ferrari but newcomer Smith is ready to motor
WHILE Bernard Tomic scoots around the Gold Coast in his yellow Ferrari - unable to make the Davis Cup team but adamant he will become ''the best player one day to play this game'' - Australian No. 5 John-Patrick Smith keeps building the foundation of a successful tennis career.
In sharp contrast to 20-year-old Tomic, Smith took the path of education, travel and experience, and may now be in the prime position to take Tomic's Davis Cup place.
The 23-year-old is the No. 2 seed for the Australian Open play-off, which starts on Monday. The play-off is an invitational event for 16 Australians and the winner will be awarded a wildcard into the Open.
Smith has reason to feel confident, having settled into the rhythm of professional tennis after an extraordinary experience at college in (appropriately) Tennessee, which culminated in his being named the South-East Conference athlete of the year and presented to a crowd of 102,000 people at a college football game. ''I was saying to myself, 'one step at a time, don't fall over or do something embarrassing','' he says of the presentation, which is on YouTube.
Smith earned the prestigious title through his academic pursuits, sporting achievements, community service and leadership.
''We did Habitat for Humanity [building homes for people in need], reading to young kids, community service at hospitals, delivering meals on wheels, things like that,'' he says. ''It was a really great experience. The American system is great. You're playing every day, you're in a team environment, you go to school - you've got a lot on your plate and it keeps you really busy. You make great friendships. It all makes you a better tennis player. I think it will really help me down the road.''
Smith, who grew up in Townsville, spent four years at college in Knoxville (where he is still based) between 2007 and 2011 and graduated in economics and business administration. He says he might end up working on Wall Street once he's done with sport.
''I did school because you don't want to put your eggs all in one basket,'' he says. ''A lot of kids right now have done that and it's hurt them. You meet so many people going through college. We met one guy during a Thanksgiving thing we did and he was telling us about how his life went wrong with drugs. He told us about how the little things in life make all the difference - being polite, not holding grudges - it was good to listen to that and process his words.
''I really think that if you can balance things like your health, school, sport, family, those important things in life, I think you'll be better equipped to handle the demands of sport.
''You can do an ACL, tear a rotator cuff, and there's your career done. You don't want to look back and think, 'I should have prepared myself for this'.''
That's not to say Smith lacks focus. He says he's made ''a lot of sacrifices'' for tennis and is committed to reaching his potential. And, with Tomic struggling, he might find himself taking a big leap soon, with selection in the Davis Cup team. ''I'm pretty close,'' he says. ''In singles I'm 244, doubles 103. I think it puts me pretty close now Tomic is out. Hopefully they'll put me in there. It would be great. Unbelievable.''