A year ago Bernard Tomic played and lost to Rafael Nadal in the third round at the Australian Open. This year, thanks to two scintillating five-set wins, Tomic advanced a round further and will face non other than Roger Federer Sunday in the fourth round.
On Friday in Melbourne, the 19-year-old Tomic’s legend grew after outlasting Alexandr Dolgopolov 4‑6, 7‑6, 7‑6, 2‑6, 6‑3 in one of the more unconventional matches you will see.
The two young stars mixed up shots, spins, speeds and strokes in nearly every rally, giving pause to the hard-hitting baseline style we’ve come to see in men’s tennis.
Tomic even said it was like playing himself.
But Federer won’t be anything like Dolgopolov. The Swiss already beat Tomic last September in Davis Cup and Federer hardly managed a sweat in two matches while the young Tomic is coming off a two 5-setters and a 4-setter.
“Tomic obviously being young makes him still somewhat of a mystery maybe just because he’s changing his game as he’s progressing along the way,” Federer said today.
Here’s Tomic’s presser:
Q. Was it as exciting to play as it was to watch?
BERNARD TOMIC: Very difficult to play. Very hard. It’s like a mirror playing yourself. The shots that are coming back the way that you give to players. They’re coming back to you the same. It’s very difficult.
I’m happy have to won that second set. Favor me a lot of confidence I think. I think we played a good tennis match. It was good tennis.
Q. Have you ever experienced a crowd like that before?
BERNARD TOMIC: No, it was remarkable. You know, I think in that first round as well when I played Fernando it was also huge. Tonight’s game was so much support for me. The crowd pumps you and you feel so good out there playing. It makes you focus and want to win the next point. That’s why I think I won today.
Q. In the little world that you live in with your family and camp, can you feel what’s going on around you? Obviously your girl friend was on the front page of the paper today.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, you know, you see this sort of stuff, and all of a sudden you’re out there and people know who you were. It can be a tricky thing. I’m happy the way I’m playing in this sport and the way I’m growing up in this sport.
I know in the future if I continue good results, there will always be stuff around me and more people will know me. That’s a different thing. You know, I guess it comes with it.
I think if you’re successful in a sport, I think you just got to keep your head down and focus on your sport and my career I think.
Q. Have you noticed that’s changed within the last week just out on the street?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, it was a bit like that after Wimbledon. Now it’s a bit different. People know me. Yeah, I don’t think I got to be careful.
Q. You’re very calm on court no matter what the circumstances. Is that the way you are underneath, as well?
BERNARD TOMIC: One day I’ll break a racquet. That’s for sure. I’m holding it in till that day (laughter).
Q. Do you feel in the last week Australians are almost kind of coming of age?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, absolutely. I think the crowd more into me and supported me more this year than the last, and I think that’s why I’m playing good tennis. I’ve improved from last year, but the crowd supported me so good and are making me play good tennis. I think that’s what you need in your home slam. It’s good support.
I seem to enjoy it and have fun out there.
Q. What happened at the end of the first game in the fifth set.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, it was a long rally, a slice rally. Four, five slices and he hit the ball long. I knew the ball was long called, but I looked to the umpire’s chair because I sort of had my head down. I knew where the shot was. So even though I liked to the ref to see what his reaction was, because I didn’t hear him, I didn’t say a thing.
I knew I got the slice back. It was on my frame. I was looking at him whether he was going to say “out,” but I continued to play. He thought I was going to challenge it. Got lucky I didn’t say anything.
Q. So in your mind you didn’t challenge?
BERNARD TOMIC: No, I didn’t challenge but I looked ‑‑ sometimes before the ref says “out” and overrules, he lifts his arm.
At that time when he didn’t say “out,” I continued to play. So I went like that. Alex thought I was challenging, and I didn’t focus on that shot.
Q. Roger Federer?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. You know, can’t say much really. I hope I play good against him. I have to play good against him. I have to play good to have any chance, I think. I’m playing good and have a lot of confidence and it’s my home Grand Slam. People are going to support me.
Sometimes it’s not support. Against Roger you need to know how to play tennis and need to play tennis well if I have any chance of beating him. That’s why he’s the greatest to play the sport.
I’m happy to play him again. I had the experience in Davis Cup, which is good for me. Not sort of the one off one. I know sort of a way to sort of play him in a way, but Roger can play unbelievable. He’s my favorite player, so it’s always good to play him.
Q. Is it an advantage to have got that first game out of the way?
BERNARD TOMIC: It is, because I looked up to him a lot. He was like my idol. So to play him and have a feel for him, even on grass, like a match like this is good for me. To me, he’s the best player to play. I love watching Roger even on TV now and in the past, so it’s good to play him and get the opportunity to play him again.
Q. When you were about 12 meeting Roger, did you ever think you would be across the net playing him in a Grand Slam?
BERNARD TOMIC: No, not at that age. Not what I was thinking then. (Smiling.) I was probably into like Pokemon cards and that stuff at 12.
Q. Do you know what you’re thinking now?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. I’m beating the top players in the world and having chances, you know, playing for spots in quarterfinals of Grand Slams. It’s a big feeling, and I’m happy with what I achieved last year. This year has been great. It’s a start of a good year for me so I can’t wait to play Roger.
Q. How ardent were you in your support of Roger? Did you stay up late to watch matches, video them, and have posters?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, I’ve watched his matches since he won that first Wimbledon. With so many of the Grand Slams, I always tuned in to watch the finals when he plays Rafa or Novak. To me, I don’t enjoy watching tennis, but when Roger plays on TV, you know, it’s a pleasure to watch.
Q. So you don’t even watch it now?
BERNARD TOMIC: Well, for us players, we’re always in the locker room, looking at tennis. It’s a bit difficult. You’re always looking at tennis, so it becomes a little bit boring of.
For a player like that, when he plays, I’m going to sit and watch the whole match if I can.
Q. Did you have a conversation with him in Davis Cup?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. He gave me a few tips, which is good now because I play him. So thanks, Roger.
No, he said, you know, I was good and can improve. I play a different game. It’s good to get advice like that from someone like that when he beat me. I get the chance to play him now again, which is really good for me.
Q. (Question about parts of your game.)
BERNARD TOMIC: Slice, yeah. I had my own slice down the line. I looked up to him a lot slicing. Back three, four years ago, I started slicing a lot watching him and developing a slice like that. Now I have a really, really good slice, thanks to him.
Q. How much do you think your game has improved since you last played Roger?
BERNARD TOMIC: You know, I think the first set when I played him back then I was a little bit nervous. It was hard for me. I started playing really well in the second and third and managed to get a set. I was up 3‑Love in the second and lost that in a tight 7‑5. Playing on grass was a bit of an advantage for me for any slice.
I love this court here at Rod Laver. I think I’ve improved a lot. I keep improving, and we’ll see how it goes on Sunday.
Q. Did you get a sense that the crowd is almost mesmerized by the tennis? There are long quiet periods. It’s almost as though they’re drifting off because it’s so different. Do you get that sense in the middle of it?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. No, when you play a long point, it’s funny. It can be 5 million people out there or 15,000 like there was tonight, but you can’t notice a thing. I can’t notice a thing when we’re in the point. It’s amazing.
When you hit a good shot or he misses, then you hear all this applause. It’s truly remarkable, in my view, when you play and play a long point. I don’t seem to notice it ever, the people.
Q. Was that your best performance of the three tonight, and how much better do you think you have to play on Sunday?
BERNARD TOMIC: I played well tonight. Alex played well, as well. The thing is it’s very tough playing ‑‑ we’re the two most unusual players to play, so for me to play him and him to play me, it’s very difficult. So it’s tough to execute our shots where we want ’em and we have to keep using our slice.
It’s very, very difficult to play someone that knows how to retrieve your balls. It’s an advantage playing other players when I can get a slice down low and stuff, but with Alex it’s no problem because he understands how to get it back. With him, it’s not a match who plays better tennis; I think it’s who’s smarter and craftier.
Q. You’ve come a long way in the last 12 months. How much confidence have got to be able to do this and the on‑court interviews, as well?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, huge. I just keep learning. Every day I learn. You learn stuff all the time. I think that’s one of the main reasons I’ve improved is I’ve been out there longer now and experienced new things and understand the world a little bit and how it works.
I keep improving and getting stronger, and I think I’ve done a good job in the last 12 months.
Q. Was there something in the last 12 months that was big on that learning curve?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah. I always knew I could play tennis really well. Even growing up I always had the desire to win. I think having played a lot of the matches and games against top players in the world over the last 12 months, I saw really where my level is and where I can be if I really work hard. There is no question it’s paid off and I’ve got a long career a head of me.
Q. It would be nice to share all this attention. Is there anyone coming up?
BERNARD TOMIC: We have good kids coming through in Australia. We have the girl’s side, as well, a lot of juniors coming through. Ben played here against John, and Duckworth played well against Janko. There’s a lot kids all over the world. I was in that position one day, 14 and 15, you look up to your idols and in two, three years, there will be another kid 17, 18 that’s going to be really, really good.
You know, it’s just a matter of time. I think I did it at a young age and broke through. I can’t stop here. I’ve got to keep pushing myself and working harder.
Q. Idolizing Federer, was there anyone match that sticks in your mind?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, 16 Grand Slams. (Laughter.) That’s the only thing that comes to mind. It’s a scary number. What he’s achieved is unbelievable. I think nobody in tennis will ever achieve that.
In order to play him again is one of the biggest things. Now having played him before, I think I have an intense sense of what he can do and where he can hurt me, where he can’t. I got to go out there feeling good and have a go and try to win.
Q. Do you think that players of your generation like you or Raonic are ready to win this tournament now?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, it’s a big question. I think we can play well. And to win a Grand Slam now, you’ve got to beat three, four players in the draw that are the best tennis players in the world.
It’s not like ten years ago where you had to beat one or two good ones. Now everyone can play and everyone in the top 50, 100 can play tennis. I think if you win seven matches in a row and have the confidence, I think it’s possible.
But very, very difficult at this age 19, 20, 21, I think we go to battle and see. Maybe one of us can do it.
Q. How are you feeling confidence‑wise compared to Wimbledon?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, confidence‑wise really good. Grass is a different thing for me. I enjoy playing on grass and my game is suited more to grass. But confidence now, last three weeks, has been better than it’s probably ever been.
Q. What will you do to prepare for Federer? Anything specific?
BERNARD TOMIC: I don’t know if there is an answer to that question. Just pray to God. Maybe be sick or something. (Laughter.)
I got to go out there and have fun. Playing Roger, is an experience that I’ll always remember. You know, hopefully I can play well and relax and have fun. I just have to go out there and focus, and I think I can have a good tennis match and who knows? Maybe win.
Q. Are you preferencing towards afternoon or evening?
BERNARD TOMIC: Doesn’t matter, as long as there is no heat.
Q. Roger hasn’t lost before the quarterfinals of slam in like six, seven years? Does it excite you, the possibility to be able to end that streak?
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, it’s a tough thing beat Roger, and to even think about beating him. Happy to know I got a set off him last time, and that’s confidence there. I think for me to play him, I think in the first set if I get up and maybe win the first set, it’s a very, very important key to this match.
Q. What do you see as your greatest strength going into that match?
BERNARD TOMIC: You know, I think I can get the balls down to where Roger probably can’t use his backhand enough. He has one of the best forehands in the world.
You know I think I play really smart. Hopefully my smartness can make me win me a set or two, maybe even win. I can’t guarantee. It’s Roger.
Q. You sound almost torn about playing him in a way because he was such a huge hero for you.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, we all are. He’s a very hard player to play. That’s why he’s the best that’s been in the sport of tennis. It’s tough having the mindset to beat a player like that. I have to go out there and believe in myself.
I’ve got the crowd on my side, and that’s all I can do.
Q. Do you think you will be 100%, because you have now two matches in five sets? After Verdasco you said you weren’t fit for five sets, and you get another one tonight.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, I think I’ll be okay. You know, better than the first round, because that heat was awful. I think I’ll be okay. You know, hopefully we can have a great game when we play.
Q. You have mixed tomorrow. Thoughts on that?
BERNARD TOMIC: I haven’t won a round in mixed never, so I’m going to try and win a round.
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