They Said What? Oct. 11

by: Peter Bodo | October 11, 2012

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"Today I gave 100 percent in the first set. I felt in the second set, my 100 percent wasn't even close to where it should be...the mental skill is one of my biggest problems."—Bernard Tomic, after absorbing a 6-4, 6-0 beating at the hands of Florian Mayer at the Shanghai Masters.

In the business, when we get hold of a story that keeps producing new, fresh stories and follow-ups, we say that story has “legs.” And the legs of this one seem as long as those of the 6’5” beanpole at the center of this serial tanking controversy.

If you remember, numerous pundits and fans, including Tomic’s countryman and Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter, as well as television commentator John McEnroe, criticized the Aussie for basically giving up during his U.S. Open second-round match with Andy Roddick.

Just weeks later, Tomic was said to have exchanged angry words with Davis Cup coach and tennis icon Tony Roche in the course of his desultory performance against the same Mayer in the critical fourth match of Australia’s tie against Germany. Tomic lost that match and Cedric-Marcel Stebe then clinched the tie for the Germans.

Tomic and Roche later denied they were arguing and Roche said he was just trying to encourage the erratic 19-year-old. Tomic claimed he responded to Roche’s cheerleading with nothing more insolent than the claim that he was choking, that he was “tight.”

That last bit is, at least, plausible. In fact, the most improved part of Tomic’s game this year seems to be his ability to get tight and then, eventually, discouraged, disgusted, and disinterested. As Simon Cambers of The Tennis Space tells us, Tomic hasn’t won even a set against a Top 20 player since he promised so much by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The world No. 43 Tomic is not just gifted, he’s talented in a compelling way. And players like that often have more trouble finding their way. It would be a shame to see him ground down and ruined by the familiar trials visited upon players who are a little different, and who perhaps don’t quite have the toughness of born champions or the work ethic of less gifted apprentices.

This can hardly be called a make-it or break-it year, but Tomic needs to learn from it, and make some changes in his attitude and approach to the game—starting with a change of coaches. His only coach currently is his father, John Tomic.

"It's been a long year," Tomic said recently. "I played a lot of tournaments.  [I] haven't had time to rest. . .”

Odd words from a guy whose proverbial “work week” ended pretty early for the majority of the summer.

“Today I did well at turning defense to offense, and offense to defense. That's actually a strength of mine.”—Caroline Wozniacki

The WTA No. 11 made that comment a few weeks ago, when she was embarking on the Asian swing and still could entertain hopes of making a late-year surge that might help boost her final 2012 ranking a little closer to her final 2011 ranking, which was No. 1.

Good for her; she needed a little bit of motivational fire.

Personally, Wozniacki seems to be having the time of her life. Professionally, it’s been a rough year (perhaps there’s a causal relationship there; it’s been known to work that way). She faced an enormous window of opportunity to win a Grand Slam event for over two years, but that window seems to have closed.

Wozniacki’s history and the debates it spawned must leave her somewhat confused and frustrated. You can sort of tell by the nature of that quote, which makes you wonder what, if anything, Wozniacki is saying.

Isn’t it painfully obvious that the whole point of tennis is to recover from defensive positions and make the most of offensive opportunities? On the “today” in question, wasn’t Wozniacki just, well, playing tennis? Reacting to her opponents’ good shots while trying to take advantage of lesser ones with better shots of her own? Can anyone name me a Top 10 player who isn’t, as Wozniacki boasts, pretty good at “. . . turning defense to offense, and offense to defense?”

Unless, of course, Wozniacki’s point incorporated a kind of Freudian slip when she claimed to have a particular talent for turning “offense into defense.”

Read literally, the phrasing suggests that Wozniacki’s offense results in her having to play defense. And that, come to think of it, is a pretty accurate description of the way her overly defensive game has always let her down against top-quality players.

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