They Said What? Mr. 50 Per Cent

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

“Bernard (Tomic) doesn’t want to do anything now. (Spanish trainer Salvador) Salva fights to get him to do sprints. I watch as they go to this long track near the courts. Bernard runs like he is at a marathon, just a slow jog. Mr 50 per cent. He is like a zombie. It is now five days before the Marseille and Rotterdam tournaments.”—Thomas Drouet, Tomic’s former hitting partner, on the Aussie’s return to the tour after a few weeks of hard partying, in diaries published this week at the Australian news website, news.com.au.

I’m assuming that Drouet, the Frenchman who gave up a comfortable job at the Monte Carlo Country Club (host to the annual Masters 1000 event) to become Tomic’s hitting partner, was paid a hefty sum for his diaries, which you can read in full here. And you must admit, this excerpt alone would make for a fairly compelling book proposal.

Ordinarily, I might have a problem with all that, given the basic confidentiality that ought to be observed when someone takes a position with a celebrity or public figure and becomes privy, as part of the job, to information or matters that are not intended for public consumption.

But boy, is this an exception.

Drouet, you will recall, became famous last spring when Tomic’s father and coach, John, allegedly spit in his face, then head-butted him into unconsciousness. A Spanish court just last week bought Drouet’s story of the incident and handed John Tomic an eight-month suspended sentence.

Predictably, John refuses to accept his own guilt and is still rattling on about how Drouet was injured while attacking him. Never mind about that, though. The really interesting stuff in the diaries pertains to Drouet’s claim that working with John and Bernard amounted to “seven months of hell.” And the most mortifying elements in that tale of woe are the numerous ones that expose Bernard as a grotesque example of arrested development. Part prima donna and part martinet, Bernard’s flagrant waste of his talent and ignorance of his obligations as a pro are so comprehensive that they strain credulity.  

Set aside the crazy family drama and the Tomic saga demonstrates that a little bit of talent can go a very long way, and how the nature of tennis as a sport for individuals, played more or less all year long and all over the world, provides incredible cover for players to live life however they please. Who really knows what goes on when a player is off the tour for a few weeks, even if he will invariably come back and assure us that he’s been working “One hundred and ten per cent!”

The bottom line, as the ghastly history of Bernard Tomic shows, is that even in this era of ultra-diligent champions at or near the top of the game, there’s still plenty of room for the lazy genius who just happens to have some combination of a lavish talent and an excellent competitive temperament. It’s valuable to get this peek into the turbulent (and, frankly, absurdly melodramatic) world of Tomic as a counter-weight to the fiction that today’s pros represent some species of uber-athlete.

We can trash Tomic the Tank Engine all we want for his adolescent shortcomings, but let me ask you this: How on earth does this 20-year-old, with all his issues, get ranked as high as No. 27 in the world and earn over half-a-million dollars already this year—an annis horribilis in which he’s fallen to No. 50? 

The answer is obvious. And as the Drouet diaries once again show, you can’t just train and practice your way to the top. Eliminating gluten or cutting back on carbs is only going to take you so far, and in tennis it isn’t very far at all.

Or let’s put it this way: Imagine where Tomic would be ranked if he actually worked as hard and embraced the same degree of discipline as the elite players near the top of the game.

Tomic isn’t just an astonishingly out-to-lunch kid who ought to be under the care of a psychiatrist, he’s also a monstrous testament to the role that physical talent and mental strength of a very narrow kind plays in tennis.

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