Bernie’s a bazooka but he’s at risk of misfiring


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"I feel so confident. This is the perfect time to play him.

"I've got a good attitude to win. I've beaten a lot of good players over the last past two weeks, especially Novak.

"I'm ready. I mean, I'm not going to say I don't have the belief; I do have the belief now. It's possible. I showed that in Perth, that you can beat these players. Now I'm going to try to beat him."

These are the words of cocky Aussie up-and-comer Bernard Tomic before he took on Roger Federer in the third round of the Australian Open.

Tomic, the all-swaggering, fast car-driving 20-year-old was brimming with confidence on the back of his 10 straight wins so far in 2013, and he was ready to show the Swiss maeatro just what he could offer.

It did not turn out as he anticipated. He was broken in the first game – his first loss of serve in the tournament – and though he recovered to threaten in the second set, Federer had him well and truly under control.

Tomic knew he needed that first set. He said so prior to the match. Federer's only three Grand Slam defeats from a set up against non-major winners have come against finalists David Nalbandian, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling.

What is more interesting than Federer winning this particular clash though, is the fact that Tomic was so sure he could defeat the man to whom he has lost all three of their encounters to date.

The odds were against Tomic from the start, but anyone who possesses that much brazen confidence is invariably taken notice of. Much of Australia swelled with the sentiment of realistically controlled hope – enough for a modest investment at the bookies, but more out of patriotism than based on tangible evidence he could beat the formidable world number two. Maybe he would take a set. In an Alice in Wonderland world, maybe even two.

That sizzling straight-sets trouncing of Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup flirted obscenely with these hopes. He served impeccably and matched the Serbian in agility to produce probably the strongest performance of his career. But like a wonderful first date, no one wants to stake too much on it in case they don’t call afterwards. Add that this match was only two sets long and whether he can go the distance of three or hour against somebody like Djokovic is unknown.

He may only be 20 – the unsophisticated manner in which he articulates himself gives that away – but in the context of tennis he is mentally beyond his years, and those of many players his senior. It is a rare talent to be capable of walking onto a court against one of the world’s best players and see nothing but opportunity and prospect, instead of the dread that usually comes as part of the package.

This kind of confidence on its own is a weapon. In actual firearm terms it’s probably on par with a submachine gun, but couple it with raw talent and you are carrying a giant bazooka over your shoulder into every match.

Tomic has both in his DNA, but needs to control his propensity to be a bit too trigger-happy if he doesn’t want to misfire in big matches.

Confidence is what turns sporting potential into superior performance. Take Laura Robson against Petra Kvitova. At first she was afraid, she was Petra-fied! But she directed the tension appropriately and what came to pass was an admirable show of defiance and spirit which took her skills on the court to another level.

But Bernie on the other hand is epitomised by an almost irrational optimism. With leaves him at risks of losing not his nerve, but his nerves. If players are too comfortable in a situation, nerves – the good kind that spur you to reach your fullest potential – don’t show up at the office when you need them. Andy Murray spoke about the winning effect a healthy dose of nerves can have on a player’s game. Tramlines wholeheartedly trusts him on this.

The question is: where exactly on the Richter scale of confidence does an athlete need to reside to be most likely to succeed? Tomic is nudging towards the arrogance end of self-belief, and it’s had negative consequence for him in the past.

He earned the nickname of "Tomic the Tank Engine" last year after he appeared to stop trying in a number of matches and was accused of being lazy by Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter, who expressed concerns he would never fulfil his potential.

He’s also been labelled a wasted talent and a flawed genius. If Tomic’s quote says anything at all, it’s that no matter how flash you are in your own eyes, if you turn up on the day and someone else is simply better than you, you’re toast.

Conversely, when athletes aren’t so sure of themselves, the smallest hurdle can have an inordinate effect on performance.

We've seen what happens to players who have the talent but can’t get a break mentally. Bernie’s fellow Australian Sam Stosur is a case in point, suffering letdown after surprising letdown after struggling to grapple with what she refers to as "those battles in your own head during matches."

At last year's French Open, the sixth-seeded Stosur reached the semi-final and was headed toward victory against Sara Errani of Italy, then seeded 21, but lost in three sets.

The 28-year-old capitulated from 5-2 up and two points from winning the deciding set, to losing 6-4 1-6 7-5 to China's former semi-finalist Zheng Jie.

Afterwards she admitted her problem was "100 per cent" mental.

"At 5-2 up in the third, (with a) double break, probably is a bit of a choke, yeah," Stosur said.

Tomic will beat Federer one day, but he needs to mix that self-assuredness of an old pro with a bit of humility first.

Rally of the day

French duo Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils wowed fans at the Australian Open with an epic 71-shot rally.The exchange took nearly two minutes and - by our reckoning - is the longest rally in Australian Open history.

Simon eventually won the rally when a stretching Monfils hit his backhand wide, prompting a standing ovation from spectators at the Hisense Arena in Melbourne.

The pair fell just short of the all-time record in a men's Grand Slam match - Bjorn Borg needed 86 shots to win one a point against Guillermo Vilas at the 1978 French Open.

Runner-up rally of the day

Persian legend Mansour Bahrami pulled out a chair to get comfortable as he returned smash after smash that Todd Woodbridge sent his way during the Woodies’ legends doubles match with the Persian great and Wayne Ferreira. When he eventually couldn’t get one back he whipped another ball out of his pocket and sent that down instead.

Unorthodox defence strategy of the day

If you don’t want the opposition to get their serve in, simply lift the net a little higher. Well, that’s what Bahrami did.

Grunt of the day

That moment of realisation that although you are sitting over at Margaret Court Arena and there is a lively game going on, you can still hear Victoria Azarenka shrieking over in Rod Lave Arena.

Fan of the day

This lovely gentleman, originally from Inverness, was at Melbourne Park to support Andy Murray in his birthday suit. His mother had actually given it to him for his birthday, and he was proud to show it to the world, and to Andy, on its inaugural outing.

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