News analysis

Tomic attitude needs to be above bored

Andre Agassi is a popular draw with the autograph hunters down by the practice courts at Wimbledon. The golden oldie flashes his Vegas smile and everyone forgets that this showman infamously articulated the soul-sapping tedium of tennis. "I hate it with a deep and secret passion and always have," he once said. Nobody wants him deported.

In another corner of the All-England Club, Bernard Tomic has been roundly condemned for not liking tennis. A half-hearted defeat segued into a full-blooded press conference where he confessed that he was "bored", did not work hard enough and could not care less if he lost in the first round.

The condemnation was savage. Deportation was one suggestion. Martina Navratilova said that he should get a new job. Pat Cash said that former players were cringing. Yet old pros know portraits of life on tour can hide the festering truth in the attic.

Agassi, now coaching Novak Djokovic, had a tennis mobile over his bed and a "choleric" father with a pistol in his car. The one time that Emmanuel Agassi met Peter Graf resulted in the pushy parents whipping off shirts and threatening to fight each other.

Agassi would have 2,500 balls fired at him a day. He was dying by a thousand cuts and a million balls a year. The smile was as false as the hair. Crystal meth ensued.

Tomic will not be the last talent to grow inured to elite sport and many careers have flashed and burnt out quickly.

Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, is well placed to judge the more maverick brain. He had "issues" of his own and believes that Tomic needs a break.

Wednesday marked 20 years since Martina Hingis won Wimbledon as a 16-year-old. The Czech-born Swiss won the last of her five Grand Slam singles titles when she was 18. By 22, stricken by injury, she had retired for the first time. Now she is back playing doubles with Jamie Murray and says that it is "lots more fun" than it was in her pomp.

"I used to practise twice the amount, five hours a day, and did not have time to go out and enjoy life," she says.

She dubs Tomic's "bored" remark as "a spoilt comment", but has sympathy: "It's not easy to be out there week in, week out, and Australia is not round the corner so you're away from home for 40 weeks. I was lucky to have my family with me. You need the right surroundings; you need it not to be always tennis. I also think it's a lot to do with your IQ and who you choose to motivate you."

Tomic's first coach, Neil Guiney, said that he had been expecting this week's nadir. "He (Tomic) has been force-fed into this for most of his life," Guiney said. "His career was the ambition of his father. Agassi went through the same thing."

Dr Steve Peters, the psychiatrist whose clients have included Liverpool footballers, British cyclists and elite athletes, says that the public are too quick to condemn. "Until we interview him it is hard to comment but we are very judgmental rather than understanding that there may be multiple factors," he said. "It's his prerogative. You can't say to someone, 'You're not bored'."

Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 champion, is well placed to judge the more maverick brain. He had "issues" of his own and believes that Tomic needs a break.

"As soon as he sees the racket he is sick," Ivanisevic said. " If you ever get bored playing, it's better that you don't do it until you are having fun again."

John Newcombe, winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles and an official Australian National Living Treasure, believes that time is running out for Tomic.

"I'm told by younger players that he can't play more than a set and a half at full pace before he's tired," the 73-year-old said. "If he keeps going like this he's going to hit complete rock bottom within a year and run out of money."

Newcombe believes that Tomic needs a change: "I understand he's not having a lot to do with his father now. It has been a very authoritarian rule and maybe he has to come back into the picture."

Whatever the solution, there is no catch-all cure. Even the evergreen Serena Williams once said that she would have been bored by the time she turned pro had her father not pulled out his daughters from the junior circuit.

"I get bored easily," she said in 2000. "I would have been slightly jaded." Probably best not to say that during Wimbledon.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Tomic attitude needs to be above bored'. Print Edition | Subscribe