MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The gulf between Australian tennis great Rod Laver and the nation’s brightest hope Bernard Tomic has been starkly highlighted this week with bouquets flowing in one direction and brickbats the other.
The 75-year-old Laver, the only men’s player to win two calendar grand slam titles, has been warmly welcomed Down Under after making the journey from his California home to launch his autobiography “Rod Laver: A Memoir”.
Tomic, ranked 52nd in the world, has been panned on social media for retiring when 4-1 down in the deciding set of a first round encounter in Spain against Russian journeyman Mikhail Youzhny on Tuesday.
Coming the day after his 21st birthday, Tomic’s withdrawal from the Valencia Open match was due to a headache, according to local media, and continued a pattern of late-season fadeouts that proved controversial last year.
A season that began with promise last year ended with the Germany-born player dubbed ‘Tomic the tank engine’ for his lack of staying power and then getting booted out of Australia’s David Cup team for a perceived paucity of commitment.
Tomic, touted a future top 10 player, put behind last year’s troubles with a bright start to the season but was soon plunged into controversy by his father’s conviction in a Spanish court for assaulting his former hitting partner.
Tomic rallied with a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon but has failed to pass the second round in his last eight tournaments.
However legitimate his reasons for pulling out in Valencia, the news has been greeted with skepticism Down Under, where tennis fans have long hoped for Tomic to take the mantle from ageing two-time grand slam winner Lleyton Hewitt.
“He probably had a hangover,” said one Twitter user.
Australia’s Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter and a plethora of former players, coaches and officials have tried to lift the player with a mix of tough love and encouragement.
Laver said the player would be doing himself a disservice by not playing every game as if it were his last.
“I know there are some down-times and I think when he looks back at things in five, 10 years from now, he may be disappointed with himself,” Laver told reporters at his book launch at Melbourne Park on Thursday.
“Because if you don’t put your best effort in every time, you won’t know when the best time is to play your best tennis. There is no best time.
“It doesn’t just gel because you think ‘oh, I’m going to play good today.’ It doesn’t come that way. The world of tennis, the competition and the opponents you’ve got, you’ve got to be ready to play your best every time.”
Laver, whose book includes an emotional foreword penned by 17-times grand slam champion Roger Federer, was also named as a global ambassador for the Australian Open on Thursday and said would offer the country’s young players advice, if they sought it.
Tomic, he said, was a “very, very capable” player and people should not criticize his unorthodox style, but the 21-year-old would need to learn how to get off the court quickly as a victor.
“Some of the things (he does) don’t pan out but when he played a guy called (Richard) Gasquet at Wimbledon he actually made him feel sick, the way he was playing with him.
“He was playing drop shots, slow shots, easy shots, serving aces. That’s the way he plays and I think Tomic is putting opponents off with the way he plays.
“So I hope he doesn’t give that up. But I think maybe his concentration is sometimes lacking in how to get rid of a match. You can’t stay out there and sort of play a cat and mouse game.
“You’ve got to play hard, when you see an opportunity, take it and get off the court.”
Editing by John O'Brien