A Spirited Defence of Bernard Tomic

No one else is defending Bernard Tomic for his “latest tank job,” so it falls upon The Public Apology to defend Australian tennis’ enfant terrible yet again.

And I’m fucking bang up for it. I’m in Tomic’s corner. Team Tomic for life.

So, Bernard held a racket the wrong way on match point in a reasonably meaningless tennis match, which he was destined to lose. At the time, he probably wasn’t thinking much of it. He made a split second decision to demonstrate his frustration openly. It was a bad call, sure, but we’ve all made a bad call or two in our time – rarely with such public shaming associated.

Had he taken a further 2-3 seconds to consider the fall out from such an act – based on previous allegations of tanking, etc – he probably wouldn’t have done it. But sport is all about split second decisions and brain snaps – and we therefore must forgive our athletes for such mistakes, where reasonable.

Tennis is pure pantomime. It’s essentially a gladiatorial sport… without the physical contact. Two players are thrust into a colosseum in front of thousands of spectators – not to mention the millions of casual fans/critics watching at home or via their mobile devices – and asked to engage in a winner-takes-all battle, using their rackets only.

The racket is therefore a vehicle of self-expression. If you’re angry, you can’t hit someone like you can in rugby league, or AFL, where you can bump someone off-the-play in order to get inside their head/establish dominance over them. The tennis racket is not just the pen, but the sword, too. It’s your gun; it’s your weapon, it’s all you’ve got.

So what do you do when you’re angry, frustrated or whatever? You throw your racket. You break the shit out of it, incur a code violation or whatever and move on with your life. For decades, tennis players have been letting off steam via throwing their racket, or smashing it into something. Of course, this is not new information to you, and I appreciate that.

But in this instance, Bernard was seriously exasperated and clearly needed to let off some steam. Remember, this does not come naturally to him. We have seen him throw rackets before, yes, but rarely with any conviction; it has always seemed forced, obliged. This is what I am meant to do. 

This does not look natural
This does not look natural

Since he is not a violent/aggressive/alpha male by nature, he chose a more obscure, existential form of self expression: holding the racket backwards.

We hate Bernard Tomic because we do not understand him. We do understand his main rival, Nick Kyrgios, because he’s fucking basic. He vocalises every single thought inside his head, verbatim. He patronises linesman, ball boys and spectators alike, because he is deeply insecure about his stature as a tennis player (and probably his masculinity, too). Watching Kyrgios is a draining experience because he relies so much on you, the audience, to feed his energy. He’s a needy little fucker, if we’re being honest.

But Bernard Tomic doesn’t do this. On court, he’s as calm as they come; robotic. His ground strokes contain little anger; he instead prefers to rely on timing and placement rather than raw aggression. When he does complain to the umpire, it is often in hushed, apologetic tones. He is not here to cause a scene; he just wants to win quietly and continue on his autistic quest to reach the Top 10.

There are so many examples in sport where a player or team has effectively ‘given up’ in the closing stages before the match is over, yet is not accused of tanking. Yet Tomic has been branded – unfairly, in this writer’s opinion – as a career “tanker”. He copped it for pulling out a tournament before the Australian Open earlier this year, but it proved to be a prudent choice. One should always prioritise Grand Slams ahead of these shitty ATP tournaments.

But more importantly, who is he impacting here but himself? Are we expected to feel sorry for those in-game gamblers who have money on Tomic pushing this set to a tie-break; or for ourselves as “Australians,” that our countryman is disgracing us on the international stage? It’s ridiculous to expect maximum effort 100% of the time from “our” athletes, when in reality they don’t fucking belong to you or to me.

Here’s what happened: at 0-40 down at 5-4 in the final set, when the match was effectively over, Bernie mentally checked out. Just like you will later today at 4:40pm before you log off from your shitty desk job for the day.

By Dave Edwards

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