Three virtuosos of the tennis world make their debuts at Australian Open 2013 on Tuesday, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and…Bernard Tomic.
While everyone knows how sweetly Federer and Williams can strike the fuzzy, yellow ball, Tomic is newer to the scene but still brings something equally special.
He’s probably the most magical player, in terms of stroke production and variety, since the inimitable John McEnroe. Every time Tomic takes the racquet back there’s that instant of hesitation when it’s a mystery as to how and where he will hit the ball. It can be flat, slice or topspin, it can be short or long, it can be angled or down the middle, but that pause is momentarily mesmerizing.
Aged 20 and ranked No. 43 after his breakthrough win in Sydney, he has a genuine gift, a talent to be savoured and probably not over-analyzed, just enjoyed.
He plays Tuesday evening in Rod Laver Arena against Leonardo Mayer, and should be able to bamboozle the 25-year-old Argentine as he has all eight previous opponents in 2013. The concern is he will eventually pay a price mentally and physically for his two prodigious weeks in Perth (Hopman Cup) and Sydney.
Right off the top of the season, it’s a lot to ask of him especially with Federer looming in the third round, “if he gets there” as Tomic joked with youthful impertinence.
The great Swiss, four times an Australian Open champion, has not played a pre-tournament event this year and said he believes that will help keep him fresher. And it may also be positive because it provides a new challenge in terms of preparation as he starts his 16th season as a pro.
Numbers are inevitably associated with Federer, and this year he can equal Wayne Ferreira’s record of 56 Grand Slam tournaments in a row if he is able to play all four. What may be most fascinating about that is it’s usually not the superstar, at least in North American sports such as baseball, football, ice hockey and basketball, who sets longevity records. To have the pressure of being the very best and yet still endure – here again Federer breaks the mould.
Not quite so high-profile is his streak of 34 Grand Slam quarter-finals in a row dating back to the 2004 French Open. That translates to winning an amazing 132 consecutive matches in the first four rounds.
On the subject of streaks, Serena Williams has been virtually untouchable since a shock first-round loss at the French Open last May. She has won 35 of her last 36 matches, with the lone defeat coming in Cincinnati to Angelique Kerber at an event sandwiched between her winning Wimbledon and Olympic gold medals (singles and doubles) and then the US Open and year-end WTA Championships.
In sublime form while outclassing the field in Brisbane two weeks ago, Williams’ only worry may be that from the peak of the mountain there’s no way to go but down.
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS:
Federer def. Paire in four: The Frenchman with the quirky gamestyle once had posters of Federer in his room. He had a premonition he would face him in the first round.
Murray def. Haase in four: The freewheeling Dutchman took Murray to five sets at the US Open two years ago and likes to really let it fly on the big stages.
Tomic def. Mayer in four: A good omen for Tomic, the No. 78-ranked Argentine has virtually no history of pulling upsets against highly-regarded opponents.
Williams def. Gallovits-Hall in two: The Romanian, 28 and ranked No. 110, has a nice sliced backhand but Serena, to put it mildly, has a whole lot more.
Lisicki def. Wozniacki in two: It’s the ultimate in up-tempo offence against a paradigm of dogged defence. In a match-up of not-so friendly rivals, fortune favours the brave.