imbledon doesn’t normally do near enough to grab our attention until the first week’s Pimm’s and strawberries have been and gone but the cautionary tale that is Bernard Tomic and his all-too-easy departure from SW17 earlier this week stands out from the usual procession of straight-set sorties and storm-in-a-teacup controversies.
Sports stars have committed all sorts of heinous crimes without impinging on their popularity.
Cases of sexual and domestic assault, tax evasion, and a myriad of other crimes, moral, civil, and criminal have been recorded by athletes across the world but transgressions have been brushed over, or even ignored, time and again as long as performances on the pitch stood up to scrutiny in the court of public opinion.
Rory McIlroy alluded to that at the Irish Open in Portstewart this week when he spoke about Tiger Woods’ envelopment by scandal in 2009 and 2010 and how the golfing public whooped and hollered when he returned to the course and manoeuvred his way into contention at the US Masters in Augusta. “And after everything went down,” McIlroy realised, “I was like, people like winners.”
Tomic hasn’t harmed anyone. He hasn’t broken any marital vows or government laws but his sin in confessing to being “bored” during his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Mischa Zverev in the first round is the ultimate no-no in the realm of sports and he has copped no end of grief for it from online nobodies and legends of the game alike.
Martina Navratilova led the charge.
“It’s disrespectful to the sport and disrespectful to the history of the sport,” said the nine-time Wimbledon singles champion.
“If you can’t get motivated at Wimbledon it’s time to find another job. The spectators paid good money to come here and watch Wimbledon and the guy shows up and doesn’t try. He can’t be bothered. Just stay at home.”
If Tomic is guilty of anything it is honesty. Mats Wilander said as much.
“It was definitely a mental issue out there,” explained the Australian who has won an estimated $5m (€4.3m) on tour despite failing to break the world’s top 100. “I felt a little bit bored, to be completely honest with you. It’s tough, you know? I’m 24. I came on tour at 16, 17. I have been around and it feels like I’m super old but I’m not. I’m still 24 and it was tough to find motivation out there.”
Shelve the outrage and pomposity for a bit and what it boils down to is a sad case of a man who has lost his way. It’s not so much that Tomic has added up to less than the sum of people’s expectations but that he is now a shell of the person he himself planned on being when he spoke to Inside Sport magazine as a 14-year old full of ambition and direction.
“I still need to find the serve of Ivanisevic and the groundstrokes of Federer,” the boy explained a decade ago. “I’m halfway there with the mind of Sampras. I’ve already got the heart of Lleyton (Hewitt).”
That last remark may well be the one that really comes back to haunt him given Hewitt was respected so much for the fact that grit rather than talent was his calling card.
That quote was included in a gushing piece about Tomic in the Sydney Morning Herald. It included the line: “He’s a genuine prodigy, this kid, and he clearly has spunk.”
The picture accompanying the article showed a smiling Tomic, racquet slung nonchalantly over his shoulder and a bookcase full of trophies in the background.
This is what angers people. This is what prompted one idiot on social media to call for him to be deported. How could he morph from the kid who predicted he would be world number one into … this? How, asked a raft of ex-Aussie pros, could he do this to the Australian game? Didn’t he know he was tainting a legacy? Why had HE let all of US down?
What his decline tells us, again, is that all that glistens is not gold.
Tomic was travelling to play in countries as disparate as New Zealand, Morocco, and the USA before he had reached his mid-teens. He has earned millions doing a job that would feel like anything but to most of us and yet he is far from alone in admitting that his sport is nothing more than a chore to be completed. A means to a financial end.
Irish sport has thrown up more than a few who have voiced a similar ennui.
Shane Supple walked out on professional soccer, John Duddy departed the ring when the prospect of some big fights still remained within reach and Stephen Ireland once declared football to be “shit” on social media at a time when he was a hot prospect with Manchester City and not a bit-part squad player with Stoke City.
And if there’s any doubt about the fact that one man’s meat is another’s poison then it should be dispelled by Ronnie O’Sullivan who has repeatedly railed against snooker as a sport, describing it as anti-social and adding that he would never support his son Ronnie Jnr if the youngster got it into his head that he should follow in dad’s footsteps.
“I hope he tries tennis or golf,” O’Sullivan explained seven years ago. “It’s just more interesting. Not only that, you’re out in the fresh air.”
Try telling that to Bernard Tomic.