Bernard Tomic arrived relatively quietly, via qualifying, in 2011; Nick Kyrgios more loudly, as a wildcard, three years later. There is still something quite extraordinary about the fact that both Australians reached Wimbledon quarterfinals as teenagers on debut, even if a common breakthrough theme has ultimately failed to deliver parallel paths.
Rewind to 2011. Tomic the child prodigy I first interviewed as a 13-year-old reading Harry Potter books and listening to Eminem expected he would “probably” be as good as Roger Federer one day, while coveting the heart of Lleyton Hewitt, the serve of Goran Ivanisevic and the mind of Pete Sampras.
The plan: to hold all four major championships and reach No.1 by the age of 18.
Gotta admire a kid’s ambition.
What happened to Tomic as an 18-year-old at the All England Club was not quite the sum of his aspirations but nevertheless exciting as the world No.158 sliced and diced his way past the likes of former French Open Rafa-slayer and world No.5 Robin Soderling and took a set from Novak Djokovic before his remarkable run was ended by the man who now owns 12 Grand Slam titles.
In contrast, the 24-year-old with the natural grasscourt game has since won three ATP titles and peaked at 17th in the early 2016 ATP rankings list he follows with almost fanatical zeal.
More recently, though, Tomic has struggled, and has enough fourth-round points to defend from last year – where he lost 10-8 in the fifth to the rising Frenchman Lucas Pouille – to remind the world No.60 of just what is at stake on this seventh annual visit to SW19’s main draw.
The glass half-full version is that grass is a superior surface for Tomic, whose strong serve, flat forehand, adaptable backhand and slightly unorthodox style are well suited to the courts on which specialists are harder to find than elsewhere.
So to Kyrgios, the No.20 seed at the 2017 Championships. Back in 2014, nine match points were saved against the seasoned Richard Gasquet in the second round, and no-one who witnessed it will forget that fearless centre-court display against Rafael Nadal in the fourth, when Australia knew a little about the outrageously gifted kid from Canberra and everyone else ended up knowing a whole lot more.
There have since been injuries – including a recurrence of the chronic problem that curtailed his Queen’s Club campaign after just one set against Donald Young – and a range of well documented controversies, but – at least from this writer’s vantage point – the belief that Kyrgios has the game to win a Wimbledon singles title has not wavered.
Perhaps not this year, though, for it seems the 22-year-old is not just undercooked in a matchplay sense but clearly compromised, physically, by his latest ailments. The mental element, meanwhile, is one he acknowledges as still a work-in-progress under new part-time coach Sebastien Grosjean.
In that regard, there is clearly enormous upside.
So back to the collective: Tomic was the youngest quarterfinalist since Boris Becker retained his title in 1986, and Kyrgios the youngest since, well, Tomic. Both Australians broadcast their abilities to the wider world of men’s tennis on the same famous ground. And whatever has happened since, theirs is still a joint footprint worth following.
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