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Rediff.com  » Sports » Tennis has a new kid on the block

Tennis has a new kid on the block

Last updated on: January 29, 2008 16:40 IST

While winds of change are blowing in the higher echelons of men's tennis, a certain 15-year-old from Queensland is creating a stir in tennis land after bagging his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open.

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The tag of child prodigy was inevitable after Bernard Tomic walked the talk, beating Taiwan's Tsung-Hua Yang 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0 in the final to become the youngest male junior Slam winner on Sunday. And on Australia day, the next big Australian hope gave his home fans something to drink to at Melbourne Park.

"Well, I tried to think of it (chance of becoming the youngest junior champion) in the match to block it out, but it came to me in the third set," Tomic said after the match.

"I started to think about it. It was Australia Day and I had to put on a good show, so I was really happy to win.

"I'm the youngest, so it's a good achievement for me."

Born in Germany to Croatian parents, Tomic's initiation to tennis is likely to go down in the sport's folklore.

"My father bought me a racquet at a car boot sale for 50 cents when I was 7," Tomic told rediff.com in an e-mail interview. "I picked it up and since then never looked back.

"I've never had formal coaching. My father has worked with me from the first ball I hit. He is my coach and we get on great. When I was about 12 I started to work a little with Neil Gainey. That's it; I have had no other formal coaching."

- Australian Open: Complete Coverage

Tomic, seeded fifth, had taken out top seed Cesar Ramirez of Mexico in the quarter-finals and defeated India's Yuki Bhambri in three sets in the semis. In the final itself, after being a set and a break down, the youngster staged a remarkable fightback to re-establish his talent and temperament, which had prompted the Open organisers to hand him a men's qualifying wild card.

Tomic, standing at 6'1", knocked out the No 25 seed in qualifying, Yeu-Tzuoo Wang of Taipei, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the first round before going down to India's Prakash Amritraj in straight sets in the second.

"It was a great experience." he said "And something that I will never forget.

Bernard Tomic"It's a big difference in level from what I am used to but I felt very comfortable and felt that's where I belong playing against these guys.

"I think I am (ready for the men's tour). That was proved when I won and beat the number 130 in the world. I think I can hit it as hard as they can. Obviously, they can cover the whole court. They've got stronger legs. They can hit that serve 215, 220. I'm struggling around 195, trying to get that 200 mark. But I definitely have to work hard over the next two years on my physical form and other parts of my game if I want to be the best."

Being the best has almost been an addiction. He has constantly competed with players older than him and came out top more often than not. He is a champion since 2004 of the under-12, under-14 and under-16 Orange Bowl tournaments in Florida -- a unique feat -- and a winner of numerous junior ITF titles.

The corporate vultures have flocked-- he is already part of the IMG and Nike bandwagon and the likes of Patrick Rafter are drooling over his 'world-class backhand'.

When the whole world is looking at you, it's difficult to turn away and focus back on the job.

"I don't really read these articles or listen to what people say," counters Tomic, who is already facing the pressure of stardom.

"I have a goal and that is to be the best I can be. I just want to play tennis and win. I have a long way to go to be a superstar but I'm working hard every day of the year, even on Christmas Day!!"

The only bump on the otherwise speedy ride is that Tomic is fast earning reputation as a brat. Tennis Australia called Tomic home from the French Open last year because of what they described as an unacceptable level of commitment.

"I am younger than all the people I play against and I am growing up and learning through my experiences," he explains.

"I am still young and like all 15-year-olds make mistakes. This makes me stronger and mentally tougher now that I have learnt form my mistakes. It's all in growing up I imagine. But I have a great team around me who help me with everything and give me good direction."

Good direction means more lofty goals for the youngster. Only 15, Tomic has had a taste of top-flight tennis and is confident of winning a men's Grand Slam by the time he's 18. He has also chosen his weapons well.

"I want the serve of Goran, heart of Hewitt, movement of Roger and the shots of Sampras." he proclaims.

Deepti Patwardhan