Andy Murray showed the difference between champion and potential as he schooled 20-year-old Bernard Tomic 6-3, 6-1, in just short of one hour.
For awhile, the match had an intriguing mix of creative shots and spins reminiscent of old-school tennis, but the drama never developed. Murray found an opening and blew the match open.
No Worry for Murray
It seems like light-years since Murray’s U.S. Open win. While Murray is undoubtedly relieved that there will be no more stories about trying to win a Grand Slam, his career story has become rather boring to a tennis audience more engrossed with Rafael Nadal’s comeback, Novak Djokovic’s dominance and Roger Federer’s journey into the twilight.
Most tennis fans don’t get the sense that Murray can dominate the ATP, so attention on his performances has dwindled. It remains to be seen if he will still have the hunger and work ethic to drive his career forward for a few more Slams.
On Saturday, Murray was in cruise control, taking Tomic’s best shots in the fourth game. Murray served at 1-2 and faced five deuces and three break points. There were times where Tomic’s slice shot and flat forehand outclassed Murray.
But Murray held on—he then broke Tomic with four straight points and cruised to the first set. Patience had weathered the furious charge of another unseasoned player. While Murray only had six winners to Tomic’s 11, he only hit seven unforced errors. Tomic was already reeling with 20 unforced errors.
No Stomach for Tomic
Tomic is no longer the 18-year-old wunderkind who drove to the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Reality has been more grind than kind. He has had problems with effort, most notably with the Aussie Davis Cup team. He’s brash enough to take a shot at Roger Federer in anticipation of their third-round meeting at the Australian Open.
Say what you will, but Tomic is interesting, and he plays with both imagination and self-destruction. There are times in which he creates wonderful spin and unique shots, but he also has an amateur’s sense of court positioning and is typically unwilling to rally too long without trying something silly.
Mechanically, Tomic is stiff, the antithesis of the rubbery Novak Djokovic. He falls into his serve without a sense of Newton’s laws or how to maximize altitude or spin. His serve is very flat—there is virtually no margin for error, and so, he bangs the net like it’s an old drum.
Tomic’s forehand is also stiff, and he leans into it like Jimmy Connors. There is where the comparison ends. It’s flat and funky, especially the way it can spin off to the sidelines or skid well short of the service line, but he pushes it out or into the net with astonishing inconsistency. And still, he seems to have an aversion to topspin.
At his best, he looks like a shotmaker from a bygone era—someone John McEnroe or Rod Laver could appreciate. He is also routinely out of position, as evidenced by his lackadaisical footwork.
Too many times, he lunges and pokes a flat return rather than take the time he has to move a half-step closer and come under the ball. He does not look like he is in good shape, and he could stand to flatten his stomach as much as his forehand. How bad does he want it?
There are few shots more interesting in all of tennis than Tomic’s slice. He hits a double-backhand, but can let go by slowly picking up a shot and slinging it to the corner. He takes his time and then seems to watch the shot before anticipating where his opponent will return it.
There are times that Tomic hits an in-and-out backhand if he has control at the center. It's fascinating when it works, but head-scratching when it does not.
We are not sure if Tomic will every reach the ballyhooed expectations that have marked his young career. Patrick McEnroe, who helped call the match for ESPN, said during the telecast that now is the time Tomic will either move forward or fall back for good.
By the second set, Tomic was spraying shots everywhere but on the court. The net took a beating as well. His body language no longer hustled. He tried ill-advised drop shots and kept pushing his forehand. He was hitting his slice, but without any tactical purpose. He even tried a tweener down 40-0 that almost hit a cameraman. It didn’t matter at all.
Meanwhile, Murray hit only three winners in the set to go with his five unforced errors. Yet, he was in complete control, and he knew there was nothing more to be done but watch his opponent implode. He rattled off 20 of the final 24 points to close out an effortless 6-1 set.
Murray marches on in methodical style. He could use more matches like this to save his energy for the grind of the final rounds. He may go out and hit more tennis balls a few hours later, just to get a workout.
Next up for Murray is another potential star in Grigor Dimitrov who has been—unfortunately and unfairly—dubbed “Baby Federer.” Murray will be ready.
Tomic is at a crossroads. Will he pay the price to train harder and play smarter? Should he turn to other coaches and mentors? There is a lot of talent, but he is a long way off from talks of Grand Slam contention. He needs to get his head together as much as his game.