Melbourne, 23 January 2011 | AAP
Grand Slam tyro Bernard Tomic delivered hope to Australian tennis fans with a heartenening display against the world’s premier player at Melbourne Park on Saturday night.
Tomic made all-conquering top seed Rafael Nadal sweat for two-and-a-half hours at Rod Laver Arena before the Spaniard safely progressed to the fourth round of the Australian Open with a sapping 6-2 7-5 6-3 victory over the teenage wildcard.
Despite 198 rankings spots separating the two combatants, Tomic had Nadal under immense pressure at 4-0 down in the second set as the 18-year-old upstart briefly threatened to pull off the biggest upset in Grand Slam history.
The nine-time major champion had to pull out all stops – and go through three shirt changes – to keep Tomic at bay.
Not afraid to slug it out with the back-court king, Tomic often dictated proceedings and had the better of Nadal in many key departments.
Hitting for the lines, Tomic clubbed 39 winners to the world No.1’s 32 and out-aced Nadal 11 to four.
His three double-faults were also one less than Nadal, who twice faltered while anxiously trying to consolidate his service break in the third set.
Even in defeat, Tomic won more than twice as many games as Nadal had conceded in romping through his opening two matches in his quest to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam trophies at once.
Ultimately, though, Tomic was left to rue being unable to capitalise on his almost incomprehensible double-break advantage in the second set – plus six other break-point opportunities during the match.
In a measure of the ambition in the Tomic camp, while most would be satisfied to have competed with the world No.1, his father and coach was left disappointed by the loss.
“I can’t believe it. Two service breaks … if he won that set, it could have been a different story,” John Tomic told AAP.
Tomic’s gallant display came hours after Australia’s big hope Samantha Stosur crashed out of the Open with a shattering 7-6(5) 6-3 third-round loss to red-hot Czech Petra Kvitova.
Nadal’s fighting win propelled him to a fourth-round clash on Monday with Croatian 15th seed Marin Cilic, a semifinalist last year after edging out Tomic in a five-set second-round encounter.
Nadal, now only four wins away from completing the Grand Slam sweep, was full of praise for his vanquished opponent.
“I’m sure he’s going to be a big rival,” Nadal said.
“Every time we play it’s going to be more and more difficult.
“He’s going to keep improving every year a lot. If he keeps improving like this, he’s going to have big chances to be in the top position.”
Nadal said Tomic “makes you play bad” because of the way he tries to dictate from inside the baseline.
Feeling the pressure, the Spaniard said he’d all but given up on winning the second set.
“We’re going to try to win the third set – that’s what I was thinking [when I was down 4-0],” he said.
Watching courtside and commentating for the Seven Network, Australian No.1 Lleyton Hewitt and former Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald also predicted a bright future for Tomic.
“This proves beyond doubt that he is able to play on the big stage,” Fitzgerald said.
“He penetrated against the world’s best and that’s exciting.”
Tomic was thrilled with his perfomance.
“I feel great. Played a wonderful match,” he said.
“The experience that I had, it was great today. I played really good in that second set, felt really good.
“But overall the way I played I’m happy with where my level was and where I need to improve. I learnt a lot.”
He said his second-set lapse taught him the best lesson.
“He’s a very competitive player. I thought it was over at four-love,” Tomic said.
“It just shows how much he can come back. Against these guys, especially in the top 10, you can’t afford to lose concentration. That’s the important part.
“Physically-wise, he’s a machine. He just wears you down. That’s where I’m going to need to improve on in the next few years.
“I’m improving on that since the last year and the year before. It’s getting better for me physical-wise.”