Sydney, 16 September 2011 | Darren Saligari
Update 3:40 pm. Bernard Tomic is a good listener. Earlier in the week his captain Pat Rafter detailed the team’s plan – take down Swiss No.2 Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomic did just that in the opening rubber, winning 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-3.
Before the match though there were concerns that Tomic may not play. Blisters on his hand cut the teenager’s Thursday practice session short, but he declared himself fit and took to the court as planned.
But it wasn’t a bright start. Early on it was Wawrinka who was in control as the world No.19 got the better of his No.59 opponent. Wawrinka defied the home crowd and the grass – his least favourite surface – to take the opening set in just 35 minutes.
Wawrinka was the first to acclimatise to the grass court, which proved a challenge for both players in the early stages. Several times Tomic was caught too far behind the baseline and left to lunge for balls that didn’t carry.
In taking the first set, Wawrinka managed to quieten the pro-Australian crowd, no small feat. Rafter urged his young charge, who later admitted he was feeling under pressure, to hang in there and not let the match get away from him.
Tomic put his captain’s words into practice and looked the more impressive of the two players in the second set. The Australian pushed his opponent as he earned break points early on. But for all his hard work, the Swiss No.2 held the Australian off. But in the 10th game, Tomic’s perseverance paid off as he grabbed the break and the set 6-4.
With the momentum seemingly with the Australian, it came as a surprise when Wawrinka secured break points in the opening game. It was to be a common theme during the third set. Five breaks of serve for the set had the 3700 fans who had packed the stands at the Royal Sydney Golf Club unsure who was in control.
Luckily for the majority of the fans, it was the Australian. The 18 year old sealed the set with a one-two punch to emphatically stamp his name on the match. As the ball hurtled past Wawrinka the Australian bench lifted as one.
After dropping the third set, Wawrinka seemed distracted. A terribly mis-timed smash in the second game smacked into the back fence on the full – an uncharacteristic miss from the normally reliable 26 year old.
When the break came it happened in the fifth game, an off-forehand winner from Tomic sealing it. Wawrinka’s first serve wasn’t doing him any favours – the Swiss No.2 making just 66 per cent of first serves for the match compared with Tomic’s impressive 84 per cent.
“I was more consistent than he was and I think I broke down his backhand,” Tomic said after the match.
Tomic brought up his most impressive Davis Cup victory to date by breaking Wawrinka once more, to take the final set 6-3.
Wawrinka paid tribute to his young opponent after the match, who he admitted he is a fan of.
“I think he was playing great, he was doing a lot of change, changing rhythm a lot of time. His game is perfect for grass courts,” said Wawrinka.
“I love to watch him play because it’s always fun, it’s always something different … I think he is going to be a great player.”
Despite suffering a leg injury at the US Open and playing little tennis since as a result, Wawrinka maintained that he is fit and will play in the doubles with Swiss No.1 Roger Federer on Saturday.
As for Tomic, who has improved his Davis Cup record to an unbeaten 4-0, he can now look forward to his next match on Sunday – against his idol, Roger Federer. The Australian said he found just knowing that Federer was watching from the sidelines was nerveracking. So it will be interesting to see how Tomic handles sharing a court with the winner of 16 Grand Slam titles in what could be a pivotal rubber in this contest.
“I just pray that he doesn’t like my game, that’s it. If he likes it then I’m screwed,” laughed Tomic.
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