Melbourne, Australia, 23 January 2012 | AAP
Roger Federer has challenged teenage sensation Bernard Tomic to deliver away from the spotlight as he tries to make good on his promise to become a genuine grand slam force.
A young man in a hurry, Tomic believes he can join the so-called Big Four of world No.1 Novak Djokovic, the second-ranked Rafael Nadal, the mighty Federer and three-times major runner-up Andy Murray by the middle of next year.
Federer also senses the 19-year-old is headed for greatness, but wants to see Tomic produce more consistently in regular tour events.
Tomic has shown time and again his love of the big stage, securing two grand slam junior titles before charging to the Wimbledon quarter-finals as a qualifier last year.
He was also the youngest player in history to win a men’s main draw match at Melbourne Park and has already broken Australian Davis Cup records.
But he only progressed to one quarter-final from 15 regular tour tournaments in 2011.
Federer said while Tomic had “proved his point” at this year’s Open, it was now all about “keeping that up time and time again – day in, day out when he’s not only just maybe playing on centre court, but also on the smaller courts.
“You have to go through those times as well,” the 16-times major winner said after ending Tomic’s Open campaign.
“Then find your way on centre court and then, when everybody expects it again from you, (make sure) that you deliver.”
Federer commended Tomic for a “wonderful tournament” and said Australians had every right to believe they have another champion in the making.
But he warned against expecting too much too soon from Tomic.
“When you’re 19, you have nothing to lose,” he said.
“But then you feel an immense pressure, just the constant pounding of knocking on the door from everybody saying: ‘When are you going to make the breakthrough?’
“Well, not everybody is Michael Chang or Boris Becker or Lleyton Hewitt who just breaks through at 16, 17 and then you’re done with the breakthrough and now you’re established. It’s just not so simple.
“Some need to work harder. Some need to work longer. I think I was one of those guys who kind of had to understand my own game and then eventually when my fitness and my mind was all sort of coming together. This was when I was able to play my best.”
Encouragingly, Tomic has indeed identified improving his fitness and strength as the key to continuing his rise through the ranks.
Having arrived in Melbourne as the world No.38, Tomic will depart possibly inside the top 30.
The flip side of his poor run outside the slams last year is he has precious few rankings points to defend in 2012, at least until Wimbledon.
“I can play tournaments and play relaxed and know I’m just going to go up. Every match I win I go up,” Tomic said.
“So it’s a great feeling knowing `til Wimbledon I have no points. You can be seeded at the grand slams like the French and Wimbledon and it becomes a bit easier than for rounds to get through and not play the big names.
“The top four guys are at a different level. From five, six on, they’re all beatable.
“But the top four guys have something special. That’s why they’ve all won slams, and that’s why Murray plays so consistent.
“I think the rest, they are all beatable.”