Four days into the Sony Open in Miami, and the biggest topic of conversation still seems to be Bernard Tomic’s brief appearance at the event Friday.
Brief, as in a 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Jarkko Nieminen of Finland that took just over 28 minutes, setting a new record for the quickest on-court shellacking.
It was Tomic’s first competitive match since he retired during his first-round match against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in mid-January.
Part of all the fuss, of course, stems from comments made by both Tomic himself and by Allistair McCaw, a conditioning coach who has worked with him on and off (and with players like Michaella Krajicek and Svetlana Kuznetsova, among others), on McCaw’s Facebook page.
The other part, of course, is that Tomic has “priors”. Many people were skeptical of that retirement against Nadal, only to find out that Tomic had surgery on both his hips in the days following that retirement. He certainly deserved better in that situation.
Given that, Tomic might have gotten a pass this time if he’d simply said, “I knew I wasn’t ready, but I wanted to give it a go.” That’s his right; he earned his way into the main draw by virtue of his ranking.
Well, maybe. Lots of folks probably won’t ever give him a pass on anything, ever again.
Instead, according to Ben Rothenberg, who writes for the New York Times, Tomic said this after the match to the Tennis Radio Network:
“It’s a Masters, it’s compulsory to play. Maybe if the rule was different I could avoid it, but it was compulsory to play, and I had to do it, you know what I mean?”
If that quote is accurate, than that’s the problem right there. Because the facts don’t back it up. And the facts are easy to check.
Later, when he spoke to the media, Tomic had a bit of a different take.
“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “Now I can look forward to feeling much better on court. It’s going to help me now. This situation, I tried my best. I thought I’d come to Miami and play the tournament, give it a shot as part of my rehab. I’m still not 100 percent, but I’m getting there, and I’m probably only four, five weeks away, and hopefully when that starts I can play well on the clay.”
“I was scared to push off,” he said. “I was scared to move. … You can’t go 100 percent, because I can injure them even more and it’s not good for me. … I thought I’d come down and see my friends for a few days and play this tournament. That’s all I can say.”
Not exactly convincing. And also, not much of a surprise since he had only even stepped back on the court a week before.
Tomic clearly is not the brightest bulb on the porch.
And then, there were McCaw’s comments.
“The ATP fines players or awards zero points on rankings for missing tournaments. Players are fined heavily, regardless if they had double hip surgery 5 weeks prior. Protected ranking is only given to players who take 6 months and more out of competition. A rule that needs to be changed sooner than later. People should hold back judgement if they don’t know the full facts, instead of going on public forums and speculate. Bernard’s choice was simple, get on and off the court ASAP. Maybe it’s a message to the system and what value it has in the end.”
None of that makes either of them look good.
But the notions that it’s “compulsory”, or that Tomic “had to play” or that there were heavy fines involved, are quite simply not true.
Yes, if he didn’t play, he would get zero points. But that’s true of any player – even Nadal during his long layoff, or Juan Martin del Potro, who just withdrew from Miami, because the Masters 1000 series tournaments count towards every player’s ranking (you’re allowed to miss one, unless you’re the Fed and get to a certain age, or a certain number of career matches won).
But, says the ATP’s Greg Sharko, if you withdraw from a tournament because of injury, there is no fine involved. So there was nothing to actually force him to play – especially the way he played, losing that first match earned him 10 points, or just 10 points more than he would have earned by not playing. “He was on site, so there was no penalty if he had pulled out,” Sharko said.
Ten points, in the grand scheme of things, should not be any kind of a factor.
Sharko also said there was no potential fine for ‘failure to give his best effort’ forthcoming, to his knowledge.
Tomic was actually examined by the on-site doctor before he went out to play, Sharko added.
And Sharko added that suspension wasn’t something on the table because this was an ongoing injury, pointing out that when Tomic missed Indian Wells, there were no consequences (although, it should be pointed out, that was the first Masters 1000 missed, and everyone is allowed to miss one).
In other words, Tomic played because he wanted to play, apparently. He wanted to see his friends, test out his hips, perhaps put the $9,000-plus first-round losers receive in his pocket. Or perhaps for some other reason nobody even knows about. Maybe he just wanted a reason to drive down from Sarasota and hit South Beach.
For most other players, this probably would have long died down. But this is Tomic (And he did set a record).
First, he has a rather, er, active resumé.
But he didn’t help himself. And McCaw’s comments not only didn’t help his player, but they made McCaw himself look uninformed.
Everyone will move on to something else – until Tomic returns to the court. It seems everything this kid does will be subject to a special kind of scrutiny. But to a certain extent, he has brought it upon himself.
Unfortunately, there seem to be no mulligans out there for just being young and dumb, even though we’ve all been young and dumb. But our mistakes were mostly made in the company of a few equally-dumb friends and no one was the wiser. Tomic doesn’t have that luxury.