Bernard Tomic’s struggles..

Back in the summer of 2011, Bernard Tomic was setting alight the tennis world with an impressive Wimbledon run, making the quarter finals as a qualifier. His mature performances that tournament led to many believing they were seeing a  grand slam champion and/or World No.1 in the making.

Since then, things haven’t been so easy for the 19 year-old. Tomic is currently on a six match losing streak, doing very little to impress after a promising start to the year where he made the fourth round of the Australian Open, losing in straight sets to Roger Federer.

The Aussie’s temperament has always been questioned and he is never far from controversy – Tomic and his team famously rejected the requests of Lleyton Hewitt for a practice hit. Hewitt’s manager claimed that the reason given for this was that Hewitt was considered “not good enough” but this was a claim denied by Tomic himself. More recently, Tomic was involved in a police stand-off over a dispute about traffic tickets he had accrued in his Orange BMW M3.

Much like another Australian with Croatian heritage in Jelena Dokic, Tomic’s controversies are not just on himself but also due to an overbearing father. At 16, Tomic was banned from the ITF Tour for a month after his father, John, had forced him to default the match by walking off due to the bad decisions he felt he had been on the wrong side of.

He is also alleged to have threatened Tennis Australia officials with the possibility of his son switching countries and representing Croatia on a national level after feeling Bernard was treated badly by the organisers of the Australian Open in 2010. During the Miami Masters, Bernard even asked the umpire if he could remove his dad from the stands as he felt he was an annoyance.

While Tomic has made his dislike of the clay clear in the past, he at least looks like is trying to do something to improve it by playing as many tournaments as he can on it, rather than shying away like some players do.

In an interview for the ATP website before the Monte Carlo Masters, Tomic felt he had new-found confidence and it was there to be seen as he defeated Denis Istomin in the first round to earn his first main tour win on clay. He felt that is issues on the dirt were mental and physical as opposed to a skill-set not suited to the surface.

“That’s the key for me playing on clay, is for me to feel physically fit. You know, today I felt good.  I’m starting to learn how to play on clay……… It’s a little bit more endurance.  I’ve got to put in my head to compete and to stay in there.  If I do that, then I can play with anyone on this surface.  Not like the last few years where if I’m down on clay, I stopped believing in myself and it’s tough to come back.  I keep complaining that clay’s not good.  You know, you just got to stay positive, play your game.”

Unfortunately since then, the results have been slow to follow but he did pick up his first French Open win with a straight sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer, but was dispatched of with ease in the next round by Santiago Giraldo. Most recently, Tomic was defeated (and bagelled) by Benoit Paire and lost to Thomasz Bellucci after having a 4-1 lead and a great chance to at least take a set against a good clay courter.

While it is definitely far too early in Tomic’s young career to write off his chances of ever succeeding on clay, major improvement will be needed in 2013 if he is to reach the ranking heights that many are expecting of him.

With the clay season now over for himself, Tomic has the chance to redeem himself on grass in the Olympics after a poor Wimbledon outing where he was sent packing in the first round by David Goffin. The loss of 350 points is a big issue for him and may see his ranking slip a fair bit if he does not have a good US hard court season.

Tomic, along with Ryan Harrison and Milos Raonic, is only one of three players born in the 90’s to be in the current top 50 so even if he hasn’t lived up to expectations from last year he is still progressing well for age and has plenty of time before he can be written off as overhyped.

With very few ranking points gained pre-US Open last year, a good performance in the Olympics, Cincinnati or Canada could set him up nicely for a seeding at the grand slam and a good chance to make the second week with a favourable draw. Tomic is already a winner there as a junior in 2009, having beaten Chase Buchanan in the final.

Even if Tomic has not gained the results on the clay swing this season, I think the experience will be good for him and he can only improve. For now, he needs to concentrate on putting some good results together in North America and defending the points he gained in Asia. If he maximises his potential as many think, in three or four years we could be seeing Tomic following the footsteps Lleyton Hewitt in picking up a grand slam or even world no.1 after the current dominant crop retire or fall out of contention.

Tennis Power Couples

Ace of Baseline takes a look at high profile tennis relationships..

The relationship between former World No. 1’s Caroline Wozniacki and Rory Mcilroy is one of the most famous in the sporting world between two athletes that are at the top level of their sport. However, criticism has been fired at the pair with many feeling that the relationship is having a negative influence on their sporting performance.  With this in mind I thought I’d take a look at other high profile tennis relationships to compare.

Since becoming a couple, both have performed fairly poorly in their major events with Mcilroy failing to make the cut at his most recent Major while Caroline Wozniacki exiting Wimbledon in the first round after being overpowered by Tamira Paszek in an entertaining three set encounter. This defeat knocked her to No. 8 in the rankings.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Wozniacki’s game has always concentrated on staying consistent and drawing errors as opposed to a more aggressive game that many believe she should play. Although often disappointing on the big stage, there is no doubt her style was key to her twelve titles and 67 weeks as World No. 1 from 2010 to early 2012.

However, Wozniacki isn’t the only player to date/marry a similarly high profile athlete.  Ana Ivanovic 18-month relationship in with golfer Adam Scott coincided with a trophyless period in 2009-2010 as Ivanovic dropped out of the top ten. Failure to defend big points at the Australian Open and French Open cost her, following up a final appearance and a win with fourth and third round performances respectively.  Defeat to Vera Zvonareva at Indian Wells was as close as the Serb got to a title in this period. Ivanovic’s most recent successes lie in the Tournament of Champions and her form over the past three years seems to indicate that her 2007/2008 form was of a career year than representative of what was to come. She has floated around the top 20 in the year end rankings, with her serving issues still working strongly against her. New coach Nigel Sears appears to have made improvements in 2012 with more consistency in the slams, making the third round at all three so far. Previous to this, Ana also dated Fernando Verdasco for a short period in late 2008, mostly during the tennis off-season.

Fresh from her split with fellow Russian tennis star Igor Andreev is Maria Kirilenko, the 25 year old is dating Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals in the NHL. Ovechkin is one of the most famous male athletes in Russia, having represented them regularly at international level and at one stage there could be a case made that he was one of the top stars in the NHL alongside Sidney Crosby. While the beginning of many other relationships coincided with a drop in form for players, things have never been better for Kirilenko, reaching a career high ranking of No. 14 after making it to the quarter finals of Wimbledon, pushing Agnieszka Radwanska extremely close in an epic three set encounter.

It is interesting to note the lack of high profile relationships involving the top level men, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all in long term relationships while Roger Federer married former tennis player Miraslava “Mirka” Vavrinec in 2009 with the couple now proud parents of twin girls.

While there are many inter-sport relationships involving tennis stars, there are two couples of tennis players that were some of the very best in their time. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi must be the most decorate couple in tennis; the pair possess over 150 titles between them, including 30 grand slams singles titles – Steffi with 22 and Andre with 8. While retirement was looming for Graf by the time the couple got together, Agassi added an additional four titles to add to his previously completed Career Slam before retiring in 2006. In 2005, Agassi even managed to break his own wife’s record at the Miami Masters, overtaking her record of five titles by earning his sixth with victory over Carlos Moya. The pair first met at the 1992 Wimbledon Champions’ Ball, where the now famous photograph of the pair was taken, with Agassi sporting his now infamous mullet.

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi at Wimbledon ’92 Champions Ball

Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt had a four year relationship even getting engaged, before the pair split up in 2004. Affectionately dubbed by Australians “Aussie Kim”, the young Clijsters was slamless in this time while Hewitt became US Open and Wimbledon champion in ’01 and ’02 respectively with convincing finals victories. The pair also made the Mixed Doubles final in 2000 but were defeated in straight sets. After the split Kim went on to become a quadruple slam winner, however the majority of these were after her comeback from a 2007 retirement. Hewitt definitely suffered from the emergence of Roger Federer on the ATP Tour, losing to him seven times in a row at Grand Slams with the Swiss making the final every single time he had beat the Aussie. While Kim was slamless during this period, she did reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings as a 20 year-old in 2003 and there is no doubt that she matured as a player in this time picking up plenty of titles and the No. 1 spot in doubles.

Other notable tennis relationships include Iveta Benesova and Jurgen Melzer. The pair teamed up both off and on the court, even earning themselves the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title, with Benesova’s singles form improving for a short period of time. It seems Melzer is no stranger to the leading ladies on the tour having previously dating 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina and also Nicole Vaidisova, the latter of which is now married to fellow Czech Radek Stepanek.

Personally, I am sceptical of the idea that relationships are to blame for a loss of form. In the case of Wozniacki, I just feel that a lack of a plan B has hit her hard and relying on opponents errors can only get you so far. As seen even before Rory was on the scene, when a big hitter has been on their “A” game she has struggled and she cannot generate enough offense to fight back. She is young enough to come back and learn from it, so I think she can definitely re-enter the top 5 but to go any further much more progress is needed at the slams. Along with New Haven, where she is a four-times winner her most consistent performances come in the US Open with a semi final place or better each of the last three years so this could be just the thing to reignite her struggling year.

Do you think that having a famous sporting partner can distract your performance? Feel free to post comments below!

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