Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the stories making the headlines across the world of sport.
On Tuesday afternoon, tennis player Bernard Tomic wandered back to the locker room at Wimbledon having been soundly defeated in straight sets by his first-round opponent, Mischa Zverev. In truth, the Aussie hadn’t really earnt his shower. An hour and a half of passive tennis from the 24-year-old had resulted in an emphatic score line of 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in favour of the visibly more determined Zverev, and by the closing stages of the contest, whilst there were no obvious shows of submission from the imminent loser, Tomic did appear to be losing interest.
Bernard Tomic fans may have been left disappointed by yet another limp performance from the player (who has fallen from 17th to 59th in the ATP World Rankings since January 2016) but the journalists awaiting Tomic for his post-match interview, much like the rest of the sporting world, could not have foreseen the damming assessment that the player was about to give of his performance.
In a bizarre yet very measured interview, Tomic began to explain that at times during the match he felt bored, and as though he wasn’t mentally present. I’m sure you’ve seen the interview, but if you haven’t, you can watch it at this link:
Equally as shocking as the admission that Tomic was experiencing boredom during a top-class tennis match was his rationale for why he felt that lack of desire to win. “I think I don’t respect the sport enough. You know, I’m going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won’t have to work again. I’m 24. I came on tour at 16, 17. I have been around and feels like I’m super old but I’m not. I’m still 24 and it was tough to find motivation out there. I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same.”
Listening to Tomic’s comments was one of those rare moments in sport and in life where your jaw hits the floor and you just listen, over and over, completely dumbfounded. My immediate reaction probably matched everyone else’s. How could he say something like that? Does he not understand what some people would sacrifice to be in his position for just one day? And people have paid their hard-earned money to come out a watch him play! It was outrageous.
Predictably, Tomic’s interview has received no shortage of scathing criticism. Nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova had this to say. “If you can’t get motivated at Wimbledon it’s time to find another job. The spectators paid good money to come here and watch Wimbledon and the guy shows up and doesn’t try, he can’t be bothered. Just stay at home.” Similarly, two-time doubles champion Rennae Stubbs said “To say the things that he said in the press conference today is a disgrace. You’re an embarrassment to yourself, and not only to the sport but to Australian tennis.”
After I had spent time digesting Tomic’s words, I re-watched the interview. It was at this point that I was struck by a thought: Wow, that guy is a dick. But he’s so, so honest.
As a general rule, I hate the whole premise of pre-and post-match interviews. Think about it, why do we bother with them? The revolving circus of journalists sat around a room asking questions of sportspeople whom are prohibited from answering truthfully, instead reeling off various well-practiced spiels that will please sponsors and clubs alike but leaves fans with no insight into what they actually think or feel about the situation. Doesn’t that miss the point of even holding an interview in the first place?
So, when I re-listened to Tomic’s interview, whilst I still hated every word of what he was saying, in a perverse way I began to love the honesty of him saying it. Imagine how many other sportsmen and women heard those comments and realised that, deep down, they felt exactly the same way about their sporting career. Yet we will never know, because they will carry on producing the same regurgitated empty answers to the same questions in their interviews. Because let’s face it, Tomic has massively shot himself in the foot here. No brand will go anywhere near him with a sponsorship proposal, coaches won’t want to take him on, fans will refuse to pay money to go and watch him play. Tomic has been docked £11,000 of his £35,000 match appearance fee, but given that his kit sponsor, Head, have decided to drop him in light of his interview, it would seem as though the player is set to lose out on plenty more cash throughout the rest of his career.
This is a guy that has dedicated his life to tennis, and at just 24 has been playing on the tour for over 7 years. Should he not be applauded for the frankness in his confession that he has fallen out of love with the game? Just look at Zafar Ansari, a 25-year-old cricketer who, having just started to break into the English test match side, decided that his interest in playing cricket was no more and retired to pursue other passions. Ansari turned his back on coaches who had gone to great lengths to try and get him to reach his cricketing potential – and was praised for doing so.
So, as things stand, I’m still not sure where I stand on the Bernard Tomic debate. Bernard, if you really have decided that you no longer care about competitive tennis (hilariously, Tomic is known as Tomic the Tank Engine on the tour for his tendency to switch off towards the end of games in which he’s losing) then I suggest you take a leaf out of Ansari’s book. Retire, and pursue something that makes you happy. We only have one life after all, and you’ve already earnt almost £4 million from the sport. Step aside, and let someone take your place that wants to be a professional athlete. Tennis certainly doesn’t need you showing such disrespect to the sport at one of the most prestigious and historic sporting events of them all. But at the end of the day, don’t we all wish that more sports people had an element of the Tomic frankness about them? Shame on you, Bernard Tomic. But I find myself with no choice but to give kudos to you too.
Authored by James Foggin