The Balkan wars that dismantled Yugoslavia in the 1990s were a gift to n tennis. Damir Dokic, a Serb living in Croatia, fled to Sydney with a family including 8-year daughter Jelena, whom he wanted to be a tennis star. Branko and Ljubica Matosevic, Croats living in Bosnia, moved to Melbourne with their boy Marinko.
And Ivica Tomic, a Croat married to a Bosnian, Adisa, sought refuge on the Gold Coast, where he renamed himself John, became a taxi driver, and trained his kids to be tennis stars.
Most of ‘s new tennis stars are the sons and daughters of migrants, raised in the cities, some by pushy parents. Jelena Dokic’s story is the best-known. But Bernard Tomic’s story has similarities.
Both had driven fathers: part crazy, part genius. A self-taught tennis coach of humble means, John Tomic made Bernard a tennis player with such extraordinarily sophisticated shots that the kid was a star as soon as he arrived.
But John was prone to rage. There was the incident in Adelaide in 2006: as they left a junior tournament, John drove at a rival coach’s car, and forced it off the road. In 2008, when Bernard, 16, was losing to Marinko, 23, John got so angry at foot fault calls that he ordered his son off the court.
He was disciplined then, and again at the 2010 n Open when he raged at tournament director Craig Tiley for scheduling Bernard to play a late night match against Marin Cilic. John told officials they did not understood what he had gone through in the Croatian war to ensure his family a future.
Damir Dokic’s brutal treatment of Jelena is public knowledge: she made it so, in her new autobiography, Unbreakable. But it was no secret in tennis circles: Martina Navratilova said that when she saw Jelena in the dressing room, the girl had “fear in her eyes”. We journalists knew it, but could not publish it because of legal prohibitions.
We don’t know how John Tomic disciplined his gifted but indolent son to make him a tennis star. We know that Bernard’s former hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, says John once shot Bernard in the leg to “make a man of him”. We know that a Spanish court in 2013 found John guilty of headbutting Drouet, so savagely that he broke his nose.
I remember the first time I exchanged glances with Bernard Tomic. He was just 16, already famous and infamous – and he had fear in his eyes. I’ve no idea what caused it.
But like Jelena, Bernard had an unusual childhood, under a domineering father who shaped him to fulfil his own life’s dream.
Jelena responded by working herself extraordinarily hard on court. And the effort she made, even as an adult free of her father’s discipline and kilos overweight, saw her become a national heroine at the 2009 n Open.
Bernard, by contrast, seemed spoiled. By 18, he was in the top 100, by 19 in the top 30. But he always looked languid and casual. By then he was 195cm, beyond his father’s control. He had a freakish repertoire of shots, but his fitness was a liability.
Bernard’s career hit a plateau. In spurts, he worked to lift himself. His service, once all too effortless, became a real asset. His fitness became less of a liability. He never beat one of the top four, but he chalked up some big wins: Robin Soderling at Wimbledon, Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup, Kei Nishikori in Brisbane, David Ferrer, and others.
The number 17 sums him up: a 17-4 record in Davis Cup singles, a 17-9 record at the n Open, and a peak ranking of 17 in the world.
But he never fulfilled his boast that he would be one of the top five. And when Nick Kyrgios emerged on the scene, his talents overshadowed Tomic’s. We don’t know why, but Bernard lost the will to work. He fell out with n tennis. He stopped winning, and his ranking started to slide, and he didn’t seem to care.
On Sunday he lost his final qualifying match because young Italian Lorenzo Sonego saw he was not fit, and made him chase ball after ball he could no longer reach. Tomic played passive tennis, with only glimpses of his old artistry.
Bernard boasts that he has won $US5.3 million in prizemoney. True, but unless he gets fit, and positive, there will be little of that ahead. John Tomic tried to persuade him to work, Hewitt and Wally Masur tried. At 25, Bernard is now his own man. Only he can give himself a future.
felt sorry for Jelena; we gave her our support. We are not sorry for Bernard, but perhaps we should be.