A combative Bernard Tomic insists he has demonstrated his whole-hearted commitment to tennis after “risking his life” to play in the Middle East and successfully qualify for another Australian Open.
The mercurial former top-20 player, so often derided for a supposed lukewarm attitude to the sport, showed huge spirit to win an epic all-Aussie final qualifying showdown with his friend John-Patrick Smith in Doha on Wednesday.
And he was equally feisty off the court after his gritty 6-4 5-7 7-6 (10-7) victory over Townsville left-hander Smith, telling AAP his critics had not been fair to him during his chequered career.
“I am in Doha, I risked my life flying here, my health, Covid’s around, many sick, with many things that can go wrong. I’m risking my life, and I’m playing and competing. Of course, I want to get there,” he said, when asked if his tennis ambitions still burned.
“Otherwise I’d be hanging my rackets up. I don’t need to play tennis again, I’ve got enough money – so why are you asking me that question? Don’t ask questions like that.”
The 28-year-old became the only one of the 20 Australians who flew out for the arduous offshore qualifying tournaments in Doha and Dubai to make it to the Melbourne grand slam.
And his win, achieved when he was “physically bad” with a dodgy back after two-and-three-quarter draining hours, means he will be back at the championships – where he three times reached the last 16 – for the 11th time.
The day after surviving match point against another Australian Tristan Schoolkate, Tomic again dug deep, being just two points from defeat before winning another of the new first-to-10-points deciding tiebreaks.
He was 4-5, 15-30 down on his own serve in the final set and benefited from a contentious line call which Smith was furious went against him.
“I’m very tired, more tired than happy to be honest. I’ve never been this tired, and I’ve played a lot of tennis,” said the former world No 17. “I’m not over-excited but it is a good thing, it is nice, but I’m physically pretty bad.
“JP’s playing well, and had nothing to lose. I was physically so bad, I wasn’t able to execute my shots.”
Afterwards, the one-time golden boy of Australian tennis, who has had his fair share of negative headlines down the years, demanded some good press.
“You’re the people who write the bad stuff about me. I’ve qualified for a slam – what should you be writing?
“I don’t think you guys have been fair towards me in the last half-decade, [or] decade. You can spin it whatever way you want, but don’t escape the fact I’ve qualified for a slam.”
“If you like me and you’re a fan of me, write nice.”
Asked if he still felt he could win Wimbledon one day, he shrugged: “Probably not – with the level of the players around today, I’m not going to say I’m going to win Wimbledon, it’s tough to win a grand slam.
“Do I have a chance of winning a slam at this stage or in the next year? No. But do I have a chance of playing well in a slam? Yes.”
The only other Australian in the final qualifying matches, teenager Dane Sweeny, went down 2-6 6-3 6-1 to Ukrainian veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky.
It came as Alex de Minaur opened his season in style, claiming the first ATP trophy on offer for the year – and his fourth overall – with title glory at the Antalya Open in Turkey.
The 21-year-old was leading Alexander Bublik 2-0 in Wednesday night’s final when the Kazakh retired injured just seven minutes into the match. The world No 23 dropped only one set for the week in a promising build-up to the rescheduled Open starting on 8 February.
“I mean, it’s massive. At the start of the year that’s what you need,” de Minaur said after backing up his semi-final win over second-seeded world No 16 David Goffin in a somewhat anticlimactic title decider. “Look, you never know what was going to happen. I knew I had put in a great pre-season, I was ready to compete.
“I just think I gave myself the best possible chance to go deep into this tournament and I’m happy how it finished. I got four matches – and today – so very happy with my level and I had some quality wins.”