Earlier this month, when 24-year-old Bernard Tomic lost in the first round of Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, he reflected, “I felt a little bored out there to be completely honest with you. You know, I tried at the end… but it was too late”.
During the press conference, he continued, “I believe you have to respect the sport, but I think I don’t respect it enough. I just believe playing many years on tour now has sort of taken a toll…”
It wasn’t the first time his comments, and his attitude more generally, have infuriated the Australian public.
At the time, nine-time Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova said, “It’s disrespectful to the sport and disrespectful to the history of the sport. If you can’t get motivated at Wimbledon it’s time to find another job”.
Australia, undoubtedly, have several questions for Tomic. And on Sunday Night, presenter Melissa Doyle went some way towards asking them.
Perhaps the most controversial question, which unsurprisingly provoked the most controversial answer, was to do with why Tomic chooses to play tennis. When he seems so “bored” by the game – why play?
Doyle point blank asked the German-born tennis champion, “a
— sunday night (@sundaynighton7) July 23, 2017
Doyle also asked why viewers should “bother” turning up to watch Tomic play. Why should they spend their money to watch him play when, recently, he doesn’t even try?
Tomic’s responses come across as rude. Ungrateful. Entitled. Arrogant.
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But what we’re seeing – what we’ve been seeing for a while – is a young man who is struggling.
He is young and confused, but instead of acting out anonymous, in the privacy of his home and his family and close friends, he is doing so on the world stage.
It’s easy to throw insults at a young man who seems completely unaware of the opportunities he’s been offered. It’s far harder to acknowledge that a 24-year-old professional tennis player with the world in his hands isn’t OK. He’s far from OK.
Unhappiness doesn’t always look like tears and an unambiguous cry for help. It can can look like anger and brattiness. It can look like an ungrateful 24-year-old who feels nothing standing on a court at Wimbledon.
Unhappiness can look like apathy. It can sound like a frustrating monotone, coupled by cold, vacant eyes.
Unhappiness can be ugly. And grossly unappealing. And it inflicts our top athletes as much as it does anyone else.
We can’t know the depths of Tomic’s personal turmoil. But for someone to be so cavalier about themselves, and the thing they’ve become known for, is a red flag.
One we should approach with compassion – not anger.