opinion

"No one likes him." The extraordinary difference between Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt.

On Monday, 26-year-old Bernard Tomic, ranked world number 88, lost in three sets in the first round of the Australian Open.

It’s unclear what any of that has to do with retired Australian tennis player, and now captain of the Australian Davis Cup team, Lleyton Hewitt – but, according to Tomic, it very much does.

“No one likes him anymore,” Tomic remarked in a post-match interview broadcast late on Monday night.

“Kokkinakis, Kyrgios, we don’t want to play anymore because he’s ruined it [the Davis Cup]. He’s ruined the system. Like, go away. I thought he’d retired, like, why are you still in tennis? Why do you still play all these doubles tournaments?” Tomic said in regard to Hewitt playing in last year’s Davis Cup tournament.

“He doesn’t put the players first. He doesn’t put Nick [Kyrgios] first. He doesn’t put Kokkinakis first. He always thinks of himself and it’s not good. You’re not playing any more bro. You’re retired. It’s not good.”

After only five minutes, the press conference was shut down by an Australian open official. On his way out, Tomic addressed reporters with a grin: “Have fun with that”.

Oh. Rest assured we will, Tomic.

But the most fun, surely, is being had by Tomic, who somehow avoided headlines that read, “Tomic out in straight sets”. Instead, he successfully rewrote the story, shifting the spotlight onto a perhaps invented feud between Hewitt and himself.

If only Tomic, who can no longer be excused as a surly teenager, but a badly behaved man, could see the defining trait of Hewitt’s career; a characteristic Tomic so desperately needs to develop.

Grit.

Once the best player on the planet, the youngest ever to hold that title, Hewitt is remembered for much more than that.

Hewitt was the player who could be down five games to one, and come back. He never, ever gave up.

Tennis commentators will tell you that Tomic has more natural ability than Hewitt ever did. Many of the young guys likely do.

But when it’s midnight, you’ve been playing for four hours, you’re down, you’re tired, and you’re dehydrated, natural ability has little to do with it.

Hard work, resilience and a hunger to win will get you much further than any talent you happened to be born with.

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Hewitt was proof of that.

Toe surgery, foot surgery, hip surgery. Retiring at almost 35, Hewitt played through excruciating injuries, needing painkillers, massages and ice baths often to just keep him on the court.

This time 11 years ago, Hewitt was not in a press conference blaming a loss on a poor captain.

In 2008, Hewitt defeated Marcos Baghdatis in five sets. It took him just shy of five hours. The match wrapped up at 4:33am on a Sunday morning.

Two years later, Tomic, then 17, took on the world number 14 Marin Cilic at the Australian Open.

Again, the match went to five sets, stretching out until 2:09am.

Tomic lost, after a solid battle he ought to have be proud of.

Instead he branded the game “ridiculous”, arguing a 17-year-old should never have to play under those conditions. According to Tomic, he “should have won” – three words that would never come out of Hewitt’s mouth.

Hewitt, of course, was no saint. As ‘Little Lleyton’ he struggled to contain his temper, yelled obscenities at umpires, and even made slurs against the competition.

But the difference between Hewitt and Tomic?

He grew up.

He learned to play with dignity. He became a role model and mentor to the younger Australian players coming through the ranks.

Retired Australian tennis player and sports broadcaster Todd Woodbridge said on Tuesday morning that he has personally witnessed the “amount of personal time” Hewitt has dedicated to Tomic.

“Bernard, unfortunately, has been used to coming into press conferences now and looking for an excuse of his own performance. It might be time to look more internal,” he suggested.

What has played out on Tuesday morning – Tomic blaming Hewitt for losing a match he wishes he won – serves as a reminder of a universal truth that extends far beyond tennis.

Grit will get you further than natural ability any day.

And grit doesn’t look like blaming someone or something else for a game you lost.

If only Tomic knew that.

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