Friday 18 January 2019

Inconvenient truth of 'bored' Bernard Tomic reveals a myopic view in sport

Bernard Tomic was dumped by his tennis racquet sponsor faster than the bed-hopping activities in ‘Love Island’. Photo credit: Getty Images
Bernard Tomic was dumped by his tennis racquet sponsor faster than the bed-hopping activities in ‘Love Island’. Photo credit: Getty Images
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

A tell-tale sign of how serious a crisis a player is in can be clocked by what their sponsor did next. After his "bored" comments following his loss at Wimbledon earlier this week, Bernard Tomic was dumped by his tennis racquet sponsor faster than the bed-hopping activities in 'Love Island'.

The Australian clearly wasn't bothered about his PR profile in the press conference following his straight-sets defeat to Mischa Zverev on Tuesday.

If he was, he would have dressed in mournful black and rolled out the showtime tears to convince us he's the flawed star who needs our help and, more importantly, our pity. Instead Tomic swung around in his chair with his baseball cap turned backwards, rubbed his Batman-style jaw and even had the audacity to smile and laugh.

"It's tough to find motivation being out there playing. But I just feel a little bit. I'm bored out there. I've just got to find a way to get back and enjoy tennis again," Tomic, 24, said. "People think it's an amazing life. We're making millions of dollars. It's sometimes tough mentally to compete and put yourself out there day in, day out and I'm not the best character to do that.

"I believe you have to respect the sport but I think I don't respect it enough," Tomic added. "Holding a trophy or doing well, it doesn't satisfy me anymore. I couldn't care less if I make a fourth round US Open or I lose (in the) first round. To me everything's the same. I know I'm going to play another ten years and I know after my career I won't have to work again. So, for me, this is mental. I just can't seem to find the commitment to work hard, to enjoy and to lift trophies".

Unlike the more convenient excuses other players might give for taking dubious time-outs during games, Tomic was straight up and admitted he used it as a "strategy" to disrupt Zverev. That's cheating, yes, but it's hard to escape the notion that his fine of more than £11,000, which was the second-highest single fine in Wimbledon's history, was more about the price he had to pay for telling the truth.

The quick-fire reaction to Tomic's comments has been the usual social media name-calling with his nickname 'Tomic the Tank Engine' getting another airing (tanking is Aussie for giving-up). Unlike other confessionals, Tomic wasn't looking for our sympathy, he didn't act in a way designed to push our buttons and make us feel sorry for him. The upshot was less empathy and more ex-pros complaining about how Tomic's distress signals reflected on them and their sport.

"It's disrespectful to the sport. It's disrespectful to the history of the sport. If you can't get motivated at Wimbledon, it's time to find another job," Martin Navratilova told the BBC.

Sitting beside her, Pat Cash said: "I don't want to stick the boot in but it wasn't a great day. I don't think Bernie, by a long shot, represents everybody, Australian players. He can do a lot worse than that to ruin the image that we've created. But a lot of ex-players are cringing, ex-Aussies, especially the guys who started this pro circuit."

"He has a point of view about his life that's worrying," Boris Becker added. "I don't know who're his close people but he needs maybe a psychologist. He needs just a close buddy, telling him the truth."

The truth? Tomic just told us the truth. But sometimes, it's not lies people mind, it's honesty. The trouble with Tomic is he offended the sensitivities of former pros by admitting he's struggling, that he's in it for the money and that winning isn't everything to him. The solution? Walk away, according to Navratilova, who possibly missed the message she was sending out by telling a player fighting motivation levels to just quit instead of trying to recover. If Tomic sounded like he's giving up on tennis, it also sounded like tennis is giving up on him.

What Tomic said became less about him and his struggle and more about the inconvenience of his revelations to everyone else because it's not the way we like sport being served. We already have trust issues with doping and match-fixing in sport so it affects our enjoyment even more when a highly-paid player cracks the image of the privileged life they lead. How can he be bored? Does he not know how lucky he is? I would give my left arm to travel the world and earn his money. Does he know how much money we pay to see players like him? We, we, we, me, me, me.

Imagine for a moment if Tomic's comments weren't about us, but about him? What if he was just trying to make us understand what's going on in his head. Tomic admits he's playing for dough - who cares? Most people have the same approach to their work. Not everyone does it for the love of the game. In his brilliant autobiography 'Open', Andre Agassi said: "I play tennis for a living, though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, always have."

Would you prefer to know the truth about players, irrespective of how unpalatable it is to your ideals, or would you prefer they hid their feelings so we can all live in a Sugarpova-coated world?

Which brings us to the judgement of those good folk at Head. The racquet company dropped Tomic when he used the dirty word "bored". Yet they happily stood by Maria Sharapova and even celebrated the reduction of her doping ban from two years to 15 months on social media last October with the hashtag #WeStoodWithMaria. In a statement from Head were the lines that Sharapova was "an upstanding individual of the highest moral and ethical conduct".

But poor Bernie was clearly the greater offender in Head's view with their statement on Thursday: "His opinions in no way reflect our own attitude for tennis, our passion, professionalism, and respect for the game. Therefore, we have decided to discontinue our collaboration with Bernard Tomic."

Doping ban for one, admission of being bored by another, and it's Tomic who got the bullet. Because there must be nothing more insulting to the 'integrity' of a brand than being associated with a player who doesn't promote the image of trying to win at all costs.

It seems, for some, the biggest double fault Tomic committed is not having a talent and wasting it, but talking about his struggles and ruining it for everyone else.

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