by Rajagopalan Rohinee
Australians Alex de Minaur, Alexei Popyrin and Alex Bolt came up with impressive performances for their nation when the world and its tennis players gathered to play the season’s first major there in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Lleyton Hewitt, the country’s Davis Cup captain and its last major titlist (among the men), speaking highly of them also effectively shut any doubts that may have lingered about their individual potential.
All this made for a perfect segue – of a country’s old sporting guard validating the credentials of the new – except for one, major blot marring the scene. That of Bernard Tomic who, a few years ago, had been similarly welcomed into the fold as one of Australia’s brightest future prospects and who accused Hewitt of throttling his career – especially when it came to playing the Davis Cup – and prioritising his self-interests.
The continuing spillage of rebutting allegations and counter-rebuttals to these between Hewitt and Tomic has now taken on a distinct note of “He Said-He Said”. Aside from this, however, the ongoing fracas has led to implications beyond a cursory professional falling-out.
Tomic’s accusations at the Australian Open that Hewitt was creating a conflict of interest both by captaining the Australian Davis Cup team and continuing to play professionally on the ATP Tour does present the former world No. 1 in an unflattering light. Although Hewitt did not play the doubles rubber in Australia’s Davis Cup qualifier tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina in February in Adelaide, the fact that he would be playing doubles in a few upcoming ATP events then conveys the message that he is trying to secure the best of both worlds for himself.
Not that being the Davis Cup captain and playing on the Tour are mutually exclusive. But while Hewitt had made a big show of announcing his retirement from the circuit a couple of years ago, there is a lack of certitude and clarity as to what is his status on the circuit presently. Is Hewitt to be considered retired, professional, semi-retired or semi-professional?
Hewitt’s response to Tomic’s allegations that the 26-year-old had issued threats and blackmailed him – and his family – highlighted his thuggish behaviour all over again. Hewitt’s stance of not being keen on selecting Tomic in the Australian Davis Cup squad was also justified, given Tomic’s penchant of displaying lack of commitment in matches, and towards the sport in general.
Also, considering that Tomic had blown a seemingly innocuous question about his availability for the Davis Cup into a theory of ill-intentions, not only towards him but also towards his compatriots – Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis – neither of whom who were in the picture nor a part of the question, showed his immaturity once again. Then, he may have had raised valid concerns about Hewitt purportedly side-lining Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, but his rant was definitely ill-timed. Most importantly, Tomic need not have tagged Tennis Australia, too, into the fracas thereby forcing them to pick a side – which they eventually did. To that end, Tomic lost twice-over when Tennis Australia not only sided with their Davis Cup captain but also cut off the financial support that it had been providing him.
Interestingly, in Tomic’s downward spiral touching a new low – after his interview with Chanel 9’s 60 Minutes, in which he accepted that he had indeed threatened Hewitt – the initial point he had been trying to raise, about Hewitt’s status quo in the general scheme of things, was conveniently deflected. Moreover, with the Australian team marching to the Davis Cup finals with a mammoth 4-0 win over the Eastern European nation, Hewitt’s assertive captaincy has come to be seen as redoubtable so much so that his statement of Tomic never donning Australian colours for the Davis Cup takes on an ominous ring, shutting the door on Tomic in more ways than one.