Sporting Declaration: He's just the Tomic

AUSTRALIA must have been a really boring place to live in the 1960s and '70s.

That is all Sporting Declaration can deduce after casting an eye over the opening week of the Australian Open in Melbourne, which is an annual reminder of where we stand as a tennis-playing nation.

As usual, anyone hoping to cheer for Aussie players dare not risk leaving the sofa to make a cup of tea.

The sparse handful of locals on display traditionally have a short lifespan in their own backyard, or anywhere else for that matter. Now you see them, now you don't.

Yet if you travelled back in time a couple of generations, Australia was pretty much the Grand Poobah of international tennis.

Players like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Margaret Court, John Newcombe, Tony Roche and Evonne Goolagong once won tournaments as effortlessly as Lance Armstrong convinced the drug busters to swallow his porkies.

So what has changed over the ensuing 40-odd years?

My theory is that back in the halcyon days of Australian tennis, people had nothing better to do.

In those grim, dark ages, there was no Facebook. There were no iPads, or iPods, or iPhones, or Foxtel, or PlayStations or Twitter. I even have it on reliable authority that there was no internet, because it had not been invented.

In the absence of all these lifestyle essentials, the poor unfortunates of that era had limited options to relieve the tedium.

Hence vast numbers of people played tennis. Often, believe it or not, on courts made of real grass turf, which produced a strange, almost-mythical breed of player known as a "serve-volleyer", whatever that means.

Those Spartanesque days, fortunately, have long since been consigned to the pages of history.

Aussie kids now have an abundance of entertainment choices that are far more appealing and productive than hitting a fluffy yellow ball repeatedly over a net.

And thus Australian tennis has become trapped in a vicious circle.

Because fewer youngsters are playing the game there are bugger-all heroes at the elite level to inspire them. Because there are bugger-all heroes at the elite level fewer youngsters are inspired to play the game.

Sorry, but Lleyton Hewitt wearing a Bra Boys T-shirt and his cap on backwards simply doesn't cut it with Gen Y.

But just when it seemed Aussie tennis had reached its lowest ebb, a saviour has emerged.

Come on down Bernard Tomic.

Tomic strikes this columnist as one of those revolutionary types who transcends his chosen sport.

His surname lends itself to catchy headlines, such as "Tomic Bomb" or "Tomic the Tank".

He drives a different lairy sports car every week. He gets hassled by big-noting cops and treats them with the contempt they deserve.

He has so many glamorous, blonde admirers he has given Tiger Woods and Warney an inferiority complex.

He sounds warnings to has-beens like Roger Federer, who deep down inside are afraid. Very afraid. And he has the game to match his intimidating aura.

Just last week the 20-year-old won the prestigious Apia International, better known to tennis aficionados as the "unofficial fifth Grand Slam".

Indeed, young Bernie has so much talent that on the rare occasions when he loses some people refuse to accept he was beaten by a better player and accuse him of "tanking".

Sadly, rather than admire and appreciate his precocious gifts, there are those who appear to be jealous. All of which explains Tomic's "feud" with renowned nark Pat Rafter.

Fortunately Tomic has a cool temperament to match his God-given skill, allowing him to ignore such distractions. He appears the complete package.

If and when he realises his undoubted potential, Bernie boy could become our greatest player since Mark Philippoussis. It is reassuring to think the future of Australian tennis is in such safe hands.

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