GALLERY: Tomic rises to the challenge 

ONE set down. Court surface hotter than a well-oiled wok. A tall, troublesome, big-serving opponent firing bullets from the fourth floor.

For those yet to cast their vote in the national referendum on Bernie Tomic, this was a good time to tune in. A moment that would either entrench preconceptions, or change a few minds.

Would Tomic unfurl the infamous white flag he flew against Andy Roddick at Flushing Meadows? Or would we see the more mature, more tenacious competitor who had won the Sydney International?

The answer? Vote 1. New Improved Bernie.

They might not yet be building a case at the Melbourne Museum in which to exhibit Tomic's heart beside Phar Lap's. But this was a performance of, well, decent perseverance. A routine day at the office for Lleyton Hewitt. And no match for compatriot James Duckworth's inevitably futile four-hour and 52-minute ordeal on court three. Still, a welcome counterpoint to Samantha Stosur's mental meltdown on Wednesday.

There was an asterisk. How had Bernie gotten himself into such a pickle against one of the least celebrated Brands on the ATP Tour, the 120th-ranked German qualifier Daniel Brands?

The sweltering conditions provide no alibi. Tomic hails from Queensland, where, you assume, he occasionally flips the sun roof on his sports car.

Put it down to Tomic's feet, which belonged to one of the statues in the stadium forecourt, not on centre court.

But if Tomic seemed a touch lethargic, this would always be a dangerous assignment. The one after the reassuring first-round victory, and before the blockbuster with Roger Federer.

And, to his credit, Tomic did just enough at the right times. So it is unleashed. The overbearing hype that will engulf the participants in tomorrow night's match. Something, you suspect, Tomic will embrace.

Tomic spared the blushes of the Tennis Australia officials who have suspended him from Davis Cup play. Without him, they would have overseen the worst Australian effort here in the open era.

Besides Tomic, perhaps only Duckworth earned his keep. First because of his name, and then because of his heroic endurance, Duckworth at least gained cult-figure status in his match against Slovakian Blaz Kavcic.

Taking desperate comedic liberties with Duckworth's surname, one spectator blew a duck caller. Soon the chant of "Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack" had risen between games, and there was a chorus of Rubber Duckie as the match entered its fifth enervating hour.

Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter sat courtside to judge whether Duckworth might make - please take pity on me - a quack recruit. And, as he hauled Kavcic to 8-8 in a tortuous fifth set, Duckworth did not look - I am really terribly sorry about this - out of water.

Sadly, however, Duckworth would join the ranks of the brave losers, beaten 10-8 in the fifth.

Tomic was the only Australian to fight on. The nature of his struggle should ensure he has a few more fans in his corner tomorrow night.

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