I cannot stand hype, especially when the beneficiaries brandish brash opinions of themselves as athletic gods. The buildup often comes from the media yet often derives from forlorn fans desperate to have their team or country matter on a national or global scale.
Australia is experiencing summer now, and I feel many Aussies may be suffering from heat exhaustion, as so many feel that a native will capture the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam on the tennis calendar. Please note they reside in a land with a tremendous tennis history, but no Australian has won the singles title since Christine O’Neil secured the ladies’ singles crown in 1978. I am using context to have you appreciate how long ago that is, as your humble author, who often speaks of being old, was a few months away from conception.
Bernard Tomic won the 2008 boys’ singles tournament, and that propaganda machine began spewing plaudits for a player with an unorthodox game and supposedly boundless talent. Fast forward to today. The 19-year-old, already having to deal with accusations that he cheated in his third round match, faced four-time Aussie Open champion and my idol (yes, I have a tennis idol) Roger Federer on Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s top court.
I read plenty of chatter that said the match could signal a changing of the guard, as Aussies noted that Federer achieved his breakthrough as a 19-year-old by eliminating seven-time champion Pete Sampras in Wimbledon’s 2001 fourth round. Sampras, the all-time leader in major championships until Federer, 30, now with 16, scored his 15th at the 2009 Wimbledon championships, was 29 when suffering a five-set loss to the Swiss forehand machine, so I could see the age parallels. What differed? The fact that Federer hails from a land sans hype.
Australia is 16 hours ahead of us on the East Coast, so the scheduled 7 p.m. start meant I would need a 3 a.m. wakeup if I wished to see a definite great against a presumed one. I figured sleeping until 5 would still give me a chance to catch the third set and on, but I found a women’s match delighting the crowd. Fairly calm, I went online to learn that Federer had thumped Tomic, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, in under two hours. The teenager awed his mates over three matches, but Federer has attained legendary status for breaking tons of hearts. Highlights showed Tomic way out of place on many shots and feeling resigned to say at least he played Federer in the marksman’s 999th career match.
With his exit, the hype monster must pine for Bernie to regroup and mature quickly, as Federer did in collecting his first major two months shy of turning 22. The latter marches on to yet another quarterfinal and engineered a weak end at Bernie’s. Pardon the pun, as I could not resist using it, much like the Aussies cannot refrain from advocating even marginal chances.