By Randy Walker
“Weekend at Bernie’s” was how Chris Fowler of ESPN2 set up Saturday’s anticipated and hyped Australian Open third-round match between Roger Federer and Aussie Bernard Tomic.
But it is uncertain whether “Bernie,” the brash 20-year-old Tomic playing at Rod Laver Arena – the tennis equivalent of a beach house in the Hamptons – will indeed have the on-court presence similar to a limp dead corpse of the cinematic “Bernie” from the 1989 comedic film.
Tomic does have prior experience of playing the part of a lifeless body on a tennis court in big Grand Slam matches, most recently and notably his 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 described “tank” loss to Andy Roddick in the last Grand Slam tournament at the 2012 US Open.
When it comes to making an opponent look deceased in early-round matches at major championships, Federer is the Oscar winner. He has not lost before the quarterfinal round at a major in his last 34 Grand Slam tournaments – inflicting lethal straight-set beat downs seemingly at will, including his 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Tomic in this tournament’s fourth round last year.
Tomic, however, is now flush with confidence, fresh off his first-career ATP singles title in Sydney last week and an undefeated singles run at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth the week before, that included a win over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. And it hasn’t been just Tomic’s play that has been brash and confident, but his mouth as well, throwing out brazen, almost disrespectful comments towards Federer, the four-time Australian Open champion and winner of a men’s record 17 major singles titles.
The most notable of the cocky statements came when he was asked to characterize his potential third-round match with Federer prior to the start of the tournament. Tomic responded, “Well, if he gets that far.”
The comment sent a shock wave through the tennis community as Federer is not only one of the most respected and well-liked people in tennis, but as one poll indicated, he is only more globally admired than former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Tomic has since tried to downplay the talk to an extent, while still projecting a confident stance of belief that he can beat Federer.
“This is the perfect time to play him,” said Tomic after his second-round 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-6(8) win over Daniel Brands of Germany Thursday. “I think I can do it. I’m ready. I not going to say I don’t have the belief. I have the belief.”
When asked to comment about the bold talk from the young Tomic, Federer said after his win 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 over Nikolay Davydenko Thursday night that Tomic is actually on target.
“He’s right. He’s not lost a match this season. He’s confident and he’s in Australia and it’s not in the final,” Federer told ESPN2’s Tom Rinaldi.
With the hype – and with both Federer and Tomic playing top-flight tennis at the moment – Saturday’s showing of “Weekend at Bernies” on Rod Laver Arena will be a guaranteed box-office smash hit.