Bernard Tomic’s confidence is through the roof.
It came from winning eight straight matches – three at the Hopman Cup, including one over top-ranked Novak Djokovic, and five during his title run in Sydney – in the lead-up to Australian Open 2013.
It’s what led him to declare that he is aiming for the top 10 by the end of the year – “the way I’ve been playing now, there’s no stopping me,” he said prior to Sydney – and deliver this warning: “I feel unstoppable, I feel I’m playing great tennis. When you know no-one can beat you, not to even the No.1, you’ve got a good feeling.”
That feeling helped him continue his sizzling summer with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 win over 72nd-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina on Tuesday night, his ninth consecutive victory and arguably one of the most impressive in a January jam-packed with highlights.
Tomic looked perfectly at home in the feature night-match timeslot on Rod Laver Arena, relishing the spotlight – unlike many of his compatriots – and buoyed by the reclamation of his top-ranked Australian male status.
“I felt in control the whole match. Off the ground I played pretty good, served pretty decent. I'm happy,” he said.
For all his classic flair – stylish serves and crisp one-handed backhands were the most notable – Mayer was unable to dent Tomic’s armoury.
That may have been something to do with the strapping on his right hand after reportedly injuring it in a fire-cracker incident on New Year’s Eve.
It probably, however, was mostly due to Tomic’s exemplary play. The usual ingredients were there, such as extreme variations in pace, spin and trajectory, and tendency to play those unorthodox flat-footed, slapped groundstrokes devoid of spin.
But the much-discussed improvements in his game were also evident, including more nimble court coverage – the result of a strong off-season focus on fitness – and especially on serve.
“Last year I was struggling – we all know that – but the last two months is where I have improved. I'm feeling so good out on court, and I'm going to keep this up. I like getting out on court now and feeling like this and playing and winning,” Tomic said.
“It's just an amazing feeling, so I'm just going to keep doing it.”
Mayer was unable to make any inroads on Tomic’s delivery, resulting in visible frustration. And when the Aussie broke to move ahead 4-2 in the opening set, the Argentine had as good as kissed the match goodbye.
The 20-year-old made sure of it, slamming a 200km/h ace down the T to open the eighth game and forcing a pair of errors from Mayer’s racquet to secure a trio of set points. When the Argentine framed a forehand well wide, Tomic had pocketed a one-set lead in just 26 minutes.
Mayer threw in a dreadful game to begin the second set, playing a drop shot that landed on the service line that Tomic easily threaded for a winner, and then framing another forehand outside the doubles alley to hand the Australian two break points. Another forehand error directly followed and Tomic had the break, which he consolidated for a 2-0 lead.
Although Mayer appeared to have settled when he clubbed a pair of winners in the third game to get on the board, it didn’t stop Tomic from scoring another service break to skip out to a 5-2 lead.
A game and a wrong-footing forehand later, and the local found himself leading two-sets-to-love.
Tomic, an impressive front-runner, showed no let-up in intensity. He weathered Mayer’s last push – the Argentine went toe-to-toe with him for the first six games of the set – before making his move in the seventh, breaking to lead 4-3.
All fight then drained from Mayer’s game. Sensing this, Tomic appeared to almost toy with his opponent, rifling winners with ease and throwing in a healthy dose of short balls, watching as the Argentine repeatedly botched his volleys.
A final backhand error handed Tomic victory in just over 90 minutes, setting him up on a second-round date with German qualifier Daniel Brands.
Admitting that he would prepare for that match using YouTube clips of his opponent, Tomic, thankfully, said that he was focusing on that match only, and not on the looming third round clash with second seed Roger Federer everyone appears intent on discussing.
“Tennis is very strange. I have learned that last year. I played a lot of strange matches and lost a lot of matches I should have won,” he said.
“(In) the next round I have to play a player who I don't know as well. I haven't practiced with him a lot, and it can be as difficult. He just beat the top 30 players, so it's difficult. And obviously Roger is playing (Nikolay) Davydenko now. It's not easy. That's a guy that's also beaten him a few times before, so we have tough rounds.
“I've got to win next round.”