Thursday afternoon at Melbourne Park greeted Bernard Tomic with a monster task: Take on one of the biggest serves on tour, and do it on a 40 degree day. Tomic stated in his press conference after his 1st round victory that he would be more than happy to play in the day session, however this may have been lingering on his mind midway through the 2nd set, where he was struggling to make any headway into Daniel Brands’ game. It was only through a calm composure, and taking advantage of opportunities that Tomic was able to grind out a win against a very dangerous player.
Daniel Brands is currently ranked 120 in the world, with a career high ranking of 66 attained in the middle of 2010. Exhibiting a very similar, yet a bit more polished game than Ivo Karlovic, Brands was able to give Tomic no look in on his serve. With an average first serve speed of 203kmh throughout the match combined with deadly accuracy, Brands made it hard for Tomic to get a decent return into the court, let alone break his serve. The first set was a great example of this, with Brands losing only 1 point when his first serve went in. The heat was also a factor in the effectiveness of the Brands’ 1st delivery with the ball zipping through the air at an easier rate than usual. Brands was also not afraid to finish the point at the net, exploiting the poor defence of Tomic when he was so far behind the baseline.
For Tomic, this matchup and the style of play in the first 2 sets would have had him worried. While Tomic is at his best when he is stepping up into the court and getting the first strike in the rally, his defence is not at a level where he can turn a rally back into his favour very easily. Opponents in the past have exploited his movement at the back of the court, pushing him side to side with big groundstrokes and capitalising on a weak reply that would eventually come about. It would be very interesting to see where Tomic hit most of his groundstrokes during a Brands service game in the first 2 sets, but I’m willing to bet it was close to 90% behind the baseline. It was at this point where the local commentary team were struggling to come up with a way that Tomic would win. He couldn’t get a decent return in play, and if he did, he certainly wasn’t overpowering Brands consistently enough to push him deeper in the court.
So how did Tomic come up with a win? He showed composure well beyond his years and experience, and was able to take advantage of any opportunity that arose, something you wouldn’t expect from a 20 year old, especially under the barrage of power tennis that was coming his way. Tomic knew that he had superior shots from the back of the court, so if he could get into the rally somehow he would be able to eventually get into a dominant position. Sacrificing court position on the return was a given, but by directing his returns at the Brands’ backhand, which was by far the weaker shot, Tomic could gain superior court position and therefore swinging the rallies in his favour.
By rights, Brands should have been two sets to love up in the match, being the far superior player over these two sets, however, Tomic made the most of his limited opportunities to break the Brands serve and even up the match. From the beginning of the 3rd set, you could see Tomic was getting a better look at the Brands serve, whether it was through ball toss cues or just a better feeling on the court. Despite these two sets going into tiebreaks, you got the feeling as you do with Ivo Karlovic playing a decent baseliner, eventually a rally will take place on a big point and he won’t have the goods. Brands’ backhand was a classic example of this, letting him down on big points where he needed it the most, showing why his ranking is what it is.
All credit to Tomic in this match. He could have easily panicked in this match when things weren’t going his way, and especially when Brands was serving up bombs on big points. He’s going to need all of this composure during his 3rd round matchup against Roger Federer, where there will no doubt be many occasions where Federer is playing at a level that Tomic can’t handle.