Melbourne, Jan 16: Bernard Tomic almost blew his big moment on Monday.
Given center stage on the opening day of the Australian Open, the host country's best hope of a men's Grand Slam champion since Lleyton Hewitt, lost the first two sets to Fernando Verdasco on Rod Laver Arena.
The 19-year-old Tomic, though, kept plugging away and eventually won his first-round match 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 as the 22nd-seeded Verdasco wilted in the heat of the afternoon.
By winning, the 19-year-old Tomic avoided some potentially awkward questions. A day earlier, Tomic had spoken confidently of this being a good time to play Verdasco, whom he said “hasn't really done much” in the last six months.
After blowing two set points at 6-5 in the second set and then losing it on a tiebreaker, those words seemed set to haunt him.
Instead, Tomic's request to tournament organizers to play during the day instead of the evening eventually paid off, with Verdasco finding it harder to cope with the 34C (93F) heat than his Spanish rival. Verdasco later complained of having stomach problems during the third set, probably brought on by the conditions.
“I requested that. Silly me,” Tomic said of the scheduling. “Did not know that the heat was going to be like this. It's the first day in the last few months where it's actually been this hot. I chose the wrong time to play.
“But lucky I won.”
In 2010, Tomic complained about finishing a match at 2:10 a.m., saying it was “ridiculous” a player of 17 should be playing that late. After Monday's “torture,” as he described it, Tomic said he would consider requesting an evening slot for his second-round match against Sam Querrey of the United States.
Verdasco may have slipped out of the Top 20, but the experienced Spaniard was playing his 35th straight Grand Slam tournament and hadn't lost in the first round in Melbourne since 2004.
The 2009 semifinalist didn't look willing to play the supporting role as he strode onto Melbourne Park's center court wearing a dazzling, Day-Glo yellow and orange outfit, complete with matching shoes.
Tomic, who reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year and made his first ATP semifinal in Brisbane two weeks ago, has been the focus of much of domestic media attention in the buildup to the tournament, but he seemed anxious, unable to take his chances.
The bold teenager, though, had an unusual plan for the third set.
“I had a feeling he knew I was going to go away. I eased off, as well, I think on purpose,” he said. “I eased off and seemed I didn't care, and I think that's what drew him a little bit tonight.
“He thought he was going to win that third set, and when the right time came, I broke him.”
Tomic hardly had the energy to celebrate his win. After firing a forehand winner into the corner, he dropped his racket, wearily lifted his arms and then leaned on the net as he waited for Verdasco to approach for the handshake.
“I think it was a good task for me today,” Tomic said. “Showed me what I'm capable of doing: anything's possible in the future when you're two sets to love down.”