Tomic the Tank Engine be damned.
Bernard Tomic has bucked his flaky on-court reputation with a third-straight hard-fought victory to qualify for the Australian Open for the first time.
Fellow Queenslander John-Patrick Smith was his final victim, with Tomic’s blazing forehand return winner on match point sealing a topsy-turvy 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (10-7) victory under lights in Doha.
The 28-year-old didn’t play a grand slam main draw match last year for the first time in more than a decade, including falling at the first hurdle in Australian Open qualifying 12 months ago.
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Bernard Tomic has won his way back on to the main stage of Australian tennis. Picture: AAP Image/Julian SmithSource:AAP
Once ranked 17th in the world, Tomic started his latest Open assault as the world No. 228, with his career at the crossroads and relationship with Tennis Australia in tatters.
He even claimed he was “lucky” to advance to final-round qualifying, given 19-year-old West Australian Tristan Schoolkate double-faulted while holding match point against him.
However, a different Tomic lobbed at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex this week.
The man infamous for the swiftest defeat in ATP history – a 28-minute, 20-second humiliation at the hands of Finn Jarkko Nieminen in Miami seven years ago – dug deep in all of his matches.
Tomic first eliminated 14th seed Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, then outlasted Schoolkate 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (10-3).
Even with so much on the line, he floated in and out of his clash with Smith and was forced to play catch up in the opening two sets after slipping 0-3 behind on both occasions.
Tomic reeled off five consecutive games to clinch a one-set advantage, including his first outward sign of intensity with a vigorous fist pump after a superb backhand winner delivered him a 5-4 lead.
Tomic has endured a long stint in the tennis wilderness. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan PeledSource:News Corp Australia
At five-all in the second set he noticeably upped the ante and seemed ready to pounce, earning a break point, only to spray a forehand wide.
It was the fortune Smith needed as he held serve, then watched as Tomic gifted him three unforced errors in a befuddling few minutes as the contest went to a deciding set.
Smith went on to play his best tennis of the match as the pair went toe-to-toe throughout the final set, which extended to a match tiebreak.
Tomic raced to a 3-0 lead and never trailed – despite Smith managing to drag the score back to four-all – before his exclamation mark finish earned him his 11th main draw appearance at Melbourne Park.
The news wasn’t so good for the other remaining Australian, teenager Dane Sweeny, whose bright start soon faded in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 loss to Ukrainian veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Among the other notable qualifiers was 17-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who became the first male player born in 2003 to qualify for a grand slam.
Wimbledon semi-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Timea Babos, Viktor Troicki, Sara Errani, Elias Ymer, Whitney Osuigwe, Quentin Halys, Gregoire Barrere and Kaja Juvan also progressed to the main draw.
The 16 qualifiers in both the men’s and women’s draw, plus six alternates, will now travel by charter flight to Melbourne to serve 14 days’ mandatory quarantine ahead of the Open on February 8.
Originally published asTomic claims winning ticket to Aus Open
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