Former top-20 player and present-day tank artist Bernard Tomic vowed last month that he would give tennis one more go. “I’m going to try and turn this around and give myself the best chance in the next couple of years,” he said. That campaign of sincerity started and possibly ended on Monday, when the world No. 257 played his first match of the qualifying rounds of the Australian Open.
Tomic lost the first set to No. 146 Roman Safiullin in a tidy 23 minutes; at times, he literally took his own pulse between points. Something was off, but the reason may have not been his usual disillusionment with the sport of tennis. Down 1-2 in the second set, Tomic told the umpire he would soon test positive for COVID-19 and complained about the quality of testing at the Open.
“I will buy you dinner if I don’t test positive in three days. Otherwise, you buy me dinner,” he said. “I cannot believe nobody is getting tested. They are allowing players to come on the court with rapid tests in their room … no official PCR testing.” He proceeded to play a little better in the second set before he lost to Safiullin, 6-1, 6-4.
According to guidelines obtained by Simon Cambers at Tennis Majors, the COVID-19 plan for players arriving in Australia to warm up for the Open involved less testing than last year’s. Vaccination was mandatory (except in cases of a valid medical exemption, which Novak Djokovic is now rather eventfully trying to prove). Players were tested on arrival, and then tested again in a 5-to-7 day window afterward. If they tested negative, they could move freely, unless they presented symptoms or had close contacts. A household contact testing positive required an isolation period, and a non-household contact required a period of daily testing. Otherwise, players are “strongly encouraged” but not required to test daily before arriving on site.
After losing his match, Tomic wrote on Instagram that he was “feeling really sick” and had been told to isolate by on-site doctors. There’s a boy-who-cried-wolf dynamic at play: Tomic very well could have COVID-19, and a number of players have tested positive in Australia. He is also Tomic the Tank Engine, the man who once held his racket backward while returning on match point in Madrid in 2016. At the 2019 French Open, he was upset at an umpire for overruling a call that would have lost him the match. At Wimbledon that same year, he was fined his first-round prize money when he lost in 58 minutes. His best tennis abandoned him years ago, but he’s never stopped innovating in the field of throwing matches, so he might be adding a novel twist to that rich tradition. We wish him a cure to whatever ails him, medically and/or spiritually.
Update (Jan. 13, 10:14 a.m. ET): Tomic tested positive for COVID-19 two days after his match. “I know it might not seem like it but this is the start of my return,” he said. “Due to the illness, I just couldn’t fire on all cylinders. As much as I tried, I didn’t have the energy to fight. I’m going to do everything it takes to get back to the top. I really appreciate everyone’s support.”