The tennis world down under has been roiled by beef. Former Australian great Lleyton Hewitt now captains his country’s Davis Cup team, but he isn’t very popular among his young charges, if you take the word of Bernard Tomic, the prickly 26-year-old who was long ago one of Australia’s brightest prospects and more recently its most artful tanker (a competitive category).
Right after losing his first-round Australian Open match in straight sets to No. 6 Marin Cilic, Tomic was asked the somewhat charged question of whether he’d play in the Davis Cup, something he hasn’t done since 2016, which is roughly when his tennis career dove off the tracks and towards reality television. This question apparently created an opening for Tomic to go off on Hewitt, calling him personally unpleasant, wrapped up in his own semi-career instead of the careers of young players, and caught up in conflicts of interests with his own management company. “You’re not playing, bro. You’re retired,” he said, among other things.
Tomic is hardly the most sympathetic witness, but it is odd for a Davis Cup captain to be hanging onto the dregs of his playing career instead of prioritizing his young players. Tomic also said that players he claims are signed to Hewitt’s management company have received Australian Open main draw wild cards from Tennis Australia, whereas an injury-ravaged but talented player like Thanasi Kokkinakis had to grind through qualifiers. (It could be that there’s some favoritism at play, but the wild card system is itself a weird form of institutionalized favoritism.) Anyway, Tomic made sure to loop his fellow Aussies into his public complaint: “Absolutely, Kokkinakis, Kyrgios, we don’t want to play [Davis Cup] anymore because he’s ruined it. He’s ruined the system. Like, go away.”
Those other two players were forced to confront the beef head-on. Kokkinakis, who had to retire from his first-round match with pectoral pain despite winning his first set, couldn’t have offered a milder reply when asked about Davis Cup:
“Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I would play. It would be cool being back home. I actually love playing Davis Cup for Australia. I had some good memories when I was younger—especially when I was 18, an away-from-home win in my first live rubber, but it would be cool to play back home.”
If the goal was to provoke a spicy quote, Kokkinakis wasn’t game. But reporters have historically had decent luck with Nick Kyrgios on that front. As soon as the now-unseeded Aussie lost his first-round match in straights to No. 16 seed Milos Raonic, the local press pounced. Over a five-minute press conference, Kyrgios was prodded and prodded:
Finally, when asked if he supported Hewitt as Australia’s Davis Cup captain, Kyrgios burped out an exhausted reply: “Um, sure.” This doesn’t exactly square with what Nick recently tweeted and deleted about being “abandon” by Hewitt in Brisbane last week, though.
Speaking to the Herald Sun (paywall) later, Tomic dredged up some two-year-old emails, in which he claimed to have threatened Hewitt, “‘If he ever tries to talk to me, I’ll knock him out.’” Hewitt later shrugged all this off as “Bernie being Bernie and losing and going on and complaining about a few things.” The bosses at Tennis Australia would prefer this to be settled behind closed doors instead of out in public.
Anyway, now that Kokkinakis, Kyrgios, and Tomic were knocked out in round one, for reasons having to do with injury, tough opponents, and/or being Bernard Tomic, maybe no one will have to focus all too hard on Australian men’s tennis for much longer. Except for Alex De Minaur! That kid’s great. Good luck, Alex.