As the 2019 Australian Open develops, tennis watchers are concerned with traditional storylines.
Will Novak Djokovic lift the Norman Brookes trophy for the seventh time? Can Serena Williams match Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam singles titles? Does Tomas Berdych look at the clothes he wears before going on court?
However, the real drama of Melbourne’s first week has been in the press room.
In one corner we have Lleyton Hewitt, the former world no.1 and current Davis Cup captain. In the other, we have world no.88 Bernard ‘get your tape recorders ready’ Tomic.
This time last year, Tomic was a contestant on the Australian version of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here. He has since refocused on professional tennis but still has a taste for reality show dramatics.
After losing his first round match to Marin Cilic on Monday, Bernie unloaded on Hewitt in the post match press conference. It’s really something, have a listen for yourself:
Watch Bernard tomic's sensational attack on Australia's Davis Cup captain, warning the best local players don't want to play for Australia while Lleyton Hewitt was there. ?#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/H8jA79zyvj
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 14, 2019
First, Tomic questioned how Hewitt could be Davis Cup captain while still semi-active on the tour.
At the tail end of 2018, the 37-year-old played doubles in Australia’s Davis Cup World Group play-off with Austria (which they won). Traditionally, Davis Cup captains do not play ties though Hewitt says he was asked to partner John Peers as opposed to just picking himself.
Tomic then went on to allege that the Aussie legend favours certain young guns (Alex de Minaur, Alex Bolt and Marc Polmans) at the expense of Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernie himself.
And just for the spice, Bernie said that “no one likes [Hewitt] anymore” and that he should just “go away”. Many players who clashed with Hewitt and heard those annoying cries of ‘COME ON!!!’ over the years might share that last sentiment.
Clearly, Lleyton had to respond to Bernie and so we got Thursday’s extraordinary rebuttal from ‘Rusty’.
Hewitt first threw a jab.
“That is what we’ve come to expect from Bernie. Whatever grand slam it is. After a first round loss, he’ll come out with something.”
Last year, for example, Tomic gave us a Mayweather-esque quote for the ages after his loss in Aussie Open qualifying: “I just count my money. That’s all I do. I count my millions”.
Here’s a taster of Hewitt’s riposte:
The two-time major winner then revealed that he has been on the receiving end of abuse and even blackmail from the world no.88, leading him to cease contact.
“For me it was probably the abuse I copped from him. In the end I drew a line in the sand and haven’t spoke to him since. He won’t play Davis Cup while I have anything to do with it.’
‘The threats I’ve received for me and my family, that I’ve had for a year and half now, I don’t think anyone would reach out to him again to a person who speaks like that.”
Hewitt also called Tomic a “clown” who failed to meet the “cultural standards” he’s trying to set for the Australian team. Tomic might find that last point interesting as it comes from a captain who got in plenty of trouble for on court outbursts over the years.
Tomic and Hewitt “have previous” you might say, including this wonderful anecdote from The Age.
In 2009, Tomic passed on a practice session with Hewitt at Wimbledon. Hewitt’s physio Ivan Gutierrez claimed that Tomic wanted to hit with Juan Carlos Ferrero instead but the then 16-year-old provided a different reason.
“I had swine flu and I couldn’t play, really, so it wouldn’t have been fair to expose Lleyton to the sickness I had.”
Tomic lost in qualifying for the senior event at SW19 but went on to make the last four of the boy’s draw.
As you can see, things are never dull in Australian men’s tennis with Lleyton, Bernie and Nick spraying hot takes all over the press room. However, you do wonder what Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and the other Aussie legends make of the headlines.