Bernie Tomic edges great volleyer Stepanek, to face Kei Nishikori


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It’s time for Tomic to step up. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

BRISBANE, Jan. 6, 2016  – The so-called younger males should rise up this year. It’s not like this group are teenagers, and they all have been around on tour for five years or more. But, these days, the veterans continue to improve — the Big 4-plus 1: Novak Djokovic (28 years old), Andy Murray (28 years old), Roger Federer (34 years old), Rafa Nadal (29 years old) and Stan Wawrinka (30 years old).

Clearly, the kids have to improve greatly if they want can actually win a major this season.

On Wednesday night, the 23-year-old Aussie Bernard Tomic went on court to face the old-but-not-tired veteran Radek Stepanek. The Czech is now 37 years old and he missed most of 2015 due to injury. He was 3-0 against the Aussie, but they are never played on hard courts before.

This time, Tomic hung in there. Stepanek sliced and diced, coming to the net constantly, volleying 55 times with 37 winners. Not bad at all.

Here is what Tomic had to say: “I think he has for sure the best volleys going around now. The feel, the way he covers the net, shows why he’s an amazing athlete the last 10 years on the tour. I cannot think of another person that volleys that great like him.”

However, the former No. 8 Stepanek hiccuped late, spaying the ball at the very end. Tomic won 7-6(6) 4-6 7-6(4).

At times, Tomic can disappear, but he can be extremely steady and he doesn’t mind mixing up his pace. Even though he is tall and muscular, he rarely goes for the lines right off the bat. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t, but against Stepanek, he stepped in when he needed to. He moved around his forehand and backhand and ,when he lulled Stepanek to sleep, he whacked winners down the line.

Now he has to face Kei Nishikori, who beat him 6-0 6-4 in the quarters of 2015 Brisbane. The Japanese started very well today when the 25-year-old beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-4.

Nishikori reached the 2014 US Open final, and he looked like he was ready to race past Marin Cilic in the final. But he could not and he went down quietly. Last year, Nishikori was fairly solid, but he was not spectacular. This year, he has to take more risks.

“Mentally I have to be a little more stronger. But I been doing really good things from last year, and very happy to finish top eight again last year,” Nishikori said. “Try to have good confidence and try beat all the top 10 players. That’s going to be a big challenge for me.”

Here’s a big challenge for Tomic: Can he take down one of the better competitors out there? ‘Bernie’ always comes to play in Australia. To take down Nishikori, he must to dominate early, because Nishikori is certainly faster than he is.

“He’s the top in the world. Not easy,” Tomic said. “I have to earn my position to be there. Obviously beating me last year on these courts it’s showing me he can play amazing on this surface. It’s not just to me. He’s beaten everyone on the tour and everyone fears to play him. Even Rafa, Novak, Roger. He’s had so many wins over these guys, and I have to play well from the start to have any chance of beating him.”

The 25-year-old Milos Raonic has yet to play yet, but on Wednesday he talked with the press and said yes, he can snare at the major, if the tall and strong man can move forward.

Cilic won his match, besting Chung Hyeon of South Korea 7-5 7-6(3). The 27-year-old Croatian said that last year his serve was spotty so he changed it up a bit. He will face the 22-yeard-old Dominic Thiem, who won three titles last year on clay. The Austrian says that he likes the hard courts too, so we will see if he is ready to dance.


Petkovic is more playful after the match is over. Mal Taam/MALTphoto


On Tuesday, with Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova pulling out due to injuries, it looked like that No. 3 Garbine Muguruza was the favorite. Nope. On Wednesday night, the Spaniard pulled out after losing the first set 11-9 in the tiebreak against Varvara Lepchenko. Muguruza’s left foot was too painful and she didn’t want to risk it. What a strange week indeed.

Victoria Azarenka was hurt too much last year, but now, she looks a little thinner and she is quicker on her feet. She took down the Belgium Ysaline Bonaventure 6-3 6-2. She has to face Roberta Vinci, who is red-hot, but Azarenka has won two Slams at the Aussie Open, so if she is feeling right, she could certainly win the tournament. It’s been a long time.

Here was a real shocker when the 20-year-old Samantha Crawford of the U.S. beat the Swiss Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5. The 6-foot-2 Crawford can the crack ball but she is still has miles to go. She will place a smart veteran Andrea Petkovic who beat Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-4. The always laughing and smiling Petkovic (off court, mind you) has never played Crawford before.