Update 7:20 pm. Hometown hero Bernard Tomic has won his first match at the Brisbane International, holding his nerve in an enthralling three-set contest against experienced French campaigner Julien Benneteau to move into the second round.
After Benneteau won two tight three-set matches against Tomic last year, the two continued the trend in their first match of 2012. But it was Tomic who outlasted his opponent at Pat Rafter Arena today, getting the crucial break at 6-5 in the third to clinch the match 6-2 4-6 7-5.
Coming in as the eighth seed, the 19-year-old Australian said it’s the ones you’re expected to win that are sometimes the hardest, and having never won a round here, he’s thrilled to have the burden off his back.
“It’s always tough, especially the first round here in a tournament you haven’t won a round in since you’ve played tennis, so I think it’s a good win for me,” he said.
“Winning a round here is a good breakthrough and it gives me confidence to play in the next rounds. To be more focused and win more matches is a good goal and not to lose first round, so I’m happy I didn’t do that.”
Despite the misleading scoreline, the first set proved to be an indicator of what was to come, with the majority of games going to deuce. But a late break back for Benneteau signalled a shift in momentum to the Frenchman.
It was Benneteau who got on top at the crucial moments in the second set, firing on his serve and getting the critical break at 3-3 while Tomic couldn’t capitalise on both break-point opportunities.
“First set I think I played the right tennis the way I’ve been training. I think it was really good,” he said.
“I played really well and didn’t give him a chance and then the match turned around. It just shows you how a few points can turn around a whole match and makes it go the way you could probably lose it in the third.”
With both players battling for momentum, it looked like it was Benneteau’s match to lose when he broke the Australian teen for a 3-2 lead in the third. But, Tomic kept his head, breaking straight back after a rally of dangerous slice backhands and a crosscourt forehand winner.
Swapping service games, every point was a contest and neither player was willing to concede, but the Frenchman—who turned 30 last month—started suffering from what looked to be cramping, shifting his game to try to end points quickly.
With the packed crowd hanging on every shot, Tomic squandered two match points at 5-4 in the third and then again at 6-5, until a disappointing double fault from Benneteau on the sixth match point ended what turned out to be a testing but ultimately satisfying first day for Tomic.
“To get back from a situation like that is good. We played a few times last year and he’s always been a very funny match where he’s been up and I’ve been up and it’s turned around. Today that was in my head a little bit, especially when he won that second set,” he said.
Despite showing some nervous errors and losing five match points, Tomic is confident he’s figured out how to play those close matches, but he was more than happy to take the last point double fault.
“I’ve started figuring out how to play in third sets. It’s important to start early and get on top of the third set early. Today I didn’t, but I came back and I returned well after that 3-2 service game that he was up,” he said.
“It’s really frustrating, especially after you had a few match points then you think about it. Then it comes to your third, fourth, fifth match point and you don’t know what to do anymore and you just do the wrong thing, so I’m happy that he double faulted and I didn’t have to do anything.”
For Tomic, the win means more matches, which he said is all important heading into the Australian Open, where he will face even tougher expectations.
“I need matches and if I keep winning I’ll be getting matches under my belt, so it’s an important thing for me to get as many matches as I can before the slam starts,” he said.
Now through to the second round of the draw, Tomic would relish the chance to play fellow Gold Coast resident Ben Mitchell, who is set to play qualifier Tatsuma Ito tomorrow.
“I trained with him in the Davis Cup in a team, so I know Benny well and it’d be good if he could win … We’ll see how it goes. I’d like to play him in the second round,” he said.