He said it was torture but, after getting the Australian Open off to a gloriously dramatic start, Bernard Tomic admitted that he was "so happy" with himself.
And so he should be. Playing for four hours in blustery, enervating heat on Rod Laver Arena, Tomic battled back from two sets to love down to beat the experienced Spanish left-hander, Fernando Verdasco, 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
And to think Tomic’s weakness was perceived to be his physical condition. Tomic admitted that he had been doing extra work on the bike in recent weeks.
"Had I not done fitness work in the last two or three months there’s no way mentally you can be out there in the heat and turn around a match like that," he said. "It’s being able to push yourself when it’s impossible to win."
It had seemed impossible when Tomic wasted three set points at the end of the second set on Verdasco’s serve – trying a silly drop shot and missing an easy forehand – because the Spaniard, who has trained with Andre Agassi’s fitness guru Gil Reyes in Las Vegas, is known as one of the strongest players on the tour.
But Tomic suggested that he tried a little bit of a psychological con trick at the beginning of the third. He tried to make Verdasco think he had thrown in the towel.
"I knew if I lifted my game early, he would have lifted his as well and he wouldn’t have let go," Tomic explained. "I pretended a little bit in the first few games in that third set not to be there mentally but, in a way, to still be there. And then, when the right time came, I broke him."
A cool customer, this young man who has shown much promise here on Rod Laver over the past couple of years but has often seemed less motivated when playing in lesser tournaments like Delray Beach, where eleven months ago, he failed to qualify for the main draw. But he broke through at Wimbledon where he reached the quarterfinals after upsetting No. 5 seed Robin Soderling and, with this performance, has cemented his place as one of the best young talents the game has to offer.
Tomic has a Federer-like quality of making the game look easy. He glides about court, hitting smooth strokes and, almost languidly, getting in to the net when the opportunity arrives. He hit some terrific winners, especially off his forehand, but refuted the idea that he pulled the trigger and went for a big shot on match point.
"There was no way I was going for a (big) shot," he said. "No way. I just switched the rally. I can do that really well. I just switched and caught him out. He thought I was going for the backhand corner instead of down the line and he couldn’t run for it."
After four hours of the kind of tennis these two produced it was amazing either of them could run for anything and Tomic thoroughly deserved the standing ovation he received from 15,000 happy Australians at the end.
American No. 1 Mardy Fish had a much easier time of it out on Court Three where wind gusts did not put him off. In fact he seemed to relish the conditions as he took care of the Luxembourg left hander Gilles Muller 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
"It’s tough for everyone when it’s been 65 and windy every day you’ve been here and all of a sudden the first day of the tournament it’s 90," he said. "But I like those conditions. I mean, I like it hot. It’s not easy for everyone but I prefer to play in that."
Asked how he was approaching the new season from his unaccustomed position of being the top-ranked American, Fish replied, "It never ends. I really enjoy the position I’m in as the top American but there’s no room to breathe. You don’t want to overplay but you need matches. This year with the condensed schedule (because of the Olympics) there’s going to be a lot of times when you only have a few days off after a lot of tournaments. So you have to pick and choose your spots wisely, I guess."
Donald Young came through a strange encounter with the German newcomer Peter Gojowczyk, allowing his opponent back into the match after leading by two sets to love and then reclaiming the initiative in the fifth to win 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2.
Young had put in some intensive fitness work in Atlanta in the offseason, and this gave him the confidence to come through in the fifth. "He upped his game in the third and got some confidence going but I was able to pump myself up in the fifth and get the break," said Young who has added six pounds of much needed muscle to his frame in the last few weeks.
Denis Kudler, another young American with less experience than Young, could not handle the fire power German veteran Tommy Haas — ranked No. 2 in the world in 2002 — and went down 7-6, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.