Tomic beats Dolgopolov in 5 sets to reach last 16
The future of men's tennis took center stage at the Australian Open on Friday, and left a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd wondering what they were watching.
They got the result they wanted as Aussie teenager Bernard Tomic won a cat-and-mouse battle with Alexandr Dolgopolov, another potential star of men's tennis with a near-identical game.
''Isn't it like a mirror? Now I know how it is playing myself,'' Tomic said in an on-court interview after a 4-6, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3 win that lasted 3 hours, 49 minutes.
The 19-year-old Australian set up a fourth-round meeting with his childhood hero, Roger Federer, that is guaranteed to take top billing at Melbourne Park on Sunday.
''I've watched his matches since he won that first Wimbledon (in 2003),'' Tomic said. ''To me, I don't enjoy watching tennis, but when Roger plays on TV, it's a pleasure to watch.''
Tomic, Australia's best hope of ending a 36-year wait for a homegrown men's singles winner, is through to the last 16 in Melbourne for the first time. He needed five sets to beat Fernando Verdasco in the first round, and four to get the better of Sam Querrey.
Dolgopolov was a different test altogether.
It wasn't just the nearly 15,000 spectators inside Rod Laver Arena who were engrossed by the meeting of two players who use ''slice and dice'' tactics to either set up a winner or lure their opponent into a mistake.
After his second-round win Thursday, Andy Murray said he planned to watch some of Friday's match because ''Tomic has just got a funky game, so different to everyone nowadays ... there will be some junk in that match for sure.''
Former Australian Open champion Mats Wilander tweeted ''just a fun,weird match,'' while renowned tennis coach Darren Cahill described the players as ''slicing & dicing the ears off the balls,'' also in a Twitter post.
Many rallies became a battle of wits, the players slicing the ball back and forth, daring the other to make the first move.
Early in the first set, the 23-year-old Dolgopolov ended an 18-shot exchange of bewildering variety with a drop shot that completely wrong-footed Tomic. The Ukrainian could have powered the ball into the open court, but chose the more difficult, more unexpected option.
''U watching Dolgo v Tomic and saying tennis players all play same style these days??'' tweeted Patrick McEnroe, head of player development at the United States Tennis Association.
There were 10 breaks of serve in the match. Tomic hit 41 winners to Dolgopolov's 80 - a stat that summed up the bizarre nature of the match.
''It was very difficult to play. Very hard,'' Tomic said. ''The shots are coming back to you the same. I think we played a good tennis match. It was good tennis.''
Both players had breakthrough years in 2011. Dolgopolov, instantly recognizable by his long hair swept back into a ponytail and kept in place by a hairband, beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the way to the Australian Open quarterfinals and broke into the top 20 by the end of the year.
Tomic became the youngest man since Boris Becker in 1986 to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals and took the first set against eventual champion Novak Djokovic before bowing out. He came into this tournament at a career-high No. 38 in the rankings.
Friday's match ebbed and flowed all the way. Dolgopolov, coached by Australian Jack Reader, needed treatment for a back injury during the fourth set and though he won it, he faded in the decider, as a partisan crowd urged Tomic home.
Tomic has played Federer once before, losing in four close sets on grass in a Davis Cup tie last year. The Australian is relieved Sunday's match won't his first against the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
''I looked up to him a lot. He was like my idol, so to play him and have a feel for him, even on grass ... is good for me,'' he said. ''To me, he's the best player to play.''