- Lindsay Berra
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Australian 15-year-old Bernard Tomic completed an unprecedented trifecta on Saturday at the prestigious Orange Bowl Junior tournament in Florida, defeating Jose Pereira of Brazil in the final of the 16-and-under division, 6-2, 7-5.
In 2004, Tomic won the under-12 championship, and in 2006 he took the under-14 title, showing a level of consistency often lacking in players his age.
Tomic is the highest-ranked 15-year-old in the world and sports an overall ITF junior ranking of 20; that ranking is misleading, however, because most of the players above him are nearly four years older. His ranking qualified him to play in the under-18 division of the Orange Bowl, but Tomic, his coach and father, John, and his management company, IMG, have repeatedly stressed winning at every level and opted for under-16s instead.
"My development is very important to me," Tomic told the Australian Press after Saturday's win. "My career is not a sprint, but a marathon."
IMG learned a lesson in 2005 when client Donald Young accepted a U.S. Open wild card at 16. Young lost a one-sided match to Italy's Giorgio Galimberti in the first round, and IMG has vowed not to make the same mistake with Tomic. It is rumored they turned down a wild-card entry into the main draw of January's Australian Open, which would have made Tomic, at 15 years, 3 months, the youngest to ever play the main draw in Melbourne (Lleyton Hewitt holds the record at 15 years, 11 months). Tomic will instead concentrate his efforts on the junior tournament, where he'll likely be seeded in the top five.
"The Orange Bowl is a significant win for Bernard. It gives him confidence and a big mental advantage going into tournaments in 2008," said IMG tennis executive Lawrence Frankopan. "Bernard still needs to develop a lot; however, slowly but surely he is creating a solid foundation to build on and to take to the ATP Tour next year."
Tomic has lofty goals. He has stated repeatedly that he wants to have the heart of Hewitt, the serve of Goran Ivanisevic and the ground strokes of Roger Federer. And he wants to be Australia's youngest-ever Davis Cup player (he's got time; John Alexander was 17 years, 6 months old in 1968). But Tomic is on the right track. In September, he was a member of Australia's gold-medal winning Junior Davis Cup team.
"I feel I get into a zone when I step on court. Not much around me, nor the crowd, score or anything else distracts me from getting the job done," Tomic said. "I have a good sense of the court and I anticipate the other players' shots in advance."
Tomic plans to be back in Florida in 2009 to make a run at the Orange Bowl grand slam in the Under-18 event. But for now, he'll focus on Australian Juniors, and after that will play Future's tournaments in New Zealand and Europe.
"I'm young," he said. "I still have so much to learn."
Lindsay Berra is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Combine the heart of Lleyton Hewitt, Goran Ivanisevic's serve and Roger Federer's ground strokes, and what do you get? The hopes and aspirations of Australia's next great tennis player.