Teenage dreamer Tomic delights in hitting the height

Melbourne: Bernard Tomic`s rapid rise into the top 50 at the tender age of 19 has created a tidal wave of expectation in Australia ahead of the year`s first grand slam, but the rangy Gold Coast native is merely pleased he may have finally reached his full height.

Since grabbing the world`s attention with his stunning quarter-final run at Wimbledon as an 18-year-old qualifier, Tomic`s ranking has soared to 37 making him far and away Australia`s greatest hope in the men`s draw at Melbourne Park.

The more vital statistic for Tomic, however, is 1.96 metres (six-foot-five), the mark where his slender frame has stopped growing. This has allowed him to improve his court speed and pack on some muscle to compete with the brawny warriors that stalk the top 10.

"I am getting stronger and stronger. I`ve definitely stopped growing tall-wise, which is good," Tomic told reporters at the Kooyong Classic.

"You know, 6`3" - 6`5" is a good height for tennis, I think, if you can move well.

"The best movers are all six-foot, six-foot-one, like Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer). I think I`m moving good for my body. I can move better and I can improve more in the next year."

Tomic, the youngest player to win a match in the main draw of his home grand slam, carries an extra three kilogrammes of muscle into Melbourne Park this year, tipping the scales at 92.

He also carries a far greater load as the man touted to take over from Lleyton Hewitt, the battle-scarred 30-year-old whose 2002 Wimbledon championship feels like a grainy, sepia-toned dream for much of the Australian public.

The sports-mad country that has produced the likes of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad and Margaret Court has proved an unhappy hunting ground for a parade of local grand slam champions in recent years. Hewitt, twice US Open champion Pat Rafter and Wimbledon winner Pat Cash have all come close but ultimately failed.

Stage Fright

Australia`s US Open champion Sam Stosur has never made it past the fourth round at Melbourne Park where her face looms from billboards and has confessed to being regularly struck with stage fright on home soil.

Tomic, however, has rarely looked anything but comfortable in the spotlight and ensured the glare would be a little stronger next week by beating Czech world number seven Tomas Berdych in the opening round of the invitational Kooyong Classic on Wednesday.

The hard-fought 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory at an atrociously windy and rainy day at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne`s leafy east showcased a player in control of his game and excited about where it might take him.

"I think (my movement) is 20 per cent at least better (than last year)," said Tomic, who has blunted the power weapons of more seasoned opponents with a tactical game employing slice, top-spin and finesse.

"I`m serving better and there`s a lot more things to improve on. So it`s a good thing, also knowing that."

Tomic, who took a set off practice partner and eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarter-final, talked of winning a grand slam trophy within two years following that match.

Beaten but not disgraced in a straight sets defeat by Andy Murray in the semi-finals at the Brisbane International last week, the teenager may have appeared to have made a rod for his back in the era of Roger, Rafa and Novak.

But Tomic is too busy enjoying himself to pay heed to the doubters.

"I`ve got a good shot at being seeded in the French (Open) and Wimbledon," he said.

"I haven`t got much points to defend and I think the next four or five months is going to be really, really, really fun."

Bureau Report