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Patrick Hruby

Office Talk

Bernard Tomic's only sin was being honest about his job.
By Patrick Hruby | VICE Sports | July 2017

You're at happy hour after a long day at the office, having drinks with a co-worker. Let's call him, uh, Bernie. He's a mid-career professional, been around the block, mostly does good work. Not a company superstar, but he's pretty damn successful.

Lately, though, Bernie's TPS reports have been uninspired. In fact, his most recent submission was downright sloppy. You ask him what's wrong, and he comes clean: he's a little bored. Not really hungry to conquer the corporate world, the way he once was as an intern. He's making good money, his output is generally perfectly fine, and he's thinking more and more about riding things out until he can drop anchor off Key West and crack open a cold one.

In response, do you:

a) Nod knowingly and order another round, because what he's saying sounds perfectly reasonable for an adult human being discussing their job;

b) Throw your drink in his face and tell him to get his mind right, because how dare he disrespect himself, the company, Corporate America, and probably the Shaolin Temple by giving anything less than maximum, soul-emptying effort at all times.

Did you go with B? Congratulations! You're probably a salty tennis fan. Earlier this week, Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic endured a lifeless, straight-sets loss to Germany's Mischa Zverev in the first round of Wimbledon, then told reporters at a post-match press conference that he wasn't quite feeling it:
"I wasn't mentally and physically there—I don't know why," Tomic told assembled reporters, swiveling around in his chair.

"I felt a little bit bored out there to be completely honest with you. You know I tried at the end and stuff ... but it was too late."

Warming to his theme of disenchantment, the 24-year-old Australian wasn't finished though.

"Holding a trophy or doing well doesn't satisfy me anymore—it's not there," he added later in the media conference.

"I couldn't care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, its the same. I know I'm gonna play another 10 years and after my career I won't have to work again.

"So, this is mental," he added, pointing a finger to his head.
Reaction from the tennis world was swift, and largely harsh. Martina Navratilova told the BBC that Tomic was disrespecting the sport and that he should "find another job." Racket maker Head dropped its sponsorship of Tomic. ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said he was "absolutely disgusted." Pat Cash suggested that Tomic "go and work in a factory, do some labor and see what it's like to really work out there ... he is too rich, too early. It's as simple as that." Sports Illustrated tennis writer Jon Wertheim was more sympathetic—noting that Tomic's ennui might be related to having a notorious tennis father—but also called Tomic's persistently halfhearted performances "disgraceful" and speculated that his press conference might have been a "cry for help" by a 24-year-old tennis pro possibly suffering from "a touch of mental illness."

Hold up.

Look, nobody wants to watch a pro athlete half-assing their way through a competition. Did you tune in or pay your own money for a ticket to watch Tomic flounder around drowsily? Fine. Get grumpy. Likewise, it's possible that his lackluster effort and post-match comments are signs of serious off-court issues—in which case, he deserves empathy, not scorn.

But let's assume Tomic doesn't need professional help and take his words at face value. Read them again, take any nagging sports fandom you feel out of the equation, and think about what he's actually expressing: I'm bored at the office. Closing the big deal doesn't leave me particularly fulfilled. Win or lose, the days all feel sort of the same, and frankly, I know I'm halfway to a comfortable retirement.

This is unusual? Upsetting? An affront to everything that's right and decent in sports? Please. These are totally normal, utterly unremarkable, downright cliched feelings for any middle-aged professional to have about work. Tennis is Tomic's job. Is it really so shocking for someone at the halfway point of their career to have this kind of is this it? moment?

Tomic has been on the ATP Tour since he was 16 years old. He probably won't play until he's 36. He has enjoyed tremendous, world-beating success—winning three titles, earning $5 million in prize money, becoming the youngest player to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since Boris Becker, achieving a world ranking as high as No. 17. He is smart enough that he has likely figured out that he's never going to be Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or even Pat Rafter.

So now what? Sooner or later, most of us have to ask the same question about how we're earning our livings. Almost everyone starts out gung ho, but the corporate ladder runs out of rungs. The empty workplace booster rocket burns up in the atmosphere. In time you realize that you're not going to make it to the corner office, and that maybe it's not worth the effort to keep trying. Maybe you don't want the hassle of a job like that anyway. Maybe you've topped out, so now you're going through the motions, at least on some days. And that's cool, because you've worked long enough to be pretty darn good at those motions you're going through.

And maybe all of the above is also okay, because real life isn't a Successories poster or a high school coach reminding you that your altitude is determined by your attitude.

Interestingly enough, retired Australian Rules football player star Adam Cooney seemed to grasp what the tennis establishment missed:



It's weird to assume that athletes are somehow different than everyone else, or that they should be. It's one thing to want a good show, and quite another for people like Brad Gilbert to act as though Tomic committed a moral crime for having a lackluster day at the office. Remember, Tomic is currently ranked No. 59 in the world. There are approximately seven billion people on the planet, and he's better at tennis than 6,999,999,941 of them. That's not disrespecting the sport! That's pretty good!

And really, go get a factory job? No disrespect to factory workers, but Tomic undoubtedly has worked harder and longer at being great with a racket than most people have at anything. You don't succeed in the ruthless, hyper-competitive world of pro sports any other way, regardless of how much talent you received at birth. Strip away the fantastical, childish, 110 Percent Effort Or GTFO logic of sports broadcasting, sports fandom, and—let's be totally honest here—racket-selling marketing, and the truly surprising thing about Tomic's admission wasn't that he made it. It's that more of his peers don't do the same.

Read the original article at VICE Sports