Chinan Open 2017: End of the road for the Aussie men, so where to now?

“Disappointing”, Lleyton Hewitt called the deflating end to an Open that closed in a singles sense for the 10-strong n men’s contingent with Bernard Tomic’s loss to world No.51 Dan Evans on Friday night. For the first time in three years, there will be no local male presence in the last 16.
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The positives that many were keen to talk up were 17-year-old debutant Alex de Minaur, as well as the much-improved Jordan Thompson in the middle tier. But at the top end, where seeded pair Nick Kyrgios and Tomic reside, there was obviously far less to applaud.

First, Kyrgios. If we must. John Newcombe was one of the many who found the 21-year-old’s self-destruction against Andreas Seppi difficult viewing. “Yeah, like everybody else, very hard to watch,” he said. “He’s got a lot of work to do. He obviously needs to reassess what his priorities are.

“I think [on] the physical side he’s just got to get his body into great shape, because he’s a big tall guy and if he doesn’t get the body into shape the limbs are gonna break down.” And the mental part? “I think they both come hand in hand. When you get out there and you feel like your body’s breaking down, it could just be breaking down a little bit … and it seemed to me maybe that’s what was happening the other night, it all gets too much for him.

“It’s ‘oh, I’m not going to be able to live up to the expectations’. So he’s the only guy that can do it. He’s got to make a decision that he’s gonna go out and spend the time. My advice would be to take six weeks off and get your body into great shape.”

A word, too, for Tomic, who meandered through the first two sets of his match against a more pro-active and urgent Evans. What was not a terrible loss was nevertheless a wasted opportunity, given that the British player blocking his path to another second week was a battler from Birmingham rather than a dual Wimbledon champion from Dunblane. Later, the 27th seed quipped that his plan was “to stick to another 12 years of making fourth rounds, third rounds”, while acknowledging Hewitt’s critique that he had played too passively.

“If he’s going to get to the top 10, where he says he wants to be, then he’s got to be beating the Dan Evans,” said Newk, the seven-time major winner. Quite.

Todd Woodbridge thought Tomic played “a good match”, but one that should confirm his resolve to start these contests differently, more aggressively, make an early statement of intent that will help the 24-year-old avoid long and physical matches. “I think Bernie can look at that and go ‘OK, I’ve found my form, but now I’ve got to go into this next part of the year and gun it’,” Woodbridge said.

“At the top end, our guys showed they’re good enough but they’ve got to get that whole package together to be able to contend into the second week. They’ve certainly got that ability, there’s no doubt. But to me the highlight was to have some new guys come through so that we can focus on them.”

De Minaur and Thompson, most notably, with Woodbridge saving an honourable mention for Andrew Whittington, the unsung wildcard who made an overdue cameo in the second round. Acknowledging the serious physical development still required by de Minaur over the coming years, Woodbridge nevertheless saw plenty to like in the junior Wimbledon finalist, who beat Austrian Gerald Melzer on day one.

“I think we saw something really nice in him, we saw great competitive spirit, good nature, all the things you want to see out of a youngster, so that was exciting,” said the former doubles great and top 20 singles player. “And also Jordan Thompson’s summer. He made a bit of a statement that he’s ready to step up and be a [top] 50 player and contend more at bigger tournaments.”

Newcombe agrees, predicting top 40 or higher as realistic for the Sydneysider, and better still for fellow Olympian Thanasi Kokkinakis when his body finally permits, while also heartened by what he hears from Hewitt and Tony Roche about de Minaur’s attitude and effort.

“He needs to get some more weapons but he’s really keen, he wants to work hard and he’s absorbing everything he can, so I see him progressing very nicely. But it’s not an obvious one, like when you first saw Philippoussis play you said ‘shit, he’s got weapons’, and Nick the same,” Newcombe said.

“I think our young guys did well. We tend to be a little bit like the English media at Wimbledon: when a Brit wins a first round it’s big news, and when they don’t make the third round it’s like ‘oh, well, what’s going wrong?’ But I really like what Lleyton’s doing, building this culture … so I see good things but there’s a long way to go. Not bad but it could be better.”

And Hewitt, the Davis Cup captain? His assessment of ‘s week? “Obviously disappointing from the Aussie standpoint, especially on the men’s side, the last couple of days,” Hewitt said from Channel Seven’s courtside bunker. “I think we did really well to get quite a few couple of guys through to the second round but we couldn’t go into that second week. and it is a disappointing result. All the n players want to do especially well in their home grand slam, but a lot of those young guys will be good for the experience.”

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