By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Bernard Tomic's authoritative straight-sets demolition of Xavier Malisse on Monday reinforced the notion that the Australian teenager has the right game and the right mind to gatecrash the big-four's expected Wimbledon semi-final party.
Tomic comprehensively outplayed Malisse 6-1 7-5 6-4 to become the youngest player to reach the quarter-finals since Boris Becker in 1986 and the first qualifier to do so since Vladimir Voltchkov in 2000.
Voltchkov was barely heard of again after his run was ended by Pete Sampras in the semis but Tomic looks to have what it takes to be around for the long haul.
Already assured of ending Lleyton Hewitt's seven-year reign as Australian number one, Tomic next faces either number two seed and his hitting partner Novak Djokovic or Michael Llodra and if he approaches that match in the same fearless way then he has every chance of pulling off another huge shock.
With Belgian Malisse complaining about his rackets and some early line calls, Tomic was 4-0 up in a flash and duly polished off the first set in 21 minutes.
Unfussy, uncomplicated and seemingly completely unfazed by the occasion, Tomic rattled through his service games with barely a blip, hitting deep and confidently whatever the state of the game.
He then set about pressurizing his opponent at every opportunity, showing a lovely range of shots, including a delicate low sliced backhand that brought back memories of John McEnroe and an athletic diving volley straight out of Becker's playbook.
Malisse, a Wimbledon semi-finalist nine years ago, contributed to his own downfall with a series of errors that left him muttering to himself.
He later complained that none of his rackets had been strung to the right tension, though one took four attempts to crumple when he smashed it against his foot after losing the second set, but it is hard to imagine a different outcome whatever he had in his hand.
Tomic continued without a blip, breaking in the ninth game of the third with a flashing forehand and going on to complete victory in just 81 minutes.
That must have seemed a long way away when, in the first round of qualifying he was 15-40 on his own serve at 4-4 against Sebastien Rieschick in the decisive set.
He fought back to win that match then two more to reach the main draw. At Wimbledon he upset number 29 seed Nikolay Davydenko in the first round, came from two sets and a break down to beat Igor Andreev and stunned fifth seed Robin Soderling in straight sets.
"I never thought I'd be here for the second week. What a feeling and what a tournament it's been for me," Tomic told reporters.
"In the second round when I was down two sets to love and 2-0 things weren't looking good for me. The guy was all on top of me but it shows when you compete and fight in a match, things change for you."
Tomic said the key to his progress had been playing his natural game, forcing himself to abandon a more defensive approach that had brought success in the junior ranks.
"Now I've found my game, where I need it to be, and that's to have fun, relax out there, not play under pressure where as opposed to maybe six months ago I was playing a little bit more defensive," he said.
"I play my best tennis in practice and I know if I play like I do in practice, I'll play much better in my game."
Neale Fraser, Wimbledon champion in 1960 and at the forefront of Australian tennis for more than half a century, was delighted to see his country back in the mix.
"Really good," Fraser told Reuters courtside on Number 18. "He was barely threatened on his serve, played the big points well and he really looked the part."
(This article has been modified to correct ITF stats saying Lleyton Hewitt was Australian number one for seven years, not 11 as originally stated in fourth paragraph)