WIMBLEDON, England — Mischa Zverev was confused. Something was wrong with his opponent, Bernard Tomic. He just could not be sure of what.
“It was quite awkward because he beat me quite easily a few days ago so I was expecting a tough match,” Zverev said.
Having lost to Tomic in straight sets just last week, a puzzled Zverev advanced to the second round of Wimbledon on Tuesday in their rematch, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, in a 1-hour-24-minute battle of players with different styles, headed in opposite directions and playing with very different intentions.
Zverev, a 29-year-old German who was born in Moscow, has climbed to No. 30 from the depths of the ATP rankings (No. 1,067 as recently as March 2015) with an audacious southpaw serve-and-volley commitment in the pound-your-groundstrokes world of contemporary tennis.
Tomic, 24, is a 6-foot-5 inch Australian, whose family left his native Germany when he was 3. He is known for variety and touch, but also for a tempestuous relationship with John Tomic, one of the more notorious firebrand coaching fathers, and for belying the hearty character of his adopted country’s famous champions.
Like his father, Tomic has not always been well-behaved off the court — he has had several minor brushes with the law — and too often has not given his best effort on it.
“Many times in my career,” he admitted after adding the hallowed Wimbledon lawns to that unfortunate tendency.
In a match of short points because of Zverev’s attacking style, the final score did not reflect Tomic’s bad body language. At one point, he called for the doctor, though Zverev said he could only guess what was wrong. It was a good guess.
Speaking to reporters before Tomic, Zverev described his opponent’s body language during the match as “the opposite of Rafa,” referring to Rafael Nadal, commonly regarded as the most outwardly ferocious competitor in men’s tennis.
Tomic, who has tumbled to No. 59 after reaching a career high of 17 in 2016, did not bother to accept a reporter’s invitation to claim that he had a problem with an old back injury, instead copping to a sudden onset of indifference.
“I don’t know why but, you know, I felt a little bored,” he said.
He was just getting started on the subject of being young, wealthy and unmotivated, not exactly bursting with enthusiasm for the heat and humidity of the coming North American hardcourt season along the road to the United States Open.
“I feel holding a trophy or, you know, doing well, it doesn’t satisfy me anymore, it’s not there,” he said. “So I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round U.S. Open or I lose first round.”
In fairness to Tomic, he has won three career tournaments and earned more than $5 million in prize money. He was also being “completely honest,” baring a bewildered and troubled soul, not fathoming why he is so uninspired to play a sport he intends, or hopes, to continue on with.
Nor did he express that long-term plan with the promise of renewed dedication.
“I’m going to play another 10 years and I know, after my career, I won’t have to work again,” he said, while adding that he did feel pangs of guilt for punching out early against Zverev. Just not enough to donate the proceeds — roughly $45,000 — for his afternoon’s short work to charity.
“Well, if Roger and Novak, these guys will, no problem,” he said, to a reporter’s suggestion.
Tomic’s would-be role models, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, also had truncated tournament debuts, though not for their lack of trying.
About a month removed from his 36th birthday, Federer snapped a deadlock with Jimmy Connors for the most singles victories at Wimbledon in the Open era, recording his 85th when Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine retired while trailing, 6-3, 3-0.
Djokovic, coming off what he hopes will be a momentum-building victory on Saturday at the Eastbourne International tournament, got off easier than Federer, by one game, when Martin Klizan of Slovakia could not continue after falling behind by 6-3, 2-0. There were seven retirements in the first round of the men’s draw.
Tennis at this level is as grueling a mental test as it is a physical grind. Most players at some point are capable of giving off an unhealthy, attitudinal vibe. When it becomes a habit that can be discussed so blithely, it just might be time for an extended break.
Tomic said he was not planning on taking one, noting he has rallied from competitive depths before.
“I know I have to work hard,” he said.
He could start by studying the recent arc of Zverev’s career. His 20-year-old brother, Sasha, a straight-sets winner Tuesday over Evgeny Donsky of Russia, has positioned himself as a rising star. At the same time, Mischa has earned the right to be considered a most risk-taking striver. He is the journeyman who has kept coming, figuratively and stylistically.
When Mischa was Sasha’s age, around the turn of the decade, he was a top-100 player, climbing briefly into the top 50, before injuries and struggles with his aggressive style consigned him to tournaments at the Challenger and Futures level.
After years of hanging on, Zverev’s breakthrough came at this year’s Australian Open, when he flummoxed Andy Murray with his attacking game to reach the quarterfinals. Zverev has earned almost $700,000 in prize money this year, despite an 18-20 singles record.
Of his throwback serve-and-volley game, he said: “The players are so much faster and the ball travels so much faster in the air. It’s like flipping a coin 365 days a year, not easy to do. You can lose 2 and 2 to someone, but you have to move on to the next day.”
At Eastbourne, he lost 3 and 2 to a more engaged Tomic. Tuesday, on Court 14, it was the same matchup on the same surface. What apparently was different was the winner of the dueling voices inside Tomic’s head.