BERNARD Tomic cannot remember the day, exactly, but he recalls the message, the urgency, the realisation that the clock was ticking and what he had assumed to be his destiny was perhaps not so assured after all. After a period of substandard results, there were questions over his application and commitment. Not least from Tomic himself.
''A year goes by really quickly. All of a sudden I was 19, now I'm 20,'' Tomic recalled after reaching the third round of the Australian Open for the third consecutive year with a lengthy four-set defeat of German qualifier Daniel Brands, the last of the 16 Australians who started, booked in for Melbourne Park prime time on Saturday night.
''That was in October last year. I said, 'look, time's flying, I do have the talent, I can play good, but I'm not using it'. So I worked hard, as much as I could. It's amazing, what can happen in two months, let alone in the next year if you push yourself to improve every day.
''Obviously, my ranking dropping made me wake up and say, 'Look, you know, regardless of how I'm playing, how I'm feeling, I'm losing my ranking, and I've got to work hard'. That made me change.''
There was a conversation with his team, including coach/father John, but also an important one with his struggling self. ''Before last year, I didn't really have the urge to improve. I was doing well. I mean, I got to 27 in the world. But I just felt that I started not training as much, not doing the right things, not committing, not focusing on the tennis court. Slowly I was sliding down. Then I got a wake-up call and I turned around.
''Obviously I'm going on the up. I've got a lot more things to prove for myself. That's the most important thing. I'm not going to stop here. It doesn't satisfy me. Winning last week and being on this winning match streak doesn't satisfy me. I want to win grand slams. I'm going to try as much as I can to get the opportunity and work hard, the right chances. This is a chance, and I'm going to take it on board and we'll see what happens on Saturday night.''
Thursday took eight match points and rather longer than he would have liked, before Tomic eked out a 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (10-8) win in five minutes short of three hours during the hottest part of by far the most extreme weather day of the tournament - without, for most of it, necessarily looking like the better player.
Much of that was down to the Brands serve: ''He couldn't miss a serve. I mean, serving like Roddick. I thought Roddick retired,'' Tomic said. Although, remarkably, the world No. 43 faced a single break point on his own delivery over four serve-dominated
sets. That is the most improved part of his game, and the Queenslander has not been broken in 75-plus attempts in games since a one-off blip in the quarter-finals of the Sydney International.
''It was 23 to 26 aces my way. That's probably the best I've ever served,'' Tomic said. ''Winning a tournament in Sydney, losing serve once I think to [Jarko] Nieminen, I think I served bloody well. I haven't lost my serve here yet. I'm serving the best I've ever been serving. I'm finally using the best of my height. It's important to have a good serve at six foot four, six foot five. Now I'm serving really well and that's why I'm winning a lot of matches.''
His fitness and movement, too, have improved noticeably.
But whatever works for Tomic, because the rest seems to be operating nicely. There were a couple of times he over-finessed, when perhaps a bit more force would have helped, but he is never going to follow a tight script. This is Tomic's game. Languid, sometimes loose. For worse, and, now, mostly better.