- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2011

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) - There was a moment when Bernard Tomic didn’t think he’d get past the first round of qualifying for Wimbledon, much less into the second week of the tournament.

Now he’s the youngest player in 21 years to reach the fourth round of the grass-court Grand Slam after the biggest victory of his career at the All England Club.

The Australian beat fifth-ranked Robin Soderling 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 Saturday in the third round. Soderling was weakened by a stomach ailment that he said drained him of energy the last two days.

Tomic is the first 18-year-old since Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic in 1990 to reach the second week at Wimbledon. This was the biggest upset of the men’s tournament so far and counts as a watershed moment for the player hailed as the future of Australian tennis.

“Most definitely the best achievement that I’ve done so far,” said Tomic, who will now surpass Lleyton Hewitt as the highest-ranked Australian player. “I’ll always remember this is the first time I’ve really done well at a Grand Slam.”

He almost didn’t make it to Wimbledon at all.

He nearly was eliminated in the first round of qualifying by Sebastien Rieschick of Germany, saving two break points at 4-4 in the deciding set _ one with a fluke shot he said hit the rubber band on his racket. In the second round at the All England Club, he rallied from two sets down to beat Igor Andreev in a match that started Thursday and finished Friday.

There was no need for a dramatic comeback Saturday.

Tomic raced through the first set in 17 minutes, dropping just three points en route to a 5-0 lead.

Soderling needed a medical timeout early in the second set, telling the trainer he felt dizzy and weak, but put up more of a challenge the rest of the way. Tomic dominated most of the longer rallies, patiently waiting for mistakes from the Swede and breaking once in each of the last two sets.

“I didn’t think I could win at the start,” Tomic said. “After that first set, it opened up a lot of doors.”

It may have signaled the start of a new era for Australian tennis as well.

Hewitt has been the top Australian since March 2000, but will be passed by Tomic in the next ranking list. Hewitt, the former Wimbledon champion, has struggled with injuries lately and lost to Soderling in the second round Thursday after wasting a two-set lead.

“Hopefully Australian tennis can rise,” Tomic said. “I think now … I can get a lot of young kids saying, ‘I want to play like him and get to the top 100 and help out Australia.’ I think it will all change in the next few years. We have a lot of juniors coming up. It’s just a matter of time.”

Tomic’s performance hasn’t been a surprise to everyone. He has been practicing with Novak Djokovic lately, and the second-ranked Serb predicted this week that Tomic could pull off a couple of upsets.

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