''I expect [Tomic] to struggle, but I hope he can use his smarts out there and he can find a way to really compete,'' Rafter, the dual US Open champion and Australia's new Davis Cup captain, said yesterday. ''To me one of his things he's really working on hard is his speed and mobility and that's something that he'll get when he finishes growing.
''So we're waiting for that, and Nadal's going to exploit it because of how heavy he hits the ball, but it'll be interesting to see if [Tomic] can find a little something in his game - because that's what he does, he looks for those sort of things.''
''There's not much weaknesses,'' Tomic admitted, his verbal delivery still reliably less smooth than his strokeplay. ''I don't think he'll like my game. I think he'll like the players that give him a lot of time, a lot of rally shots. I think the way I mix it up, he's not going to like. But who knows?
''I don't think he's lost a grand slam since last Australia. You don't have nothing to lose. But I'm not going to go and win this match if I go out there and play not to lose. I've got to play, you know, to win.'' And he obviously thinks he can? ''Oh, I believe so. I believe so. I mean, it's an opportunity that I get. He's the world No. 1. I'll just have a go.
''Right now it's a bit funny for me. But I'll sort of put my brain aside and say, 'look, you know, I've got to play tennis like another match'. I know it's going to be important. There's going to be a lot of people watching. My job's just to relax and play tennis … What an opportunity it is to play him, in a third round as well. It's a dream come true. Look, I've got nothing to lose.''
Twelve months ago, Tomic complained that he was forced to play his second round on Rod Laver Arena, in the marquee evening slot against Croatian Marin Cilic, well past his bedtime. He repeated yesterday his dislike of night play, of his preference to be in bed by nine or 10pm, while believing he will be better for the experience against Cilic. ''I'm going to go to sleep late tonight and tomorrow,'' he said, in what must count as an unusual preparation.
Still, for all the obvious differences in his game style - Lopez was quickly befuddled by the changes of pace, the slice, the variety - then in few respects is the BMW-driving Tomic the average 18-year-old. He has been sponsored, and managed, since the age of 12, and the youngest player ever to win a main draw match at the Australian Open has now notched four senior victories at Melbourne Park, while winning a total of three more at tour level anywhere else.
Yet Nadal was in Tomic's position here in 2004 when, on the corresponding Saturday night, he played the dual grand slam champion Lleyton Hewitt on Rod Laver Arena for the first time, and lost in straight but very competitive sets. He recognises Tomic's potential ''to be in the top positions in the future'' and also says he understands how important it will be for Australian tennis if its best prospect since Hewitt can continue to develop.
Nadal was planning to practice today, rest, perhaps make his annual trip to the Melbourne Aquarium, one big fish among many. Relaxed now, and rightly so. ''I gonna be nervous, if you want, 10 minutes before the match and when the match start,'' he said. ''But two days ago, before, if I start to be nervous two days ago, I have a big problem, I think.''
Yesterday, Nadal had few issues with inexperienced American Ryan Sweeting dropping just four games - his first four of the tournament - in the second round. Tomic is five years younger again, the most junior member of the men's top 200, and Nadal can remember what it was like to play with the youthful abandon that success soon wears down.
''Is much easier when you are a teenager, I think. When you have 17 or 18, everything is easier,'' said the 24-year-old owner of nine grand slam titles. ''You play with no pressure. You can win, you can lose, everything is fine. That's a different mentality. You can play more aggressive. For everybody is the same history I think, no?
''When you arrive, you hit all the balls like crazy and without think, without pressure. When you are there [gesturing high] you start to think a little bit more about you have to play this shot, you have to play another shot, I can't lose this match, I have to win this match for sure … So the pressure is higher when you are in the top.''
Tomic is a long way from it, but is nevertheless what Andre Agassi's former coach Brad Gilbert calls a ''gamer'', a big-occasion competitor who saves his best for the main stage. Welcome back to it, Bernie. Get some rest. It should be quite a weekend.