Earlier this week, quotes emerged from the Australian Associated Press – former world no. 1 and three-time Major champion Ashleigh Barty singing the praises of Ajla Tomljanovic, whose steady rise has seen her on the cusp of being seeded for next month’s home Grand Slam. Given the 29-year-old’s previous form and injury struggles, that public vote of confidence when asked whether she can embark on a deep run speaks volumes for Ajla’s progression. Why not?
Barty backing Tomljanovic ahead of Australian summer
Barty’s surprise retirement nine months ago saw Iga Swiatek seize top spot in women’s tennis, but also opened up opportunities for others to assert themselves atop the WTA circuit.
Tomljanovic, sitting at a career-high world no. 33 ranking, is Australia’s top-ranked player and her compatriot acknowledges the progress in Ajla’s game across recent seasons.
Having made her first Major quarter-final at Wimbledon last summer, losing to eventual champion – yours truly – Ashleigh Barty, she then made two in an excellent 2022 campaign.
Tomljanovic’s singles record in 2021: 30-24
She lost out in three sets against first-time Major titlist Elena Rybakina at SW19, while US Open runner-up Ons Jabeur edged past her at Flushing Meadows – having displayed nerves of steel to retire the legendary Serena Williams during her final tournament two rounds earlier.
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As it stands, she’ll be seeded #32 for the Australian Open – as two-time Major champion Simona Halep remains provisionally suspended indefinitely after a positive drugs test finding in October.
Barty spoke of how she’s impressed by the 29-year-old’s progression in recent years. If ranking points weren’t revoked from Wimbledon, she’d be up as high as world no. 24 right now.
As quoted by the AAP, the former world no. 1 said:
“She’s had an exceptional year and deserves to be higher-ranked than she is at the moment. But you can’t do anything about that situation, it is what it is and what’s held her in really good stead is that she’s accepted that, getting better and better. A couple of big quarter-finals in Slams this year, she played some exceptional tennis and she’s someone that Aussies can be very proud of.”
Having become the first Australian woman in 44 years to win the Australian Open earlier this season, Barty’s subsequent retirement a few weeks later sent shockwaves across the sport.
As such, locals are hoping for a new home favourite to cheer on at Melbourne Park in 2023 and beyond. When asked if Tomljanovic can challenge for a Major title, Barty’s insisted she already is.
“That’s the genuine feeling among the players. Certainly when I played Ajla, I knew I had to be at my absolute very best or she’d completely roll me.
She’s got that respect from everyone: earned that over a number of years, from turning up every single day. She’s been through some awful injuries, had hiccups and bumps along the way through her career and now – fingers crossed, touch wood – that’s kind of settled a little bit.
It can always be taken away very quickly from you as an athlete but she’s had an incredible year, absolutely, and I sincerely hope that she has a big Australian summer so everyone can celebrate with her. She’s doing a hell of a job.”
The beauty about tennis, especially given the ruthlessness of Grand Slam tournaments, is guaranteed shocks in every round. Tomljanovic lost 6-4, 6-0 against Paula Badosa this year, having pushed eventual quarter-finalist Halep to a decider during a thrilling R2 clash in 2021.
Given the names she’s frequently drawn to play in early rounds, it’s no surprise she hasn’t surpassed round two in nine previous entries. However, if she’s able to retain a top-32 seeding, that should stand her in good stead to embark on a decent run of results at home next month.
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via tennis365.com