Adopted Australian Ajla Tomljanovic knows all about conquering adversity, from rehabilitating a crippling shoulder injury in 2016 to navigating the quirks of shifting one’s nationality two years earlier.
Heading into her sixth Australian Open campaign with only two wins to her name – and only one in the past five years – her expectations were high for someone who’s making up for lost time.
And Tomljanovic’s lead-in was far from ideal, losing early to eventual Brisbane champion Karolina Pliskova and former world No.1 Simona Halep in Adelaide.
But on Margaret Court Arena on Tuesday, one year on from letting victory against Great Britain’s Johanna Konta go astray, she was in destructive form as she swatted aside Latvian 31st seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-1.
After breaking her long-standing hoodoo, and defying a 0-2 head-to-head record, what was the overriding feeling? Relief.
“This is one of my best wins quality-wise in a slam, first round,” Tomljanovic recounted in her post-match press conference.
“Felt really good to be out there. I think from the first point, I felt ready. Felt like I was hitting the ball clean.”
The tactic was simple: Leap onto the Sevastova serve, which rolled in at an average 152 km/h on the first delivery, and dictate with her own combination of stronger groundstrokes and strength in serving.
After losing the first game, Tomljanovic rolled through the next nine, only facing difficulty in the penultimate game of the first set, which she rescued with some bold shot making, and again early in the second.
The controlled aggression forced Sevastova into playing beyond her crafty style, striking 30 unforced errors as she tried to force the agenda.
Tomljanovic, once an item with fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios, is now partnered with men’s world no. 8 Matteo Berrettini, and was queried over whether their new-found relationship helped her on-court results.
Not quite, despite jokingly claiming some responsibility for his semi-final run at Flushing Meadows.
“[I’m] pretty happy off the court … I don’t know if that’s translating into my game. It’s just been a really nice week so far,” Tomljanovic said.
Tomljanovic faces former French Open and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round, after winning a momentum-shifting encounter over American qualifier Shelby Rogers 0-6 6-1 6-0.
Shaking the Melbourne monkey off her back, Tomljanovic says now’s no time for celebration, with focus honed on the next round.
“It’s funny, I feel like I had a really good win. I was on the bike, and I was already thinking about my next round,” Tomljanovic said.
“That’s how tennis is. You don’t really have much time to enjoy the wins. [I’ll] start thinking about the next one tomorrow.”