In the first round of the Australian Open, Ajla Tomljanović made a comeback inspired by the late night crowd and defeated Petra Martić from Croatia. Despite being down 4-1 in the final set, the local favorite was able to rally and secure a victory.
The Australian emerged victorious with a score of 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 after a grueling match that lasted until past midnight at Melbourne Park. The first set was particularly remarkable, lasting 73 minutes and featuring a 26-point game.
Tomljanović’s win marks her fifth appearance in the second round at Melbourne Park and is a significant achievement in her comeback from a knee injury that impacted her 2023 season.
She expressed her desire to fully savor this moment as it holds significant importance.
One year ago, the Australian underwent surgery in an attempt to salvage her career.
“It’s hard to predict, my knee never fully recovers. Therefore, I have to find a different approach towards my career,” she stated.
“At the age of 30, things are different. Your body changes and you’re unsure of how it will react. This led to some difficult moments.”
During the intense battle with her close friend of many years, whom she has been acquainted with since her adolescence, her knee was examined.
“I was definitely out at one point,” she told the fans who stayed until the end of the first round of the tournament.
“I had the sense that she was playing with me and her serve was unpredictable, but even when I was down 4-1 and double break, you all never gave up – even more than me. So I thought, ‘if you’re here supporting me, I should give it my all’.”
Tomljanović’s opponent gained momentum as the match entered its third hour. Tomljanović had difficulty maintaining her serve and was unable to capitalize on opportunities in the final set.
After committing a double fault and giving Martić a 4-1 advantage, her chances seemed bleak. However, she regained faith in her groundstrokes and managed to turn the game around one last time.
Earlier in the evening, the audience had witnessed Thanasi Kokkinakis endure a five-set match. As the game progressed, the mostly vacant stands could only manage a sluggish “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” chant. However, their persistence paid off in a remarkable night at John Cain Arena.
Tomljanović expressed the importance of persevering because she knew the situation could quickly change. She acknowledged that there was an element of luck involved and was grateful for it.
The late change in momentum was quite notable, and the first set was truly remarkable. The Australian player had two opportunities to win the set with a score of 5-4, but she was unable to capitalize, creating a tense situation for both players. At this point, the clock showed a time of 36 minutes.
During the next match, there were 10 ties and one brief pause due to a seagull, lasting a total of 19 minutes. The set continued on and on until Tomljanović successfully won the tiebreak, 37 minutes after she initially missed her chance for a set point.
The outcome of the competition could have been foreseen, as the two individuals have many similarities. They are both right-handed athletes of similar height, born in Croatia within a two-year time frame (although 32-year-old Martić was born before Croatia’s separation from Yugoslavia).
The duo’s connection dates back to their early years, when Martić would play with Tomljanović’s elder sibling.
The naturalized Australian expressed that sharing memories from a young age creates a unique bond.
Both players have come back from injuries that could have ended their careers, and they have shown they are among the top 50 and capable of making it to the second week of grand slam tournaments.
Their professional paths advanced simultaneously, and they initially crossed paths at Indian Wells in 2010.
During that match, Martić won without losing a set. However, fourteen years later, the younger player emerged victorious, bringing an end to this unforgettable chapter in their careers.
Tomljanović stated, “I am not exactly sad.” She added, “I am content, but I do wish it wasn’t her.”
Following her impressive performance last night, the Australian player is scheduled to participate in a doubles match with fellow countrywoman Daria Saville on Wednesday. She will then face off against 11th-seed Jelena Ostapenko in the second round the next day.
Tomljanović and the Latvian had a dispute in 2021 regarding Ostapenko’s use of a medical timeout, but the Australian has stated that they have since reconciled and she holds her in high regard as a fellow tennis player.
“At the time, I simply responded without discussing it. However, it is certain that we will both be competitive.”
On Wednesday, Storm Hunter, the sole remaining Australian in the women’s singles, will face off against German opponent Laura Siegemund in their second round match.
In the year 2023, Olivia Gadecki and Kim Birrell advanced to the second round. However, they were both defeated in this year’s tournament in consecutive sets on Tuesday.