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Australia’s two main hopefuls, Ajla Tomljanović and Alex De Minaur, will have the weight of expectation on their shoulders to fly the flag and provide the home support with something to cheer about over the next fortnight.

Entering the top 10 for the first time in his career, De Minaur will aim to produce the same quality that has seen him defeat Taylor Fritz, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, and Carlos Alcaraz since the beginning of the month.

Rippled by injuries for most of 2023, Tomljanović is slowly rediscovering her best tennis in which she displayed promising signs for her country at the United Cup. The 30-year-old enters the first Grand Slam of the year requiring a protected ranking as a safety net for her recent lengthy absence.

Both players sat down to open up to the media on Friday before the Australian Open commences.

This time last year Tomljanović was forced to pull out of the Australian Open due to a knee injury and couldn’t beat the clock to return in time.

Now with the freedom of being injury-free and rediscovering her rhythm and confidence, the world number 270 returned to the same media room in a better situation.

“Walking to this press room I have flashbacks from last year; that was not fun,” Tomljanović said.

“It’s a much nicer walk this year and I feel excited.”

Having just recently travelled to Perth and Sydney to feature in the United Cup, Tomljanović played four singles matches that resulted in much-needed court time.

Making the decision to pull out of the Adelaide International this week, she spoke about her reasoning behind it.

“It just felt like the most sensible decision,” she confirmed.

“Every other year I probably would’ve gone but I felt like with my knee I had some really good matches. It’s not even my knee, it’s just getting back into the swing of things and playing at a higher level.”

When asked to compare her preparation for this year’s Australian Open to last season, Tomljanović feels reassured that she has done everything possible to be in the best shape.

“I think (I’ve prepared) as well as I could have considering everything,” she confirmed.

“I’d be lying if I’m sitting here and say this is the best I’ve ever felt because that’s not realistic, but I still feel like people don’t want to play me and especially in the early rounds.

“It will be interesting to see how I play and it’s going to be a new chapter.”

The Croatian-born Australian has faced a difficult period in the past few seasons through niggling injuries, but she touched on whether those experiences have made her mentally stronger.

“We’ll see if it’s made me mentally tougher,” she said.

“I think it’s made me want it even more. I think without realising it, it has made me stronger emotionally.

“I do feel lucky that my knee responded to everything and there was a lot of resilience that took place in 2023. For sure it will pay off, but you don’t think about that and it’s not taking centre stage.”

Tomljanović learnt her fate regarding the draw for the tournament, as she will be taking on Croatia’s Petra Martic.

The pair faced off in the second round of the 2021 US Open in a straight sets win for the Aussie, as Tomljanović provided her thoughts on what to expect in the upcoming matchup.

“I haven’t played her in a while. I feel like I know her game quite well.

“We kind of grew up together and she used to play with my sister, but it’s really about not thinking about too much but myself. I have things I want to execute and so it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side.”

Firmly placed in the spotlight more than ever since his top 10 entry, Alex De Minaur reinstated that the extra levels of attention are all part of the process.

“It’s something that comes with winning matches, but it’s a good problem to have,” De Minaur said.

“It’s been a big lead-up and a lot of focus, but at the same time I’m still putting my head down and I’m still getting in all the work that I need to on the court and off the court.”

Not only was Lleyton Hewitt captain of Australia’s United Cup team, but the two-time Grand Slam champion has acted as a role model to De Minaur throughout the past few years of his tennis journey.

De Minaur spoke about the importance of having Hewitt by his side.

“He’s been great; he’s been my Davis Cup captain for a while and he’s been a great mentor. I’ve learnt a lot from him and it’s great to have his support.

“He’s been through a lot of similar situations that I’m going through at the moment, so we’ve tried to keep everything the same with my team and just enjoying the moment.

Although having experienced many setbacks through injury over the years, former Wimbledon finalist and Australian Open semi-finalist Milos Raonic will prove to be a big test for De Minaur in the first round.

The new world number 10 shared what went through his mind when he heard the news.

“I had a feeling it was going to be a tough match coming up, and when I drew Milos, it was basically that,” he explained.

“He’s a very tricky opponent, the type of player that can take the racquet out of your hand. He has an unbelievable serve and he’s very aggressive, so it’s a tough match but I’m excited to play and I’ll be ready for the challenge.”

Last year at the US Open, De Minaur went up against a similar opponent in Chilean Nicolas Jarry who has a big serve and a massive forehand.

It was a comfortable day at the office for the Australian, winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in what was arguably one of De Minaur’s most impressive wins in 2023.

The 24-year-old was asked whether he would look back and analyse that game as well as revealing the secrets to facing those types of players.

“Ultimately against these types of opponents, if you can get the serve back then you’re putting yourself in a decent position, but more importantly you have to look after your own serve. That means staying focused at all times and not giving away a cheap game,” said De Minaur.

“I’ll probably look at the match we played (against Raonic) a while ago and more of his recent matches. I’ll see if I can find something or some patterns, but ultimately I’ll problem-solve once I get there.”

Known for his lightning-quick pace and incredible fitness, De Minaur will lean on that strength during his matches at Melbourne Park.

“If it gets to the physicality point of the match, then I do back myself; I back myself against the majority of players.

“I know the amount of work I put off the court to be in this shape and I’m feeling confident in that manner, so if it does become a physical battle, I’ll back myself.

“He (Raonic) has the game style to take the racquet out of my hand and make sure the rallies are nice and short. We might not get to that point (of the physical battle) so we’ll wait and see.”


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