Ajla Tomljanovic is through to the second round of the Australian Open, after a marathon up and down clash, with Croatian, Petra Martic, 7-6 4-6 6-4. Ajla entered John Cain Arena to a far more subdued crowd then had just seen compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis win through in a 5 set marathon. But Ajla doesn’t need the crowd to motivate her. She was motivated enough after missing last years event with injury.
”I promised myself if I get another chance in AO with a close match, I really want to just come out with not feeling that regret, which is the worst thing you can carry.”
Her opponent, world number 40, Petra Martin, from Croatia was always going to offer a stern test, and although she hasn’t set the event alight over the last few years, she did make the fourth round her back in 2018.
Both players traded serves early on, and although Ajla looked a little rusty with some uncharacteristic unforced errors, it was the Aussie who broke serve first, after Martin committed three backhand unforced errors in a row.
From there it was just a matter of keeping calm, and serving it out. And with Martic stepping it up with some big hitting, forcing multiple deuces at 4-5, Tomljanovic faltered, ultimately handing the break back with a double fault.
But if that game was akin to a half marathon, the following game at 5-5 was a marathon. Ten deuces on Martic’s serve, with both players having chances to move ahead in the set. Finally, the pressure told on the server, and three forehand unforced errors in a row handed Ajla a chance to serve out the set again. When asked about that game, Ajla said,
“Yeah, I mean, look, I felt like breaks were so important today. I felt like she was serving a lot better than me. She was neutralizing my serve great. I felt like after the first set, my serve stopped being a weapon. I didn't feel like it was scaled in a good way for me. I knew if I got a second serve and I kept attacking, she might think about it a bit more. That was my game plan from the beginning. I know I just can't hesitate on the second serve. The first one, just do my best to get it back.”
But again, the returner got the better of the server, and a tie break would decide the first set.
The first 9 games took just 30 minutes, yet the next 3 took 36. It was turning into a battle of attrition.
In the breaker, it was all Ajla, with some big hitting, and a cross court forehand winner to bring up 4 set points.
In the end, she would need just 2 of them, as a forehand from the Croatian sailed long, to seal the first set 7-6.
As is so often the case after a long first set, a dip in concentration causes an early break, and that’s precisely what Martic did in the first and third games. The Croatian looked unperturbed about dropping the opener, and jumped out to a 4-1 lead.
From there, the lead was just too much for Ajla to pull back, despite fighting the set out gamely. Ultimately, the former world number 14 locked away the second set 6-4, and after nearly two hours, a deciding set was needed to split them.
Again, it would be the Martic who jumped out of the blocks, breaking Tomljanovic in the very first game, and holding serve to have the Aussie under the pump early.
From there, it appeared to be unravelling, as a double fault handed Martic a second break, and a seemingly unassailable lead at 4-1.
But this match had another twist. Ajla, showing all the grit and determination we’ve come to expect from her, wins 8 of the next 9 points to get to 4-3 on Martic’s serve. The belief was back. The sparse crowd left on JCA was finding voice, and after a tense few minutes, a backhand error from the Croatian, locks the set up at 4-4.
An almost flawless service game from the Aussie, puts her within a game of victory, and now the pressure is all on Petra’s shoulders. And it shows. Two double faults open the door for Ajla, and she storms right through the door, pumping her fist in triumph as she claims an emotional, and at times, highly improbably victory.
“Just super happy. I mean, I really didn't think at 1-4 in the third, two breaks down, it was going to happen. I felt like the match the whole time, I would lose two games quickly because she just played great. Then I was straight back in. It felt so up and down. I knew if I just kept snagging games, I might find myself in a position of not being so far off. I mean, when it's tight in the third, it can go either way. Yeah, the crowd really pulled me through, I mean, staying so late. There was a few kids behind me, every change of ends, saying things that were just so cute. I was like, Okay, I got to give it a go.”
Ajla will now face Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko in the second round.
“She's a great player. I'm definitely the underdog. I love that. But I feel like playing her in the second round, I'm probably going to hopefully play even better than I did today. So, yeah, I'm excited.”