A A year after she emerged as a legend’s spoilsport in New York, Ajla Tomljanović is set to make another comeback on the scene of her greatest triumph when she competes at the US Open next week. The Australian earned rave reviews when she ended the career of 23-time Major winner Serena Williams in a thrilling third-round match at last year’s US Open.
On a night like no other at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Tomljanović faced an icon and a sold-out crowd given the excitement ignited by Williams’ departure. The quality of her tennis was brilliant as she passed the American in three electric sets, as was the composure with which she handled a surreal situation with flying colors.
Australian tennis player Ash Barty suffered a surprise retirement in March. But with Nick Kyrgios, last year’s US Open favorite, finding his focus on 2022 and Tomljanović maturing into a contender, the potential for more Australian Major-level success seemed great.
Instead, Kyrgios has barely played due to lingering knee and wrist injuries, with the Wimbledon finalist firing frustrated tweets instead of forehand shots. Tomljanović, who ultimately defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4, 7-6 in a terrific quarter-final last year, has not competed since November’s Billie Jean King Cup final in Scotland.
Tomljanović also reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2021 and last year, but a knee injury stunted her momentum just as she was about to break through into the top 20. But the 30-year-old, who also missed tennis for almost two years in her early 20s due to a serious shoulder injury, will return in the first round against Hungarian Panna Udvardy.
Alex de Minaur had led a strong band of Aussie talent with honors on the ATP Tour this year, with eight men securing direct access to the US Open while Rinky Hijikata is a wildcard. Australia now has four men ranked in the top 50 in the world and four more in double digits. This puts the country within reach of its goal of 10 top 100 players. But Tomljanović’s prolonged absence and Barty’s retirement have left a gaping void in terms of Australia’s representation on the WTA Tour this year.
Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup captain Alicia Molik said at Wimbledon she was looking forward to the Tomljanović return due to her leadership skills. “When she comes back, she knows that she was in the quarterfinals of several Grand Slams,” said Molik. “She knows she was a great player. Even though you might not have the fitness level when you come back…she knows she’s capable and knows her level.”
There is hope that in a few years the number of Australian women in the top 100 will match the current depth for men. Dasha Saville returned to Wimbledon after knee reconstruction, while Storm Hunter, Kimberly Birrell and Olivia Gadecki also had some positive moments this year.
Gold Coast teenager Emerson Jones has performed well at junior events in 2023 and there is excitement about the potential of Melisa Ercan, who lives in Brisbane. The Turkish-born talent, who defeated rising star Mirra Andreeva in Traralgon in January, recently obtained her Australian citizenship and is eligible to represent her adopted country. “I think we have a lot of future national representatives who can perform phenomenally well on the senior tour,” said Molik.
Australia’s leading contender De Minaur, who recently finished 12th after reaching the final of the Canada Open, drew a qualifier in his opening round match. The challenge for the No. 13 seeded player is to transfer his strong tour form to the Grand Slam stage after a year of testing at the Majors.
Novak Djokovic proved far too strong for the seven-time ATP champion in the fourth round of the Australian Open en route to a tenth tournament win. The 24-year-old then defeated Tomas Martin Etcheverry and Matteo Berrettini at the peak of their form at their preferred places at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But De Minaur has always believed he was capable of beating the best in the world and, having won six of his last 11 games against top-10 rivals, he is now proving it.
No. 2-seeded Australians Alexei Popyrin and Thanasi Kokkinakis have also won a tie against the qualifiers, but Aleks Vukic faces a challenge against No. 12-seeded Alexander Zverev. While Max Purcell and Chris O’Connell face off in the first round. Qualifying for the US Open ends on Friday in New York, which could increase the number of Australian challengers at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center next week.