Ajla Tomljanović made another comeback late Thursday night against No. 11 seed Jelena Ostapenko in the second round of the Australian Open, but ultimately her revival narrowly failed.
After the Latvian’s 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 win, only two Australians remain in the singles competition at Melbourne Park.
Tomljanović said the 102-minute game felt like it had passed in a very short time.
“I felt like I would blink and it would be over,” the Australian said. “She came out swinging and I knew to expect it, but I wasn’t ready.”
Ostapenko reached the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year and the 2017 French Open champion’s recent form has taken her back into the top 10.
She won the doubles title in Brisbane and the singles title in Adelaide in the preliminary round. And she had already beaten a local player, Kim Birrell, at this year’s tournament.
The powerful batswoman said after the game that she had tried to adopt a more aggressive style.
“Maybe it sounds strange to me, but I feel like I need to put more pressure on the opponent at the crucial moment, and I can get better at that.”
On Thursday, their revised approach proved promising. In a 19-minute blitz in the first set, Ostapenko scored ten winners against the Australian and was helped by four double faults from her opponent.
But Tomljanović – still recovering from knee surgery last year – had already staged a comeback this week, battling to victory in the first round against Petra Martić despite trailing 4-1 in the final set.
And she immediately looked better in the second frame, defeating her opponent in the fifth game.
The Latvian spent much of the set arguing with her box. Several times she angrily motioned for at least one of her group to leave the arena. Tomljanović seemed to benefit from Ostapenko’s distractions and took the set with another break.
“Whenever I felt like I had an inch, I tried to just take a swing and it paid off,” Tomljanović said.
Towards midnight the game had taken on an unusual character. There were three breaks in a row in the third set, and in the next game the Latvian double-faulted twice but still retained the upper hand.
The Australian came closest to falling behind when she was 3-4 behind. A sensational forehand return resulted in two break points. But a strong Ostapenko serve down the middle saved one, then Tomljanović was led around the court to save the second.
Ultimately, that’s how the comeback ended. Although the Australian started with a 3:5 deficit against Love, she was eliminated from her home Grand Slam tournament shortly afterwards.
“I feel like I should be angry, but I’m really reassured because I didn’t feel like I did anything crazy wrong,” she said.
“When I think back to 12 months ago, I just feel lucky to be here.”
This was the couple’s fourth meeting. Ostapenko had won two of those, but the encounter most remember was the Australian’s three-set win at Wimbledon in 2021.
That day, Ostapenko called for a controversial medical timeout and the game ended in a confrontation at the net, with Ostapenko calling the Australian “the worst player on tour”.
By the early hours of Friday morning, hostility appeared to have completely dissipated. At the end of the game, the pair had a seemingly cordial exchange, and Ostapenko said it was “great to see them back on the court.”
“I think it’s water under the bridge now,” said Tomljanović. “I think there’s a mutual respect between her and I, and she was really kind with her words when we shook hands.”
The result means there are 21 Australian singles competitors this year, with just two remaining: Alex de Minaur and No.1 women’s doubles Storm Hunter.
Tomljanović said she liked Hunter’s chances on Friday against ninth seed Barbora Krejčíková.
“(Hunter) proved here that she really has a higher level in the individual game, and one thing has never been overlooked at Storm.”
Hunter plays against Krejčíková in Friday’s evening session at Rod Laver Arena. Also on Friday evening, De Minaur will face Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli at the John Cain Arena.