Tomljanovic raring to go in Paris after tough times

Ian Chadband |

Ajla Tomljanovic is all smiles again, excited about being back at her 35th grand slam.
Ajla Tomljanovic is all smiles again, excited about being back at her 35th grand slam.

Ajla Tomljanovic has declared herself healthy, “feeling great” and raring to go again at the French Open after overcoming the most challenging spell of her career.

The main flagbearer for Australian women’s tennis since Ash Barty’s retirement, Tomljanovic was cruelled by injuries, illness and surgery just when playing the tennis of her life.

Admitting how easy it would have been to feel sorry for herself during her 18 months of torment, Tomljanovic says she resisted any self-pity, came through the other side and is convinced her best tennis is front of her, even at 31.

“Feeling great this week. It feels really nice to be back,” the three-time grand slam quarter-finalist told AAP from Paris. 

She returned to competitive action in Parma last week after a four-month break following a knee injury and surgery to remove non-cancerous uterine tumours.

Tomljanovic Serena
Tomljanovic shaking hands with Serena Williams after the win that was watched by the world. (EPA PHOTO)

Then seemingly more alarm when, after a winning return, she pulled out early in her second-round match to protect a stiff neck.

But Tomljanovic explained it was only a precaution to ensure she was firing for Paris, where she’ll be featuring in her 35th slam.

“Physically, I’m very happy with where my knee is at, and my overall health as well,” reported Tomljanovic. 

“I was really happy with how I felt in the first round and I’m not upset (about pulling out in Parma) because coming back from from injury is never easy.

“I’m trying to take it just day by day, doing everything I can to feel better. I’m pretty excited for the French, looking forward to the matches because I really feel like, by Sunday, I can get in great shape to feel good and put my best foot forward.”

The question remains whether Tomljanovic, whose knee trouble began not long after she’d reached the high point of her career by sending Serena Williams into retirement at the US Open and reaching the quarters, can rediscover that level.

She’s upbeat, if understandably cautious, but thinks she’s mentally stronger and better equipped to do so.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s been really challenging. I came off my career-best year and felt I was ready to do bigger and better things,” she explained.

2014 version of Tomljanovic
Ten years after the young Tomljanovic played the Australian Open, she’s still fighting in slams. (AP PHOTO)

“Then the knee came along and my other setback this year, I just felt I couldn’t get my footing.

“I don’t think the right way to look at it is that I was kind of wronged, because injuries are part of our sport – but that’s how I felt, and I tried to change my thinking around that. 

“It hasn’t been easy to accept the things I couldn’t control but there was no other way – I had to get on and just try to get myself healthy and feel positive.

“Now as for the future, I’m not really worried about it. You don’t know how things will go but I’m pretty confident if I just do the right things and get a bit of good luck after a spell of bad luck, that will definitely help. 

“I still believe my best tennis is ahead, I do believe that, but there’s a bit more of a challenge now to it, because it’s not like it’s for sure that’s gonna happen.

“I like that as well, because there’s something to be achieved again and it’s kind of refreshing in my mind.”

The draw on Thursday did Tomljanovic no favours, pitting her in the opening round against Ukraine’s 30th seed Dayana Yastremska, but nothing can dampen the rejvenated Aussie’s enthusiasm.

“To be honest, I’ve really missed the competition,” she said. 

“It’s something that I can’t find in anything else I do in my life, apart from tennis.”