She may not be born and bred in the land Downunder, but Ajla Tomljanovic was declared an Australian citizen in 2018 and is now the second-highest ranked Aussie in the Top 100.
With the spotlight on Ash Barty still shining strong since her maiden Australian Open title early this year, other successful players representing the nation may have been shunned. The truth is, there are only three Australian women that are in the WTA Top 100, a number that represents a severe decline since the days of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, and Hana Mandlikova.
In spite of the fierce global competition in the WTA Tour, Ash Barty has managed to break the cycle of European and American world No.1s by taking the spot for herself and putting Australia on the world tennis map. Unfortunately, Barty is very much a one-of-a-kind player, and there currently are no fellow countrywomen that can stand by her side at the top. The world No.39 Ajla Tomljanovic and world No.96 Astra Sharma are the only other Australian players besides Ash Barty to be ranked in the Top 100.
Down but not out!
Of the remaining two Aussies in the Top 100, there is only one WTA title between them, and surprisingly it goes to the lower-ranked Sharma who won the Charleston Open in 2021, a WTA 250 event played in the USA. One may ponder the question then, how is Ajla Tomljanovic, who does not have a single WTA title to her name, ranked so much higher in comparison? The answer is consistent effort, maximum participation, and stepping it up in majors.
In the world of tennis, it doesn’t get any more prestigious than the Grand Slams, and that’s where all the ranking points lie, waiting for those worthy enough to secure them. Unlike Sharma, Tomljanovic has participated in more Grand Slams and has gone further than her on numerous occasions, albeit she has had a longer career than her younger countrywoman so far. Nevertheless, the world No.39 was able to break through the second round in 2014 when she managed to reach a career-best fourth round at the French Open, a feat that neither Aussies were able to achieve till then.
Surprisingly, Ajla Tomljanovic has just recently started playing her best tennis, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2021, the very first time she made it that far in any Grand Slam, and also reaching the third round of the US Open, another career-first. Keep in mind, her Wimbledon run was halted by world No.1, compatriot, and eventual champion Ash Barty herself, making it a resounding effort for the Croatian-Australian.
Majors aside, Tomljanovic has truly shaken up the WTA Tour despite never securing a title, claiming four runner-up trophies across international events in Thailand, South Korea, and Morocco. In the ITF Circuit, she has a whopping 10 runner-up titles coupled with four secured titles to her name, most of which were played across the United States.
Ajla Tomljanovic, a resurgence for Aussie tennis?
There’s no doubt about it, consistent efforts and unyielding results always trump a Grand Slam title or two when it comes to maintaining your rank, and Ajla Tomljanovic is a classic example of this. Without so much as a WTA title to her name, she is breaking down the barriers of what it means to be successful and showing the world that there is more to tennis than winning trophies. Ultimately, Tomljanovic is the personification of never giving up, no matter how many times you fall short, as long as you strive to be better than you were yesterday.
As far as Aussie tennis goes, Ash Barty is indeed the “public enemy number one” when it comes to challenging those Grand Slam titles, but our other Aussie stars are making slow but steady strides to be by her side in representing the nation at the top stage. With continued efforts and hard work, I have no doubt that Ajla Tomljanovic could be a future Top 10 player and even a Grand Slam champion given the gradually increasing trajectory of her success. The same goes for the younger Astra Sharma, who is also showing consistent performances at major and minor events, with the confidence of a WTA title to her name to push her towards further success.
While we can also place our hopes on some of the Aussie players outside the WTA Top 100, such as Madison Inglis, Storm Sanders, and Arina Rodionova, all of whom are in the Top 200, it is unlikely that we’ll see a champion like Ash Barty again any time soon. Ajla Tomljanovic is indeed the Australian “second-in-command” and with her most recent form and career highs in 2021, this could well be the year that she breaks through the rankings.
Keep an eye out for this Croatian-Australian sensation this year as she strives to break more personal bests, do more damage on the WTA Tour, and continue climbing that ladder to the top!