Ajla Tomljanovic looks like the typical new generation of women tennis player. Tall (5'11''), strong, muscular, ready to hit the ball full power. But there is something more about her, something that distinguishes her from many of the girls that are causing major upsets in Paris this year. Ajla's mentor is Chris Evert, the tennis legend, the ice woman on court, the blond girl that made determination her daily break stick. "She is a mentor and a friend to me" revealed Tomjlanovic in perfect English, with a surprisingly very strong American accent. "I moved to the States when I was 13. Before I lived in Croatia and used to go over there for the summer, to stay with a part of my family that lives abroad. Then I met Chris and John, and I immediately liked their approach. They made me feel welcome, and I understood that moving to Boca Raton to train in her academy was the best choice I could possibly make for my tennis career" revealed the 21-year-old.
How is like to have such a tennis legend believing in you and mentoring you? "Me and Chrissie have a great relationship. She is a friend. We talk a lot on the phone, we have a lot of fun together. In Florida, they believed in me when I had some tough losses, so I am very close to them". Chris was famous for her perfect attitude and determination on the court: "she was the best in that and for sure she taught me how to stay positive and concentrated on court. She is sort of a second mom to me".
It hasn't always been easy for Ajla, who arrives to the biggest result in her career at the French Open after dealing for one year with a form of mononucleosis. "I started to work in December with Dave Taylor, my new coach in December after coming back from mono, and things just clicked. I owe everything to him".
And the efforts made in the winter to become a more complete tennis player and use her strength to produce an aggressive style of tennis started to pay off. In 2013 Ajla climbed the rankings, started to play in the big stages, going very close to cause an upset earlier this year in January, when she served for the match up 5-4 in the third against Sloane Stephens. Following some good placements in the tournaments played during the Sprin, Ajla arrived in Paris as World No.72.
The draw wasn't the easiest for her. First round against the 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, whom she brilliantly dominated in straight sets, then the second round against the 32nd seed Elena Vesnina, whom again she beat in straight sets, but needing more than one hour to close out the first set in the tie break. But at a Grand Slam tournament things never go easier, it actually gets tougher every round more. So Ajla was awaited on Friday by the 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska on Philippe Chatrier. "I was getting ready to play the toughest match of my career. She moves the ball around incredibly well, and she did all that I expected her to do" said Tomljanovic.
And she was ready, despite an unpleasant thought coming into her way when serving for the match up 5-4: "I thought of the match I played against Sloane in Australia. I was in the same situation, and I told myself 'you won't do that again'! But the thing got me so nervous that I got ready to serve on the wrong side when up 30-0. In my mind I already had 3 match points, it was quite embarrassing". This time, though, Ajla didn't fail. She go the match, the first appearance in the 4th round of a Slam, and the first interview into a Slam main interview room: "I never had a light in front of me before, so it's definitively the first time" said the 21-year-old who fancies Robert Pattinson laughing.
It may be the first time, but it could definitively not be the last. Next Alja awaits Taylor Townsend ('I know her well, we trained together in the past') or clay courts expert Carla Suarez Navarro. "Whoever wins it will be a god match, I respect everybody, but I don't fear anyone" said Ajla confident with a smile. Maybe Chrissie will tell her how to make sure she'll see more lights blinding her in front of the microphone.