New York, USA, 4 September 2022 | Matt Trollope

There were plenty of firsts for Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night at the US Open.

In her first appearance at Arthur Ashe Stadium, she faced Serena Williams for the first time, and defeated the 23-time Grand Slam champion to reach the second week in New York for the first time.

More notably, Tomljanovic defeated Williams – in a three-hour epic, no less – in what was most likely the American legend’s last professional match of her glittering 25-year professional career.

READ MORE: Tomljanovic rises to end Serena’s US Open campaign sat down with the Australian No.1 to get her perspective on an unforgettable night of tennis at Flushing Meadows. You said on your Instagram story that you were manifesting this match-up, after your earlier comment about lying in bed, envisioning a match with Serena. Were you genuinely looking forward to this? And do you think that kind of ‘destiny’ had any impact on the result?

Ajla Tomljanovic: “I’ve been really into this manifesting thing. Like, I want to embrace it in all aspects of my life. And I was actually just day-dreaming in bed, one day before the tournament started, and thought about playing Serena…”

But, what was it about that thought?

“OK, I didn’t want to say this before I played her, but it was about me winning (smiling). But it was more just about having an epic experience, and a crazy great match that went like 7-6 in the third. But it was nothing more than that; I didn’t even look at the draw, so I didn’t know. But yeah, I think the angels did their little thing, and it happened.” (smiling)

Did you see Anett Kontaveit’s press conference, when she broke down in tears and had to cut it short after losing to Serena in the second round?

“I heard about it, and then I googled it. I thought, OK, whatever I think, how it will be, it will be probably worse. You cannot think, oh, what’s it gonna feel like when you double fault, or when you miss the first serve and you hear them (the crowd)? It actually does get to you. So after seeing her press conference, and just reading about it, I just tried to get as prepared as I could, for the worst. And I thought from the first moment I stepped on court, I stayed in my little bubble, I didn’t really look around, the whole thing (the Serena video tribute) that was happening before, I wasn’t aware.”

You had headphones on, didn’t you?

“Yeah, I couldn’t hear a thing, except for my song. And then I did hear the crowd roar a little bit, so I was like, OK, she’s stepped on, so I took them out and then it was like, OK, you can start now.”

So you envisaged and manifested the experience of playing Serena. What was it actually like, in real life, doing it?

“There was a different vibe about the match, you know? I’ve never played someone that I kind of respected so much, but at the same time, I really wanted to win. And I just felt at the same time that this was, in a way, my moment as well. Because I think it’s an important time in my career, to beat someone like her, and to step up to the occasion. So I tried to just focus on that. But it was surreal playing Serena, at this stage. It was.”

There was a moment in the second set, where you said something to the chair umpire about the crowd, and they booed. What happened there?

“It got to me a little bit, I’m not going to lie. But the thing that annoyed me was that I was ready to serve, and I don’t want to go by the pace of the crowd. It was mostly about that, because I’m not going to wait every time for them stop cheering. So it was nothing really, other than I wanted the ref to control it better.”

There was conversation along the lines of: It would take special kind of person to step up to the line, and see Serena off, in her last match, potentially end her career, when there’s 25,000 people in the stadium who don’t want you to, and millions more people around the world probably also watching, and not wanting it to end. Did that ever factor into your mind?

“As soon as I won my second round, I deleted all my social media and I wasn’t looking at the news. Because everywhere I turned, it was Serena. So I didn’t want to make it… Like I already know how great she is. I didn’t want to psych myself out even more. If I had heard that (conversation) before, I’d be like, ugh, that’s a tough task, then. But if I just stay within my little bubble and my people around me, it’s way easier to deal with things.”

Well, then what do you think it says about you that you were able to do what you did tonight?

“I’m very tough on myself. But I think I always give myself credit after like a month passes. Like, woah, that was pretty cool (laughter). But I will say, I am very proud of myself, just because I felt extremely nervous, from the moment I woke up. I didn’t stop thinking about the match, and I finally relaxed when I did a little bit of physical activity. Like I warmed up, and then I calmed down. The way I managed my emotions, because (of) how I felt before, I gotta give myself a pat on the back for that.” (smiling)

That final game. You said in your press conference you’d lost track of how many match points you’d had [Editor’s note: she won on her sixth match point]. That’s one of the most tense, exciting games we’ve ever seen. Were you really able to stay present in that moment? Because that must’ve been the hardest thing to do.

“I really was. When I stepped up to the line, I was like, OK, what’s the strategy here? I wasn’t just going through the motions. And I feel like I mixed it up, and she came up with amazing things. One time I slowed down the serve, then I went big, and she was returning great. And then I thought to myself, this is epic. Because Serena’s just showing that she’s Serena. And I just embraced the moment, really. And I knew that to win, I’m gonna have to win it, and she’s not gonna give it to me. So yeah, I think in the end I went for some shots, and some of them I didn’t, but in the end I think it paid off.”

Well, in the end you did do it! And you’ve recorded your best ever US Open result, first time in the fourth round. Your tournament is not over. At this stage of your career, you’re making the second week of Slams more regularly now. What does that mean to you?

“I just think that finally my mind and my body kind of connected. I used to be not so aligned. I’d be ready physically, but then my mind wasn’t there. Now, finally, everything’s kind of going in together at the same time. And that feels just really nice. Anyone that knows me, that’s close to me, knows how much I wanted this since I was a kid, and I’ve had some heartbreaks throughout my career, like everyone else. But I’m one of those that I just love doing what I do, and I take everything to heart, and I’m very emotional, even though I don’t think many people would think that, from how I act on the court. I’m living my dream, and I just always want to win, and yeah, it’s just great that I’m finally putting it together like I want to.”