Sydney, Australia, 21 December 2023 | Vivienne Christie

As she embraces a fresh start in her playing career, there is no place that Ajla Tomljanovic would rather be than Australia.

The three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist has returned to Sydney to prepare for the upcoming summer of tennis, which she’ll start as a member of Team Australia at the United Cup in Perth.

It ends a frustrating period for Tomljanovic, who was forced to withdraw from all summer 2023 tournaments due to a serious knee injury, which kept her off the tour until August.

“When I was boarding my flight to come to Sydney, I was just the happiest kid almost because it’s what I’ve been looking forward to, since I’ve had surgery, was just coming back in January and playing freely,” she told media at Ken Rosewall Arena on Wednesday.

Tomljanovic returns eeling physically confident, after some adjustments to her training schedule. “It’s never going to be the same after injury but definitely there’s no pain, so it’s just a different approach to my body a little bit.

“I just have to manage my load but all I need to know is that when I’m on the match court I can push as hard as I want and that’s what I can do.”

There’s also sound perspective for Tomljanovic, despite the doubts that crept in during her long months of recovery.

“I do have to just remind myself constantly how far I’ve come this year, because there were times when I really doubted a lot of things,” she related. “(But) I’m back to feeling pretty good and there’s still a lot to improve on, especially my movement and things but at the same time I feel like I can play a high level with what I’ve got, which gets me excited.”

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That outlook is particularly impressive given the cruel timing of Tomljanovic’s knee injury.

After quarterfinal appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022 (where she defeated Serena Williams in the last match of the American’s career), she was set to be seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam at Australian Open 2023.

Having celebrated her 30th birthday in May, Tomljanovic also recognised the contrast from her comeback from a major shoulder injury that limited her to only two tournaments in 2016.

“When I had my shoulder thing, I was kind of young and you think you’re invincible and everything will be fine,” she Tomljanovic.

“At this age, you’re kind of more understanding of the risks and it’s almost a little bit worse, because you’re overthinking a lot. But yeah, it’s scary but you’ve got to focus on the people that have come from knee surgeries and been even better. So yeah, just manifest it.”

Tomljanovic has done so superbly in the latter part of 2023. After she claimed the first match of her comeback at the US Open in August, the Australian competed at Guadalajara in September and at the Billie Jean King Cup in November.

She ended the season by claiming her first singles title in more than 10 years at a WTA 125 tournament at Florianopolis, in Brazil.

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It creates the perfect springboard for the Australian summer, in which Tomljanovic is scheduled to compete at the United Cup, Adelaide International and the Australian Open.

There are only positive vibes for the local favourite, who is especially excited to start her season representing Australia in Perth.

“Playing United Cup is just something I really wanted to do last year just ’cause it’s a team event,” said Tomljanovic, noting Australian players’ tendency to lift for team events.

“I think it’s the team camaraderie. You can’t fake that. Either it’s genuine or it’s not and I think the culture in Australian tennis really is strong and we all have the same goal.

“We want to win but at the same time, you truly feel like a team.”

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