Melbourne, Australia, 15 January 2024 | Leigh Rogers

At world No.271, Ajla Tomljanovic is one of the lowest-ranked contenders in this year’s Australian Open women’s singles draw.

It’s an unfamiliar position for the 30-year-old, who last summer was the host nation’s top-ranked player. Yet Tomljanovic is unfazed.

“I feel happy with where I’m at,” said Tomljanovic, who used a protected ranking of world No.33 to enter the tournament.

“I think I’m always dangerous in these stages of the tournament. I still feel like people don’t want to play me, especially in the early rounds.”

After a knee injury derailed her 2023 season, Tomljanovic is excited to test herself against the world’s best once again.

“It’s kind of like, in a way, a new chapter,” she acknowledged.

There are, understandably, some nerves too.

“I’d be lying if I’m sitting here and being like, ‘This is the best I’ve ever felt’, because that’s not also realistic,” Tomljanovic told media ahead of her ninth Australian Open main-draw campaign.

Still, the three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist appreciates the lessons gained from last year’s physical challenges.

“I think, without realising, it probably did make me stronger just emotionally, because you don’t rehab yourself back if you’re not stubborn about getting back,” she explained.

“I mean, there’s plenty of examples when athletes don’t get back where they believe they can get to, or they have less luck than me. That’s why I do feel lucky that my knee responded to everything we’ve done for it.

“There’s a lot of resilience that took place in 2023. It, for sure, will pay off.”

There are already promising signs that Tomljanovic can quickly climb back up the rankings.

She won her biggest career title, at a WTA 125 event in Brazil, late last year and helped Australia progress to the recent United Cup semifinals.

With six wins from her past nine matches, this provides positive momentum ahead of a first-round showdown with world No.40 Petra Martic at Melbourne Park.

The 32-year-old Croatian has won two of their three previous meetings, including an Australian Open qualifying clash in Tomljanovic’s tournament debut 13 years ago.

Tomljanovic did, however, win their most recent battle at the US Open in 2021.

“I feel like I know her game quite well and she knows mine,” Tomljanovic said. “We kind of grew up together actually. She used to play with my sister, so we go way back.”

The heartbreak of withdrawing from last year’s Australian Open is far from forgotten either, providing added motivation.

“I’ve had flashbacks from last year. That was not fun,” Tomljanovic admitted.

“(But) I’m really excited, I feel good and ready to go.”

Tomljanovic begins her Australian Open 2024 campaign this evening.

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