London, Great Britain, 2 July 2024 | Vivienne Christie

For all the happy memories that could come flooding back for Ajla Tomljanovic at Wimbledon, the No.4 Australian woman is living firmly in the now.

“It’s special, for sure,” Tomljanovic noted when asked how it feels to return to her most successful Grand Slam setting.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll appreciate it a bit more than when I’ve stopped playing. When I come here, I love it and kind of pinch myself the first moment, but then I get into this mode of getting ready.”

Given the challenges of her recent seasons, it’s understandable that Tomljanovic is keen to look ahead.

The 31-year-old enjoyed her best major run as a quarterfinalist at The Championships in 2021 and replicated that result the following year.

It built a stunning run of momentum in which Tomljanovic constructed a US Open 2022 quarterfinal campaign that included victory over the retiring Serena Williams.

But at the same time last year, a despondent Tomljanovic watched Wimbledon unfold from Los Angeles, having briefly travelled to Europe before determining that as she continued her recovery from a knee injury, competing at the tournament was out of reach.

“It was probably the toughest part of my year last year because this was the one that felt like, for sure I’m going to make it,” she recalled.

“Watching it on the telly wasn’t fun. And that’s when all these questions started up in my mind like, ‘what’s going to happen now?’

“It should have been a really joyful time for me, competing here, and that was probably the lowest point because everyone’s recalling how well you did the year before.”

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Still, as Tomljanovic also noted, “tennis keeps you going”.

After returning at last year’s US Open, Tomljanovic claimed the WTA 125 Florianopolis title in November. She contested Australian summer tournaments at the start of the 2024 season, before surgery for uterine fibroids in February meant she missed the next three months.

Having played two clay-court tournaments – the WTA 125 event in Parma, followed by Roland Garros – Tomljanovic can feel some of her old form returning on grass.

She reached the Surbiton quarterfinals as a qualifier and with four wins over higher-ranked opponents in Birmingham, reached the fifth WTA-level final of her career.

“I was serving horrible in Paris (but) I came on the grass and all of a sudden, my stats are better. I think grass gives me a different sort of confidence because I know that if I don’t hit quality balls, I’m going to have to run more, which I don’t want to do especially now,” Tomljanovic related.

“So I feel like I know my game a lot better on the grass than any other surface and I don’t overthink or hesitate on grass. It really forces me to get out of my comfort zone and just play on instinct.”

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Tomljanovic will rely heavily on those qualities as she faces Jelena Ostapenko in the first round of the 2024 Championships, evoking memories from their testy fourth-round meeting in 2021.

The typically good-natured Tomljanovic became frustrated when the Latvian was treated for injury, resulting in a tense on-court exchange.

“For me what happened was in the past. Looking back at it after all these years, like did I overreact? Maybe,” she reflects.

“(But) in the moment, I felt what I felt … I do think that sometimes in the heat of the battle, it’s also good to show emotion and at the end of the day, it’s sports.

“If I go back to that moment, I’ve never made a fourth round and it was very emotional for me. Now I just look forward to the battle.”

Tomljanovic does so with an appreciation for every opportunity, knowing there’s a timeframe on every career.

“I wish I had a bit more appreciation,” she admitted, when asked if the injury-interrupted period had changed her perspective.

“What clicked the most to me is that it’s so short this tennis life and I kind of lost a year and a half of what could have been maybe the best part of my career. So it made me realise that I don’t have in a way much left because in my mind I want to play for 20 more years.”

It adds to Tomljanovic’s moment to make every moment count.

“I’m trying to really enjoy myself because I don’t think I’m ever going to get to a point where I’m over it,” she added.

“Because I think I’ve got too much love for the game and too much energy for it where I don’t see how I will be tired of the lifestyle, of the travel, of the practice.

“It will be when my body gives up on me because there’s  just too many years in it. So that’s why I want to maximise it.”

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