Former top-50 player Ajla Tomljanovic admits that patience has never been her strongest suit but says she is approaching her comeback from a lengthy injury break with newfound perspective.
The 24-year-old Croatian, who reached the semi-finals of the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Poland’s Magdalena Frech in Dubai on Thursday, spent 13 months sidelined from the sport dealing with a shoulder injury before returning to action in Acapulco end of last February.
Tomljanovic was unranked when she came back to competition but has managed to climb up to her current ranking of 130 thanks to a third round appearance in Miami, a second round showing at the US Open and some positive results on the ITF circuit that included two final runs at $60k and $80k tournaments in the United States.
This week, she’s competing at the $100k ITF Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge in Dubai, where she faces Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele in the semi-finals on Friday.
A title win on Saturday would take her to the brink of the top-100.
Nearly 10 months into her comeback from injury, does Tomljanovic feel she’s getting her groove back?
“I actually feel like I haven’t really had a season yet. I feel like 2018 will sort of be the start of something fresh and when I’ll feel my best. This year was kind of just getting back into it and it was a little bit more relaxed with my schedule but I think I’m hitting my top form now, which is positive,” Tomljanovic told Sport360 on Thursday.
The Florida-resident made waves on tour when she reached the fourth round of the French Open in 2014, taking out former champion Francesca Schiavone, the then world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska and Elena Vesnina en route.
She peaked at No. 47 in the rankings in 2015 before struggling with shoulder problems.
Most professional players often find it hard to stay patient when it comes to regaining full health and getting back to top form. Does Tomljanovic belong to that group?
“It’s the worst, especially when you’re naturally impatient as a person, so that’s even harder,” she admits.
Does she find herself more patient now having gone through that tough period?
“No,” she says with a smile. “I probably am. I’m probably more realistic, I have a bigger perspective but I’m still far off with the patience.”
Tomljanovic, who trains at Chris Evert’s academy in Boca Raton, is making sure she keeps her expectations in check, but does have a goal in mind.
“I started in March this year so I would be happy if I’m top-100 within a year of that. But my goals are very flexible so I’m just keeping it at staying healthy,” she added.
Meanwhile, No. 5 seed Belinda Bencic also advanced to the semi-finals in Dubai with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Romanian No. 2 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu.
Bencic, a former world No. 7 who is also on the comeback trail from a long injury hiatus, takes on Italian Sara Errani in the last-four on Friday.
Errani, who served a two-month doping ban over the summer, is a former world No. 5 but is down to 143 in the rankings.
Lleyton Hewitt is coming out of retirement to play doubles at next month’s Australian Open.
The former world number one officially called it quits after his home grand slam in 2016 but returned to the court twice more last year in Davis Cup and at Wimbledon.
Now he is making another appearance, this time alongside fellow Australian Sam Groth, for whom this will be the last tournament of his career.
Hewitt said in the Herald Sun: “It’s going to be a bit of fun – that’s what the Australian Open is about. I’m going to really enjoy it. We’ve been hitting a lot of balls, hitting every day, and we’re not just going out there making up the numbers. We want to give it a fair crack.”
Hewitt won grand slam singles titles at the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon the following year, while he was also victorious in doubles at Flushing Meadows in 2000 partnering Max Mirnyi.
The 36-year-old is currently Australia’s Davis Cup captain.
Polish tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska spent two weeks training in Dubai in preparation for the 2018 season.
The former Wimbledon finalist sat down with Sport360 to answer some rapid fire questions about her toughest rivals on tour, which players have the best shots on the circuit, and who has the best fashion sense.