Ajla Tomljanovic has hovered around the 50’s in the rankings but the Croatian born Aussie who is based at Chris Evert’s academy in South Florida has the ability to be in the top 25 and this year has highlighted that even more. However, the issue for Ajla is her mental approach on court to a match.
The 28-year-old has struggled with her confidence on court. When she reached the fourth round at the French Open in 2014 most thought she was on the brink of making a big breakthrough, but off the court she was doubting herself.
“I think I'm a big thinker. I will overthink even the smallest things, which sometimes works for me and other times it doesn't. On top of that I just want it so much a lot of the times. There's, like, that little kid in me that all I wanted to ever do was play tennis and win,” Tomljanovic said.
“Sometimes it's hard to accept the losses and it's hard to accept that maybe where I thought I'd be, I didn't hit those marks. It kind of builds in my mind that I kind of failed. Then I want it even more. I get into situations when it's, like, really within my reach. It's tennis, it happens, you don't always win. I sometimes make it bigger than it is.
“Now that I'm a little bit older and I'm making runs that I haven't before, it also makes me appreciate it a lot more. It makes me think, why wasn't I happier when I was 20, 21 making the fourth round of the French? That was awesome. Back then, you're just younger, you take it differently.
“I think it's always going to be a learning process for me. It never comes easily. But it's definitely so worth it when I do get it right because like even when I'm playing well, I'm always ready for anything. I'm just learning how to relax and stay competitive, but without having that added pressure from myself because it can be a curse a little bit. I'm happy that I still want it as much as I do because it's what keeps me going.”
Her partner of about three years Matteo Berrettini reminds Ajla that she needs to be proud of what she has achieved so far and that she has the potential to do so much more but it has to come from within. She says she has been “too hard on myself”. He says he knows how tough she is on herself because she wants the results badly. He tells her she has to “enjoy what she’s doing because it’s nothing otherwise”.
“The fact that she did quarterfinals in Wimby, third round in US Open, it's not something that it's normal because she never did it, and I think it's important for a player to recognize that, to feel good about it,” Berrettini said. “There is a lot of work behind the scenes, a lot of moments where she was struggling. I was struggling, too. Like it's normal. It's part of the game.
“I think it's good to feel bad in the bad moments, but I think it's worth it to feel good when the things are going well. So that's what I'm telling her. The expectations were different, because her, at 17, 18, 19, she was really, really good, and 19 I think she was already in 100. At 19 I didn't have any ATP points. So different career, different perspectives.
“I grew up with more calm, and I didn't see like in my career such a big jump like I did, and I was working for it but I didn't know it would happen. Sometimes when you put too much pressure it can happen, and you're, I don't know, you're thinking too much, you know. This sport sometimes you don't have to think too much. But I think what she's doing is great. She's close to her best ranking. She's working hard. She is a competitor. She's competitive. She really likes to play. I really think that she's gonna get even better.”
When reference is made of “the beautiful people in society”, these two would definitely be around the top of the list, and they are the sweetest couple (her father even jokingly refers to Matteo as his son-in-law), and with both being professional players it helps them to appreciate what the other might be experiencing in good and bad times.
Their appearance at the recent Met Gala was a showstopper. They were both dressed by Dolce and Gabbana and as Ajla laughingly said to me “we came as a package deal”.
The dress she wore was reputed to be worth $100,000 but with a bit of probing she revealed my dollar estimate of the dress definitely missed the mark. The new suggestion is double that amount if not more, but AJ’s lips were sealed on the actual value.
“I was so privileged and proud to wear that dress,” she said. “They probably won’t make another one. It’s considered a work of art and will be housed in a museum. The Gala was amazing, but my only regret was not taking sneakers for the after party because by the end of the night I could not feel my feet because of the heels I was wearing.”
Being more mature and with Matteo by her side and experiences like the Met Gala, which to some might be frivolous, have been part of that development. She is more open and accepting of situations, rather than stewing over them and becoming down.
Emma Raducanu had made the comment after she lost her first match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which was her first match since winning the US Open, that she should not be hard on herself and at 18 had to “cut myself a little bit of slack”. I suggested to Tomljanovic that could be a lesson for her as well.
“Yeah, absolutely. It's a blessing and a curse. It's what drives me to be better, but it's also what kicks me when I'm already down,” she said. “Sometimes it keeps me there longer than I want to be. I try really hard not to be that hard on myself and give myself more credit. I did read some of Emma's quotes. I think for an 18-year-old to say that she has a really good way to look at it. What she's done is unbelievable. I've read it. I thought to myself, I can even apply to that even if I'm 28.”
What Ajla Tomljanovic had found to be helpful is working with a psychologist, which she has done for a year. She is accepting of whatever happens, happens, and moves on and tries again. She tries not to dwell on the past or on losses and to really appreciate what she has.
“It gets lost sometimes,” she said. “We do this for a living, every week in and out. I mean, what are we doing? It's my passion to play tennis. I'm making a living out of it. When you look at it that way, I'm like, wow, I should really enjoy this way more. And I am. I believe my time will come and that’s what kind of keeps me going.”