Ajla Tomljanovic to lead nations back-to-back Australian Open title hopes following Ash Bartys retirement


In the wake of Ash Barty’s sudden retirement in March last year, Ajla Tomljanovic instantly inherited the status of Australia’s top-ranked female and the ensuing expectations that come with it.

Ranked world No.35, Tomljanovic will shoulder the hopes of the nation in achieving back-to-back Australian Open titles when she starts her campaign in Melbourne next week.

Previewing the season’s first slam on Stan Sport’s Grand Slam Daily, Australian tennis great Wally Masur said Tomljanovic had “big shoes to fill” after Barty’s exit, but added that she was in the best form of her career to rise to the challenge.

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“Ajla is obviously the heir apparent,” he said.

“[She] had a really good 2022, she’s right at the peak of her powers in the sense that she’s a player that has just worked really hard at her craft [and] is physically fit.”

Tomljanovic experienced a breakout season in 2022 – achieving consecutive quarter final runs at Wimbledon and famously spoiling Serena William’s fairytale farewell at the US Open.

“Ajla strikes me as someone who maybe didn’t have the self-belief that she probably should have given her ability, so by backing up and making the quarter finals of Wimbledon – which she had done in 2021 – and repeating the effort at the US Open, making the quarters again, I think she finally feels like she believes,” Masur said.

“Let’s not forget, if you’re in the quarters, you’re in the final eight of a grand slam. You’re right there – and I think in the women’s draw you can throw a blanket over a lot of players. They all have an opportunity.

“The big question of course, for Ajla, she’s had some knee issues leading into the Australian Open … so hopefully that doesn’t cruel her chances at the Australian Open in 2023.”

Tomljanovic withdrew from both her singles ties at the United Cup, citing a minor knee injury.

Despite the scare, Australian teammate Zoe Hives was adamant that Tomljanovic’s Open campaign would not be derailed.

”I think she’s all good, and she’s just making sure she’s ready for [the Australian Open],” she said when asked about Tomljanovic.

In choosing an outsider for the women’s title, Masur suggested Tomljanovic.

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“Why not?,” he said.

“We know there’s a little bit of an injury cloud coming in but I’m pretty sure Ajla will get herself into peak position.

“[She] showed us that she’s got the ability to go deep in slams – she’s done this three times now – [and] on the back of a lot of hometown support.

“Let’s hope Ajla can find her best tennis.”

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