The 23-year-old Ajla Tomljanovic is just happy to be back. Speaking to reporters less than an hour after a 7-5, 6-2 loss to Julia Goerges in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open.
According to Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Indian Wells was just her second tournament back after undergoing shoulder surgery in March of last year, with her first tournament coming last week in Acapulco, where she defeated Eugenie Bouchard in her first match.
Moreover, currently ranked No.664, Ajla Tomljanovic could finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that after nearly a year away she could still hang with the best.
“A loss has never felt so good,” Tomljanovic said. “I’ve never been this upbeat after a loss, so that’s a good sign.
“I’d be so unfair to myself to be disappointed in myself at this point. Of course you’re disappointed at a loss. You’re a competitive athlete. But it lasted for 30 seconds.”
As reported by WTA, with her return to the tour, Tomljanovic brings a new perspective and appreciation for life on tour. Prior to her surgery, the Croatian reached a career-high of No.47 in 2015, making her first final in Pattaya City that year and notching her first top-five scalp, beating Agnieszka Radwanska at the 2014 French Open to make the Round of 16.
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“It just feels like I’ve been away for decades,” she said. “This time last year I was supposed to play here and I had surgery when it started. My surgeon told me, ‘You’ll be back next year at that tournament.’ I thought my level, is it ever going to be there again?
“Just to be here and be competitive with these girls, I’m not far off. It’s the little things now that are important. It’s just encouraging.”
Ajla Tomljanovic admits her time away from the game was difficult. She was unable to play tennis for six months after her surgery but could not bring herself to use the time purposefully.
“I probably wasted a good four months being depressed,” she said. “Not depressed, but not doing anything with my life. Now I probably regret it a little bit. My dad was like, ‘Take classes, go do stuff’. But at the same time I’m constantly doing rehab. I couldn’t shut off completely that part of my life. I wasn’t mentally able to start something new. I had no motivation. My parents didn’t push me because I’m not a kid anymore. Now I kind of wish they did.”
But Tomljanovic slowly came to terms with life without tennis. Paradoxically, the realization that she did not need the sport allowed her to appreciate the opportunity to play again.
“Honestly, yeah, I could totally be super happy without playing.
“I know tennis is not your whole life, I know there are so many things in your life that are more important. But at the same time, it’s so precious. The 10 years in your life you can spend like this, look at how many people can do it. I probably appreciate it way more. I’ll never say I hate tennis ever again.”
Tomljanovic’s game is built around her booming serve, and that’s the shot that will take the longest time to get back online. Her consistency off the ground and her return game in particular have exceeded her expectations so far. “Even I was like, whoa,” Tomljanovic said, when asked about how well she returned against Bouchard in Acapulco.
“It’s gonna be a grind,” she said. “I’m going to have to play a lot, lose a lot, win a lot hopefully, in the end. But it’s going to be a long way back. Even though I had an okay match here, I won one match last week, there will be a lot of matches where nobody is watching. It’s okay. I’m happy to play anywhere.”