Standing in the Sydney Theatre Company foyer, I had a glass of wine in my hand as I gushed about Miranda Otto’s performance in the White Guard.
‘She’s so amazing in this, isn’t she?’
Accompanying the praise was a wide, glittering smile and the piercing blue eyes of Cate Blanchett.
Now, look. It’s been ten years. I could lie. I could say that I was cool as a cucumber, that I replied with a laugh and a clever, charming line.
The truth is, I turned into a nervous puddle when I met one of my heroes – and I wasn’t doing anything more than enjoying the theatre.
So I can only imagine how Ajla Tomljanović felt when she stood across the court from her own idol at the US Open, Serena Williams, for what would be the tennis great’s last grand slam match.
‘I just thought she would beat me, you know, so the pressure wasn’t on me… She’s the greatest of all time, period.’
So who is the Aussie right-hander making waves on the WTA tour? Here are four things you should know about the history-making tennis star.
She’s been representing Australia since 2014
A dual-citizen holder, Croatian-born Tomljanović began competing for Australia at the 2014 US Open, but was unable to represent the country at non-Grand Slam events until she was granted citizenship in 2018.
She’s played for Australia at all WTA Tour events since.
She’s a junior Australian Open champion
Tomljanović was an accomplished junior player and achieved a career-high junior ranking at world No. 4 in 2009.
She also took home the 2009 Australian Open girls’ doubles title with American player Christina McHale.
She’s something of a giant slayer
While the world may know her name thanks to her US Open win over Serena Williams, this is not the first time Tomljanović has had a top-seeded player’s number.
She’s claimed impressive wins over the likes of Garbiñe Muguruza, Emma Raducanu, Karolina Plíšková and Jelena Janković.
As for her contribution to tennis history, Tomljanović seems to take it all in her stride. Reflecting on her status as a likely answer to sports trivia questions in the future, the tennis star is quick to wave it all off.
‘I mean, no one’s going to pronounce my name right (laughter). That’s going to suck.’
She’s a big believer in the power of mindset and perspective
Tomljanović practises meditation courtside and picked up some mindset tips from her fellow tennis players on the WTA Tour.
‘I remember Novak [Djoković] saying one time… when the crowd was against him, he just pretends it’s for him. When they chant, I don’t know, Rafa or Roger, whoever, he hears ‘Novak, Novak’. I kind of liked that.’
She knew she had a mammoth job focusing on her game at Flushing Meadows, where chants of Williams’ name could be heard from one stadium to the next, and came prepared.
‘I think if I just stay within my little bubble, have my corner that I go to when I need help just for support, block it out as much as I can, I think all my meditation that I do here and there, I’m going to try to just meditate all day tomorrow,’ Tomljanovic said.
Ahh. Meditation. That’s where I went wrong with Cate. Thanks to Ajla, I might know better next time – when I meet Meryl Streep or something.