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As Australian men’s tennis celebrates its greatest top-100 singles representation in more than 13 years, a major potential boost to the women’s game has arrived with the surprise defection of rising Croatian star Ajla Tomljanovic.
Tomljanovic, 21, who started last season ranked 495th after returning from a bout of mononucleosis, has broken into the world’s top 60 since joining forces last December with Sam Stosur’s former coach, David Taylor.
She now plans to formalise her Australian connection by representing her soon-to-be-adopted nation at next month’s US Open.
A powerful prospect who upset third seed Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the round-of-16 on debut at this year’s French Open, and served for her second-round match against Sloane Stephens at Melbourne Park in January, Zagreb-born Tomljanovic has trained at Chris Evert’s academy in Boca Raton, Florida, since the age of 13.
At Roland Garros, her elimination of Radwanska coincided with the sensational toppling of world No. 1 Serena Williams by 20-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, who declared “now is the moment” for the next generation to emerge in women’s tennis.
Tomljanovic added: ”There are a lot of girls my age, around my age, who are doing big things, and I’m honoured to be part of that group.”
She will join Jarmila Gajdosova and the Rodionova sisters, Anastasia and Arina, among the former eastern Europeans who now call Australia home, as well as childhood immigrants Bernard Tomic, Jelena Dokic and Marinko Matosevic.
The No. 1 in her native Croatia, the only Australians ranked higher than Tomljanovic’s world ranking of 56 are Stosur, the former US Open champion who turned 30 this year, and Casey Dellacqua, who has reached a career-high No. 33 at the age of 29.
Next is Victorian Olivia Rogowska (106), Gajdosova (149), teenager Ash Barty (189) and Anastasia Rodionova (206).
The men bat deeper, headed by recent Newport champion Lleyton Hewitt ((40), Marinko Matosevic (52), Nick Kyrgios (65), Bogota title-holder Bernard Tomic (70), Matt Ebden (86) and the improved Sam Groth (92).
The acclaimed training facilities and support services at Melbourne Park’s National Tennis Centre are likely to have been a factor in Tomljanovic’s decision, which has been welcomed by Tennis Australia.
“Tomljanovic will play as an Australian at grand slam tournaments, effective immediately, and at Tour events once her citizenship is finalised. Tennis Australia welcomes Ajla to the Australian tennis family and wishes her well,” TA said.
Under international tennis rules, Tomljanovic can play under the Australian flag at the four majors, but not at WTA level until after completing a qualification process that starts with an application for permanent residency and ends with a passport.
In 2009, amendments were passed to immigration laws to help accommodate elite athletes whose travel requirements had prevented them from spending the requisite number of months in the country to gain citizenship.
Tomljanovic, it seems, will be the next high-profile tennis beneficiary, and Australia has won the allegiance of one of the game’s exciting young talents.
“She was a great junior and wasn’t 100 per cent sure about being one of the top pros until the last six months, because there’s been a little shift in her game,” Evert said in Paris.
“She’s not as passive and she’s playing more aggressive, hitting the ball harder, her serve is much better, so she’s surprised me.”
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