Free-swinging Ajla Tomljanovic has continued the carnage in the women’s draw at Roland Garros, ensuring the tournament is without its top three seeds going into the second week after disposing of Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets.
The promising 21-year-old Croat continued rewriting the script in the race for the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen, using the full array of weapons in her artillery to dismantle the third seed 6-4, 6-4 in her main-draw debut at the French.
Maintaining a cool head in the face of the sizeable upset, Tomljanovic realises she is still a considerable way off emulating her countrywoman Iva Majoli's title run here back in 1997. Indeed, she dismissed the term "Cinderella run" after the match, telling the press: "Don't you call it that when it's the quarters, not fourth round?" with a grin.
Friday's win marks the world No.72's first time into the fourth round of a major and her first top-10 victory, leaving the top half of the draw in tatters, with Maria Sharapova (No.7) now the highest remaining seed on that side of the draw.
“After seeing the two first seeds go out, (I) feel like I can do this too. I grew up with these girls that are beating them... Obviously, you respect everyone, but you don't fear anyone,” Tomljanovic said. “This year I’ve been in a few situations where I was up and didn’t execute so I wanted to make it right this time." One of those situations came at this year’s Australian Open where she served for the match against 13th seed Sloane Stephens, but failed to close it out, eventually succumbing 7-5 in the third. "Honestly, what went through my mind was that match in Australia. I thought, 'Oh, my God, here I am again with an opportunity. I'm definitely not going to do the same thing I did last time,'" she said. Her clay-court lead-up was also less than impressive. She fell in qualifying in both Madrid and Rome and lost in the second round in Strasbourg, but on Friday at the Porte d'Auteuil she made no mistake against the crafty Radwanska.
It became clear from the outset that unless the Pole was able to get any zip on her service, Tomljanovic would crunch anything short. The Boca Raton-based Croat surged to a 5-1 lead before the first sign of nerves crept in; Radwanska pegging one of the breaks back before Tomljanovic was able to bring up set point with a big first delivery down the T drawing the error from her opponent. A lob from Radwanska landing just long of the baseline then handed her opponent the opening set after 37 minutes.
She carried the aggression into the second, ripping a backhand winner crosscourt after a lengthy baseline exchange. Her confidence now was soaring and against one of the most intuitive movers in the game, she had the audacity to pepper her opponent’s side of the court with backhand drop-shot winners on the back of her heavy groundstrokes.
Breaking for 1-0, she would go on to stave off a pair of break points to hold for 5-3 and never looked like faltering, bringing up match point with a huge backhand forcing Radwanska into an error and sealing it after one hour and 21 minutes as the Pole’s forehand misfired one last time.
Afterwards, the Croat, who trains at Chris Evert's academy in Boca Raton, Florida, paid special tribute to new coach David Taylor, the Australian behind Sam Stosur's impressive 2011 US Open breakthrough.
"Last year was my comeback year from mono[-nucleosis], and I got myself to No.70 to finish the year. I thought that was a good effort," she said. "Then I started working in December with my new coach, Dave Taylor, and I really think that helped a lot, because he implemented some things in my game that I really needed. I owe him this win today, for sure. I had some tough losses this year and he never stopped believing I could do this."
Taylor has far bigger plans than a fourth-round showing at a Grand Slam in mind for his new charge, and if you ask the cool-headed Croat, her Roland Garros fairy tale has just begun.