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Aussie’s awkward reality after Barty retirement

Ajla Tomljanović admits she wasn’t ready to replace Ash Barty as the top-ranked woman in Australian tennis but says she has “welcomed the position”.

The Croatia-born Australian is set for her first home summer as Barty’s heir apparent as she eyes the United Cup and Australian Open.

The world No.33 took hold of the mantle when Barty sprung a retirement shock at the age of 25 in March and is now pushing to follow in the Queenslander’s footsteps as Australian Open champion.

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“Well, I wasn’t really ready for it because … it’s by default because she left, so it wasn’t really earned,” Tomljanović told James Bracey on Wide World of Sports’ The Happy Slam podcast.

“But I definitely, you know, welcomed the position.

“I don’t think about it too much, but the more you guys ask me about it, the more I talk about it, and I realize that it’s pretty cool.

“And secretly … I want to keep (the top Australian woman title) even though I want as many Aussies in the top hundred doing well.

“But it’s like a little bit of healthy competition that I think is good for us.”

Tomljanović has teamed up with Alex de Minaur, Jason Kubler, John Peers, Zoe Hives, Maddison Inglis and Sam Stosur for the inaugural United Cup — an 18-team, mixed-gender competition being played across Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane.

Listen to all six episodes of The Happy Slam podcast on Apple and on Spotifyfeaturing in-depth interviews with tennis legends Pat Rafter, Jelena Dokic, Jim Courier, Dylan Alcott, Todd Woodbridge, and Australia’s current top WTA player Ajla Tomljanovic.

The 29-year-old is hoping to replicate on Australian soil the sizzling overseas form that saw her contest two quarter-finals in singles grand slams this year.

She reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals for a second year in succession and made the final eight in New York, sharpening her mindset for another Australian campaign.

“I don’t think I’ve been this excited for 2023 to roll around and I really love that feeling of just being so hungry and I must be honest: I wasn’t really thinking that way for the last few years,” Tomljanović said.

Watch Team Australia take on the world in the United Cup, live and exclusive on 9Now and Stan Sport.

“It was always just ‘OK, thank god, like it’s over now, we can rest and chill a little bit’.

“But I’m kind of in a different mindset this time and I really like it. And I don’t know if it’s due to me just learning a lot about myself this year and doing better.

Tomljanovic nails backhand winner

“It’s the best year I’ve had playing two quarters.

“I’m the type of person I need to prove myself things over and over again to really believe it.

“And I think playing a quarter-finals three times makes me calm and in the fact that, you know, I can keep doing this and maybe even better.

“So there’s a little bit more motivation, calmness around my tennis right now.”

Tomljanović moved to Australia in 2014 and began competing under the Australian flag at the US Open of that year, sparking backlash in Croatia.

She became an Australian citizen in 2018.

“I’d say early on in my professional career, I was about maybe 20 when we (Tomljanović and her parents) started to talk about it (moving to Australia),” she said.

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“It was a little bit funny. I mean, I have family in Australia and just going there always felt so familiar in a strange way. And when the opportunity arose that, you know, I could play for Australia and it would actually be a … I mean, I jumped on it because it was always something I kind of wanted and I got so excited when it first possibility came up.

“But then it took a while for me to get my citizenship, maybe three years or two years.

“I played under the Aussie flag but just in the slams, and then it would be under Croatia, and it confused people a lot. So I would always have to explain: ‘No, no, like it’s going to be fully Aussie all the way soon’… and once I got it, it just felt right.

“And then I think playing Fed Cup in the Olympics really kind of solidified me as an Aussie. I want to say how grateful, humbled and proud I am to be on this team. It’s been maybe five days that we spend together as a team .

“And I think it takes a special group of people to make me feel like I’ve been part of this team for a long time. And you guys have managed to do that so far.

“This is probably the highlight that I’ve been a part of.”

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