Ajla Tomljanovic has revealed how she stole a ploy from Serena Williams’ own playbook to conquer the American in a career-defining victory in New York.
In ending Williams’ decorated career with a rousing 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 US Open third-round win at Flushing Meadows, Tomljanovic penned a small slice of history for herself too.
The 29-year-old Croatian-born Australian will forever be the answer to one of the great trivia questions: Who was the last player to face Serena Williams?
“No one’s going to pronounce my name right. That’s going to suck,” Tomljanovic said, only half joking.
“But, I mean, I don’t think I’ve of been part of tennis history (before) so that’s pretty cool.
“I do feel a little bit like the villain.”
Tomjlanovic grew up idolising Williams and said it was bittersweet to send the 23-times grand slam champion into retirement.
“I really did want to play Serena before she retired,” she said.
“But if I was the loser today I’d probably be really sad. I don’t want to say I’m sad, but just conflicted a little bit.
“It’s probably the most conflicted I’ve ever felt after a win.
“During the match I was so eager to win. I wanted to win as much as the next person because I didn’t look at her like, ‘Oh, Serena, her last tournament’.
“But then when it ended, it almost didn’t feel right. When she started talking about her family and everything, I got emotional because I can relate to having a strong bond with your family.
“When she said that she wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them, I relate to that a lot.
“Just the whole moment after was just tough to handle a little bit.”
Tomjlanovic certainly hung tough in the clutch moments of a memorable match that stretched three hours and five minutes.
The last game lasted 15 minutes alone, with Williams saving five match points with some incredible winners before Tomljanovic finally prevailed.
The Wimbledon quarter-finalist said she stopped counting after the second match point.
“Every match point she saved, it was all credit to her. I didn’t feel like I did much wrong,” Tomljanovic said.
“I had this weird, like, calmness because I felt like if I get broken, so what? Serena broke me. Wow, I’m just like the next person she broke when she’s down 5-1.
“I know she comes up with her best tennis when she’s in the most trouble. I didn’t feel like I’m choking it away or something. I thought I was getting outplayed on those match points.
“I just kept calm and actually took a page of her book. I know Serena one time said she only thinks about the next point. If I’m playing her, I might (as well) use her tactic.”