Dubai: Former Australia Open Junior Girls Doubles Champion Ajla Tomljanovic is looking forward to her biggest final to date on the WTA when she meets former top-10 player Belinda Bencic in the singles final at the 20th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge.
The Zagreb-born Tomljanovic, who plays under the Australian flag at Grand Slams, is making a strong comeback from shoulder surgery that cost her the entire 2016 season and was looking forward for a summit clash against former world No. 7 Bencic in Saturday’s final.
The 24-year-old Tomljanovic ended last season as the World No. 930. However, she made a huge jump in the rankings in 2017 a she pushed her way up 779 places to end at No. 151 following a season that included a third round at Miami, a second round at the US Open and two ITF finals.
Tomljanovic was an accomplished junior while winning the Australian Open girls doubles with Christina McHale in 2009.
That helped her reach a combined career high junior ranking of World No. 4 by the end of the same year. And on Friday, she proved exactly why she can live up to her high billing following a clinical 6-2, 6-3 win against Swiss girl Stefanie Voegele in an hour and 21 minutes.
“Today was definitely one of the better matches for me this week. I have reason to smile as so many good things happened out there. I was dominating her most of the time and that was by far the most pleasing aspect of my game,” Tomljanovic told Gulf News.
“Playing a former top-10 player is not going to be easy for sure. But this is something I will enjoy very much as I need to test myself and see how much I can go while preparing for next season. She [Bencic] is a strong player and I would like to see where I stand before the start of the season,” she added.
Tomljanovic was always in command she broke in the first and third and held for a 4-0 lead to take the first set 6-2 in 42 minutes. The Croatian was once again with an early advantage in the second for a 4-2 cushion to finally win set and match with a second break in the ninth.
“I was good, but she was the better player today. She was hitting from such narrow angles and I was struggling at times to match her,” Voegele admitted.
Though beaten 6-1, 6-4 in a rather lopsided semi-final by the fifth seed, Errani remained upbeat. “It’s been a good week for me. It has been tough and I have been tired, but a lot of positives to take from this tournament,” the Italian related.
Bencic was pleased at the thought of meeting a former top junior. “It’s just another final and I am looking forward to it. We’ve played each other several times and at times we have even practised together. So it should be a good contest,” the Swiss predicted.
(Singles semi-finals) Ajla Tomljanovic bt Stefanie Voegele 6-2, 6-3; Belinda Bencic bt Sara Errani 6-1, 6-4.
(Doubles semi-finals) Lesley Kerkhove/Lidziya Marozava bt Michaella Krajicek/Alla Kudryavtseva 7-5, 3-6, 1-0 (7); Polina Monova/Yana Sizikova bt Mihaela Buzarnescu/Alena Fomina 6-4, 7-6 (9).
Saturday’s Schedule: (1pm) Doubles final: Lesley Kerkhove/Lidziya Marozava v Polina Monova/Yana Sizikova; (3pm) Ajla Tomljanovic v Belinda Bencic