There is life after Barty: Ajla, Kyrgios give us two Aussies in Wimbledon top eight

A mellow Nick Kyrgios and an emotional Ajla Tomljanovic have made it a memorable Monday for Australia’s Wimbledon challenge on a day of heart, courage and tears on the lawns of SW19.

Jul 05, 2022, updated Jul 05, 2022
Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia celebrates after winning the game of the ladies' singles fourth-round match in the Championships, Wimbledon at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, the United Kingdom on July 4, 2022. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )

Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia celebrates after winning the game of the ladies' singles fourth-round match in the Championships, Wimbledon at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, the United Kingdom on July 4, 2022. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )

The big day for Aussie tennis, with four players in the last-16 draws for the first time since 1999, was tinged with disappointment as both Alex de Minaur and Jason Kubler were knocked out in their fourth-round matches.

But Kyrgios took on the men’s mantle of ‘Aussie battler’ by scrapping his way into the quarter-finals on a day when his famed volatility was replaced by stubborn bloody-mindedness on centre court as he tamed American Brandon Nakashima in five sets while nursing a shoulder injury.

Then Tomljanovic, so often burdened by her own lack of self-belief, produced one of the gutsiest performances of her career to slay Wimbledon’s very own giant-killer Alize Cornet and reach the SW19 quarters for the second time in a row.

No Australian woman has achieved that feat since Jelena Dokic 22 years ago, and Tomljanovic brought a lump to the throats of the fans on court 2 as she declared after her tears subsided: “I didn’t really think I could do it…”

De Minaur and Kubler, the archetypal ‘Aussie battlers’, had to hand over that crown for a day to Kyrgios, who produced, by his glittering standards, a subdued performance with few fireworks – and no controversy – but still wrestled his way to a first grand-slam quarters since 2015.

The only disappointment for Kyrgios after his 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-2 win over rising 20-year-old Nakashima was that he wouldn’t be able to play his Sydney pal and Aussie No.1 de Minaur in the last eight.

“I was really excited to play De Minaur to be honest, he’s been flying the Aussie flag for so long and he was two sets up when I came on court,” said Kyrgios, who’d been hoping Australia might get three men into the Wimbledon quarters for the first time in 51 years.

But de Minaur relinquished a two-set advantage, then was unable to convert either of two match points in the deciding set of a sapping 2-6 5-7 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 7-6 (10-6) loss to the unseeded Chilean Cristian Garin.

Kubler’s dream run through the qualifiers to his first-ever grand slam quarter-final was then ended in perhaps predictably brutal fashion as he was taken to school by big-hitting American 11th seed Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-1 6-4.

But Kyrgios cast aside the showman’s cloak to knuckle down to his win, which was a mercifully subdued affair compared to the mayhem that had enveloped his previous barn-burner with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“I knew from the get-go I wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked. I knew I had to keep my head down and just battle today. It was a good mental performance,” said Kyrgios.

Tomljanovic must have been proud of hers too, as she had to come from a set down and hold off a late rally from the indomitable Cornet, conqueror of world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the previous round, before winning 4-6 6-4 6-3.

She will next tackle talented Kazakh left-hander Elena Rybakina, who beat her on clay in their only meeting in Madrid last year.”

“After last year, facing Ash (Barty in the quarter-finals), I can face anyone,” beamed 29-year-old Tomljanovic, who’ll be making good viewing for the Netflix tennis documentary crew who’ve been following her rejuvenating run.

Ajla Tomljanovic has continued to fly the Aussie standard handed over by Ash Barty, surviving a nervy final set to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

Watched from the stands by Aussie great Margaret Court, Tomljanovic battled back from losing the first set to defeat French giant-killer Alize Cornet 4-6 6-4 6-3 on Monday.

In doing so, she became the first Australian woman into successive quarter-finals at Wimbledon since Jelena Dokic 22 years ago.

It wasn’t easy though. Tomljanovic went 5-1 up in the decider only for Cornet, who stunned world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the last round, to fight back to serve at 3-5.

Tomljanovic, however, has been brimming with belief this Wimbledon.

She was further fired up by a pre-match chat with mentor Chris Evert, a three-time Wimbledon winner, who told her she belonged on the stage and would reach the last eight.

Regrouping, Tomljanovic forced two match points and was undeterred when both were saved.

The 29-year-old secured a third shot at victory after an incredible 26-stroke rally at deuce in which the two criss-crossed the court.

The point typified a two hours, 35 minutes slugfest in which both players gave their all.

This time Tomljanovic finished the job with a cross-court shot at the net that just landed in court, prompting an anxious wait before the umpire said, ‘game, set and match…’.

“I didn’t think I could do it,” said an emotional Tomljanovic, who was in tears courtside.

“I didn’t know if I could keep up my physicality and she [Cornet] never goes away.

“I had such great memories from last year [when Tomljanovic lost to Barty in her first grand slam quarter-final] and I look back and think I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should.

“I’ve had tough moments this year and now a year on, I am here again.

Making the victory even sweeter was the presence of mother Emina in the stands.

Last year COVID-19 restrictions meant she did not travel to London and she was too nervous to watch her daughter’s matches on TV.

“She was at home in Florida,” said Tomljanovic.

“I could tell she wasn’t watching. She would walk the dog for hours and then check the score. I was so mad at her because I was like, ‘What if I’m never going to do this again, you missed it’. It is not easy to make the quarter-final.

“But she is my biggest cheerleader.” added Tomljanovic who had said on court post-match, “here you go mum, you’re welcome!”

Victory meant her travel agent – father Ratko – has yet again extended her hotel room. He had initially only booked to the end of the second round on Friday, prompting Tomljanovic to suggest he lacked faith in her.

“I play Wednesday, so it’s probably only until Thursday morning – maybe it is reverse psychology for him,” she said.

Then she added with a smile: “Fortunately, they have rooms – but even if I have to share the room with a stranger, I am not leaving that hotel!”

In the last eight, Tomljanovic, world No.44, will play Kazakhstan’s No.17 seed Elena Rybakina who beat Croatia’s Petra Martic 7-5 6-3.

In their one previous meeting on Madrid clay last year, the Kazakh won 6-4 6-0, but Tomljanovic said: “After last year playing Ash, I think I can face anyone”.

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