Ajla Tomljanovic could take a page from Novak Djokovic’s book when she takes on Serena Williams on Friday night in what has become known as the ‘Serena Williams Open’.
In the 2019 Wimbledon final, as fans cheered on his opponent, Roger Federer, Djokovic played a Jedi mind trick on himself: he convinced himself that they were calling his name instead of Federer’s.
“You try to ignore the crowd, which is quite difficult,” Djokovic said after fending off two match points and beating Federer in five sets that year. “When the crowd chants ‘Roger’, I hear ‘Novak’, it’s quite similar, Roger and Novak.
“It sounds silly, but that’s the way it is. I try to convince myself that it is.
Three years later, Tomljanovic is set to face Serena for the first – and last – time in round three of what is Serena’s final event before her retirement. Williams advanced after a stunning three-set upset against world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday. More than 29,000 fans attended the night session at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the match peaked in the final quarter hour with five million viewers on ESPN.
Serena and her older sister Venus then returned to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night and lost in a primetime doubles match to the Czech duo of Linda Nosková and Lucie Hradecká, 7-6(5), 6-4.
On Friday, Serena will return to Ashe for the third night in a row, and the fans will once again be cheering on her. This will result in applause when Tomljanovic double faults or makes a mistake.
“I think maybe the closest thing to it was when I played Emma [Raducanu] Court 1 at Wimby,” said Croatian-born Australian Tomljanovic. “I remember walking out of that game and thinking, Wow, that was intense. I mean, it got to me a bit, the volume of the crowd.
“But I remember Novak once said when they asked him about it a lot, when the crowd was against him, he just pretends it’s for him. When they sing, I don’t know, Rafa, Roger, whoever it is, he hears Novak, Novak. I really liked this answer. I could use it Friday night.
Like so many others, 29-year-old Tomljanovic has been a fan of Serena’s historic career as she amassed 23 Grand Slam singles titles and over $94 million in earnings on the court.
“I’ve been a fan of Serena since I was a kid,” she said. “I just remember watching her in the Wimby final with my sister in front of the TV after my practices.”
Asked what Serena has meant to the sport, two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist Tomljanovic said:
“I think she changed the sport, tennis, but also what she’s done in the world for women in sport is amazing,” she said.
“She paved the way for so many people, inspired me to follow my dreams. Even, like, its longevity. Like, I’m kind of in the part of my career now where they call you on the older side. She made that kind of non-existent. ‘Old’ isn’t even a word in his vocabulary. Very grateful to her like that. I don’t think there’s anyone like her, obviously.
She said she actually had a premonition before the Open that she might end up playing Serena on the big stage at Ashe.
“Before the tournament started, I was in bed and just thought about playing it here on Arthur Ashe before the draw,” she said. “I’m glad it’s now in a third round.”
The way Serena has improved with her speed and movement despite only six matches last year, some believe she could make a deep run in her final tournament.
“She’s looking great,” Tommy Haas, a former world No. 2-ranked men’s tennis player, told TMZ Sports. “I think now it’s a question of whether she feels good physically. I mean, obviously she feels good mentally.”
“It’s going to be hard to beat her.”
But Tomljanovic will do his best to channel Djokovic and take the win.
. next opponent Serena can channel Novak Djokovic claim fans lUS Open cheer