Win, lose or draw, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanović said she will relish the opportunity to play her idol Serena Williams when they face off at the US Open on Friday.
Tomljanović beat Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina on Wednesday just minutes before Williams, who is expected to retire after the tournament, upset world number two Anett Kontaveit to advance to the third round.
“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget in my career,” Tomljanović told reporters after her 1-6 6-2 7-5 win.
“It’s going to be a huge moment no matter the outcome. I’ve been a Serena fan since I was a kid. On Friday night I’ll just be a competitor and I’ll try my best to win.”
The 29-year-old said the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s impact reverberates well beyond the tennis court.
“I think she’s changed the sport of tennis, but also what she’s done worldwide for women in sports is incredible,” she said.
“She’s paved the way for so many, inspired me to go for my dreams. Even her longevity. I’m kind of in the part of my career now where they call you on the older side. She’s made that kind of nonexistent. ‘Old’ is not even a word in her vocabulary. Very grateful to her like that.
“I don’t think there’s anyone like her, obviously.”
Tomljanović has reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon the past two years in her best results at a Grand Slam tournament.
Reflecting on Serena Williams’ career following the announcement of her retirement:
One challenge for Tomljanovic will be finding a way to not let the Serena-supporting crowd get under her skin as the Estonian Kontaveit admitted it did during her match with Williams on Wednesday.
“When the crowd gets involved, that’s what it can get to you,” Tomljanovic said.
“I just need to stay within my little bubble, have my corner that I go to when I need help just for support, block it out as much as I can.”