Ajla Tomljanovic felt mightily relieved at opening her 2022 campaign in winning fashion, even if the self-confessed stresshead conceded she’d hardly started the year with a bang.
Forever living in the shadows of world No.1 Ash Barty, the Aussie No.2 scored a relieving straight-sets win over Britain’s Heather Watson at the Adelaide International.
Fresh off her finest season yet, Tomljanovic recovered from a service break down in the opening set then overcame the disappointment of failing to serve out the match in the second to finally secure a 6-4 7-6 (7-5) win on Monday night.
“I always put a little more pressure on myself to win the first match of the year for some reason and I always tell myself there’s no reason for that,” Tomljanovic said.
“It’s hard to ignore the butterflies.
“But I take it in a good way. It means I’m excited and it means a lot and I’m just happy that I’m on the board.”
The fighting victory edged the Aussie No.2 to within a win of a potential quarter-final showdown with Barty on Thursday.
After enjoying a first-round bye as top seed, Barty opens her year – and title defence – on Wednesday night against either American teenage prodigy Coco Gauff or Norwegian qualifier Ulrikke Eikeri.
Tomljanovic, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year, next plays either 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin or Italian qualifier Lucia Bronzetti.
“I had a great preparation coming into the Aussie summer (but) my game is not where I want it to be at,” Tomljanovic said.
“I would love to peak in two weeks (at the Australian Open) and that’s always the objective.
“But, until then, I want to get more wins under my belt and just get comfortable playing points again.”
Tomljanovic’s progression capped a banner day for Australians, highlighted by wildcard Priscilla Hon’s stunning first-round defeat of dual Wimbledon champion and world No.17 Petra Kvitova.
Hon rebounded from dropping the first set in a tiebreak to prevail 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-2 on her fourth match point in the biggest win of her career.
Fellow Australian Daria Saville earlier on Monday clinched a spot in the main draw with a 7-5 3-6 6-4 defeat of another Brit in Katie Boulter.
Married last month to doubles star Luke Saville, the former top-20 talent barely played in 2019 and 2020 as she battled various issues with her feet and Achilles tendon.
Surgery followed her Australian Open second-round exit to Barty last February and it’s so far so good for the energetic 27-year-old.
A Billie Jean King Cup win over Belgium’s Greet Minnen in November was enough to catch the eye of officials awarding Australian Open wildcards.
And Saville validated that show of faith in her first appearance of 2022, beating American Caty McNally and then Boulter in successive days to join the 32-strong field in Adelaide headed by Barty.
Fellow Australian Maddison Inglis also booked her place in the main draw with a 6-1 6-4 win over Spain’s Irene Burillo Escorihuela.
Main-draw action began with Greece’s world No.6 Maria Sakkari beating Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek 6-2 0-6 6-4.