Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic produced a major upset at the Viking Classic Birmingham on Tuesday when edged top seed Elise Mertens in 3 tiebreak sets to advance, while Ons Jabeur, the No 2 seed took just two sets to defeat qualifier Catherine McNally.
My energy was very neutral. I wasn’t getting too happy or too sad and it worked, so maybe I should be like that all the time. I just love this place; I love the people. The crowd is always great. Usually I always go to the movies and to the Mall when I’m here but, obviously, this year that’s not the case. It’s really that and the people that keep me coming back here. Ajla Tomljanovic
In a blockbuster of an opening match that last 3 hours and 9 minutes, Tomljanovic won the 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-6(4) battle to score her 9th career Top 20 win.
“I didn’t expect to play that well,” Tomljanovic said. “I came out and thought I’d just do my best.
“I was actually just happy that it was a great match but, with the outcome, I’m even happier.”
It was, in fact, the 28-year old Aussie’s first ever top-20 win on grass.
“This is a really big confidence-boosting win for me, because I know Elise never gives you the match,” she said. “She really made me work for it the whole match.”
Very little separated them, with each player bagging 4 breaks apiece until the contest was eventually decided by the finest of margins in a match that could have truly gone either way.
In the end, and after some outstanding shot-making by both, it was Tomljanovic who claimed the victory, much to her surprise, the World No 72 ousting the World No 17 at the WTA 250 event.
“My energy was very neutral,” Tomljanovic said. “I wasn’t getting too happy or too sad and it worked, so maybe I should be like that all the time.
“I just love this place; I love the people. The crowd is always great.
“Usually I always go to the movies and to the Mall when I’m here but, obviously, this year that’s not the case. It’s really that and the people that keep me coming back here.”
Tomljanovic now plays former World No 9 Coco Vandeweghe in the second round. The American, currently ranked No 203, is returning from a hand injury.
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who now becomes favourite for the title, made a winning start to her grass court season by beating American Caty McNally, 6-4 6-2, in just over an hour.
Jabeur, who reached the 4th round of the French Open earlier this month, put in a strong performance, hitting 4 aces and winning 87 percent of her first serve points, while not facing a single break point from her opponent.
“I like playing on grass,” Jabeur said. “I like all the slicing, but it takes some time to get used to and I kind of feel like I’m on a football pitch!
“I thought I would give playing here a try. I feel like grass should be played on in England so I prefer to come here and play here.
“After Roland Garros I took two days off – I didn’t have much time – just to forget a little bit about clay and then I came here to try and get the feel of the courts.
“There are no grass courts in Tunisia; only football fields. Maybe I can play on those!”
The 2nd seed next faces Leylah Fernandez after the Canadian got past Chinese qualifier Yefan Wang, 7-5 6-3.
Elsewhere, Daria Kasatkina, the No 4 seed from Russia, had her hands full with Slovenia’s Polona Hercog but prevailed 4-6 6-3 6-3, and she will now meet Marta Kostyuk from Ukraine, who also needed 3 sets to see off American Madison Brengle, 4-6 7-5 6-3; while another Russian, Anastasia Potapova, fought her way past Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic, 5-7 7-6(8) 6-4 to meet the winner of Wednesday’s clash between 7th-seeded Fiona Ferro and Kristina Mladenovic in an all-French encounter.
In the doubles, Heather Watson & Harriet Dart were beaten by fellow Briton Naiktha Bains and Czech Tereza Martincova, 4-6 6-3 [10-5] in the their opening round.
Watson, 29, who is still in the singles, faces 5h seed Zhang Shuai for a spot in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.