For a country with a population less than 5 million, Croatia has a rich tennis heritage. Ajla Tomljanovic is the latest talent of the production line and, if her 2013 performances are anything to go by, could one day be following in the footsteps of Goran Ivanisevic and Iva Majoli.
Having started the year well outside the Top 400, Tomljanovic will finish it perched at a lofty No.78 after 43 wins and a number of deep runs on the ITF Circuit. And this winning form was not just reserved for the lower rungs of the tennis ladder, with the 20-year-old impressing on her handful of WTA appearances, including a maiden quarterfinal in Québec City.
Next stop Down Under, but before that wtatennis.com tracked her down to find out a little bit more about her past, present and future.
How did you get into tennis?
AT: I have a sister, Hana, who is two years older than me, and when she started to play with my parents I was always around so I think one day I was bound to pick up a racquet. When I did, I immediately fell in love with it and since then I've never looked back. I was six or seven at the time and I straight away knew it was what I wanted to do; I told my parents I wanted a coach or to go into a group or something. But the group didn't last too long because I was too selfish when I was seven and wanted more attention!
Can you tell us about your family?
AT: My dad, Ratko, he was a professional handball player so he's been playing sports all his life, and my mom, Emina, used to play tennis and I think I got the love of it from her. My sister graduated from UVA where she played on the tennis team and also had a scholarship. We're kind of a sporty family!
What is your current coaching situation?
AT: Right now, I'm on my own. Hopefully I'm going to start working with one coach in the off season, which would be Dave Taylor, and fingers crossed that works out.
Who have been the most important people in your tennis development?
AT: Well, my dad. Yeah, he's been the one that's always travelled with me. My mom travels a bit with me too, although it's my dad that does all the physical conditioning with me, so he's always been very important for me.
How would you describe your playing style?
AT: I would say I'm an aggressive baseliner. Because I'm tall, I have big strokes but I'm trying to develop an all-court game, you know, come in more and finish points easier. But we're still working on everything and I think my serve and backhand are my biggest strengths right now.
Did you have a tennis idol when you were growing up?
AT: I did. When I was younger, we would always watch the finals of Slams and whenever Kim and Justine Henin were playing I used to look up to them a lot. But really I just like to watch good tennis and now I don't really have anyone in particular.
What is your best tennis memory?
AT: Definitely qualifying for the US Open this year and winning a round. That was kind of special, although qualifying for Wimbledon for the first time is up there too.
Who has been your toughest opponent?
AT: I would say there have been a few: Petkovic, Alizé Cornet, Kirsten Flipkens. They're all up there so it's difficult to pick just one. But if I had to choose just one, I'd go for Flipkens. I played her when she was playing really well in Miami and she just has such an unusual game.
What are your goals in tennis?
AT: Well, short-term goals are just to get my ranking up as high as possible every week and just keep on developing. But, long-term it's the dreams you had when you were a kid - you want to be the best, win Slams and be No.1. Before that, though, there are a lot of short-term goals.
What's your favorite tournament?
AT: My favorite tournament right now is the US Open. I just love the city!
How far did you go in your education?
AT: I graduated high school a year and a half ago - I did a K12 online course while I was at Chris Evert's academy in Boca Raton. And now in January, thanks to the WTA's help, I'll start at the University of Indiana. I was thinking of majoring in business, but I'm not sure if I'll enjoy working a lot with numbers so now I'm thinking more communications.
What do you like to do for fun?
AT: I love to go and watch basketball games - I'm a huge Miami Heat fan. Actually I'm a huge sports fan in general. But I also love to spend down time with my family and friends because in this job we are travelling so much.
Do you have a favorite film?
AT: That would be The Hangover, by far! I also like Man on Fire with Denzel Washington - basically any move with Denzel, I love.
AT: Rihanna or Justin Timberlake.
If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
If you could meet one person in the world, who would it be?
AT: I'd like to meet the comedian Kevin Hart.
If not tennis, what career path would you have chosen?
AT: I can argue very well, so perhaps I would be a lawyer. But I'm so sporty that it's hard to imagine not doing something to do with sport.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about you?
AT: Everyone always thinks I'm American because I've lived here for seven years now. But people that really know me can see the Croatian come out in me and even though my accent and lots of other things are kind of Americanized, there are still European things that make me unique.