Tomljanovic to return from injury at French Open

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Key points

  • Australian star Ajla Tomljanovic plans to return from injury at the French Open next week.
  • Tomljanovic and wildcard Kim Birrell are the only Australians in the women’s singles draw. 
  • At least seven Australian men will compete in this year’s French Open, with qualifying underway.
  • Australian tennis great Lesley Bowrey won the first of her two French Open titles 60 years ago.

Three-time grand slam quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic plans to make her long-awaited return from injury next week at the French Open, as Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley defends the country’s women’s depth.

Tomljanovic, still Australia’s top-ranked woman at No.46 despite her time out, fought back tears as she announced her withdrawal from this year’s Australian Open due to a knee injury that required surgery, after flaring up in December.

A knee injury forced Ajla Tomljanovic out of this year’s Australian Open.Credit: Getty Images

The 30-year-old’s absence this year coincides with Daria Saville’s ongoing recovery from another ACL setback, as well as champions Ash Barty and Sam Stosur retiring in the past 18 months.

“It’s been a long road to recovery for [Tomljanovic], and we missed her in January … but we’ve been in touch, and she’s on the road to recovery,” Tiley said.

“She’s wanting to give it a go at Roland-Garros. I think she’s kept her expectations low, which is the right thing to do, and you never know, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to get in the draw, but in her case, her focus is to remain healthy.”

Wildcard Kim Birrell, who is on the verge of breaking into the top 100, is the only other Australian woman in the main draw – with Arina Rodionova advancing to second-round qualifying on Monday night – whereas seven compatriots will contest the men’s singles.

Tiley said Birrell could usher in a major breakthrough for the nation’s women if she could crash through the top-100 barrier, given “success breeds success”, after saying in January Australia’s female prospects were in “really good” shape.

“It’s a cycle, and we are excited about the young crop of players we have,” Tiley said of Australia’s women’s playing stocks.

“There are a couple of young girls [Birrell, Jaimee Fourlis, Priscilla Hon and Olivia Gadecki] knocking on the door to get in the top 100, and I don’t think they’re far off … I think it’s on the right track, and hopefully next year, or the year after, we’ll be able to talk about more players in the main draw.”

Australia’s Kim Birrell is nearing her top-100 debut amid a breakthrough season.Credit: Getty Images

Nick Kyrgios will miss the French Open because of a foot injury rather than the knee issue that cost him a shot at Melbourne Park glory in January, his agent Daniel Horsfall revealed.

But Alex de Minaur, Jason Kubler, Alexei Popyrin, Chris O’Connell, Jordan Thompson, Max Purcell and wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis are in the men’s draw, with high hopes in qualifying for James Duckworth and Aleks Vukic, who made his top-100 debut on Monday.

The 2023 tournament marks 60 years since Australian tennis great and former Fed Cup captain Lesley Bowrey won the first of her two French Open singles titles, after rallying from 5-2 down in the final set to defeat Great Britain’s Ann Jones 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I’m very happy that I’m here to tell the story,” 70-year-old Bowrey said. “It doesn’t seem that long ago, really because I’ve always been involved in tennis … Ann Jones was always a very good claycourt player. We played a lot of times, and I had always beaten her, but in close matches, so I think the pressure was on me.

“I was a set-all, and down 5-2, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness’ – I was getting rushed. I was uptight about it all, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m out of this match; I might as well just relax’, and that’s what I did. I certainly learned a lesson from that match.”

Stosur, who made the 2010 French Open women’s final and semi-finals in 2009, 2012 and 2016, retired from tennis at this year’s Australian Open and is content with her call as she prepares to commentate the clay-court grand slam.

“I’m enjoying it. I’ve been on the courts a little bit [mentoring young players], and done a bit of travel for myself for fun. But, otherwise, I’m just enjoying being home, doing all the normal things,” Stosur said.

“I maybe have a slight little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out] not being in Paris right now.

“It took me five years to win a match at Roland-Garros … then all those years later, it turned out to be my favourite surface and probably my favourite grand slam to play at.”

Tiley revealed planning for the 2024 Australian Open was well advanced and fans could expect a new-look Melbourne Park, with announcements to come.

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