“I was saying yesterday that if the first and second seeds lost, it doesn't mean the third one is going to win. It's stupid to say that.”—Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 3 seed at Roland Garros, following her third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic.
Paris —Hey, that Aga, she didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.
Radwanska backed up her statement by swooning out of the French Open today, victim of a rangy, hard-serving protégée and confidant of Chris Evert. And suddenly, the top three seeds are out of a Grand Slam before the fourth round for the first time, ever.
So far in this tournament, Tomljanovic has knocked off a French Open champion (Francesca Schiavone), a low seed (No. 32 seed, Elena Vesnina), and a Wimbledon finalist who was the top seed left in the event when she walked out onto the court today. Radwanska.
The favorite had her racquets with her, but she forgot her game, showing little of her retrieving and counter-punching ability as she lost, 6-4, 6-4. “I just start too slow,” Radwanska lamented. “I was 5‑1 down, and I guess I was a little late for the first set. I was still trying, almost come back, but didn't work out well.”
It didn’t work out well because Tomljanovic kept the pressure on the entire way, showing resolve and quiet, determined confidence. Perhaps all the mentoring from that great Grand Slam champion Evert is beginning to pay off.
“That part in particular (mental toughness) I think she (Evert) was very good at — maybe the best,” Tomljanovic, a Croatian who moved to Boca Raton, Florida, to train at Evert’s eponymous academy, said. “It's kind of nice to see it from her perspective when she watches me play, to see if I'm nervous. She always thought I had good composure, but maybe thought I could be a little bit more feisty out there.”
Of course it’s easier to be feisty when your serve has atomic power, and while Tomljanovic didn’t hit the 60 percent first-serve conversion rate, she still won 30 of the 38 first serves she put into play, and fastest, 115 mph first serve was 16 mph faster than Radwanska’s best. On top of that, Tmljanovic won nine of the 13 points that lasted longer than nine hits.
Tomljanovic over the past year has quietly crept back up to No. 72, after missing eight months in 2012 because of mononucleosis. She also dropped her father as her official coach and teamed up with David Taylor, who formerly coached Samantha Stosur. She took pains to acknowledge his contribution.
“He definitely saw me as an aggressive player, someone who right off the bat should be the one dictating, since I'm a big girl and have a big serve. He worked on my forehand a lot, to be aggressive. The biggest thing was, he really thought I was good. Yeah, I could truly say he believed in me.”
She needed that vote of confidence, considering how she was developing a tendency to lose close matches. Among other fails, she served for the match against Sloane Stephens in the second round of the Australian Open, and flat-out blew it.
One of my colleagues suggested that Tomljanovic, Garbine Muguruza, and Taylor Townsend were joining to write a three way “Cinderella” story. Tomljanovic beamed, but restrained herself: “If you want to call it that. I have heard that a lot of times. But don't you call it that when it's quarters, not fourth round? Hopefully it keeps going, and you guys don't jinx me.”
While the hex appeared to be on Townsend today (she lost to Carla Suarez Navarro), Muguruza survived the trauma of having upset world No. 1 Serena Williams. She advanced to the fourth round, with a win over Anna Schmiedlova.
That’s the way it goes. There’s only one glass slipper. Will it fit Muguruza or Tomljanovic — or neither?