Ajla Tomljanovic finds herself in a vastly different place to where she was 10 months ago, when battling Simona Halep at Australian Open 2021.
Tomljanovic led the world No.2 5-2 in the third set of their second-round clash at Margaret Court Arena, before losing the last five games in a row to succumb.
The fact Tomljanovic now finds herself nearing the top 40, after reaching this year’s Wimbledon quarterfinals, plus the third round of the US Open and last 16 at Indian Wells, demonstrates her mindset shift in the aftermath of that Halep defeat.
“I remember that 5-2 feeling, and just everything that happened after so clearly. I felt like to win four more points was a mission impossible for me at that time,” she revealed in an interview with ausopen.com.
“Now, when I get into these situations, I'm kind of just like, OK, I'm up 5-2, I can win this in four points, but also I could lose, and I kind of accept that.
“In February, that felt like, oh my gosh, if I don't win this in four points, this is going to be a heartbreak.”
Tomljanovic admits she still sees the loss as a heartbreak. But there were several positives to come out of the experience.
Crowds were already restricted in size due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and fans were somewhat slow to return to Melbourne Park.
But that first Wednesday night, when Tomljanovic played Halep, was a balmy evening during which fans arrived in bigger numbers, contributing to one of the best atmospheres of the 2021 event.
“Once I got out there, and I think once it was a really quality match, I felt like people started coming in more and more,” Tomljanovic reflected. “I remember that just being the best feeling in such rough times. That to me felt so hopeful.”
And despite ultimately going down 4-6 6-4 7-5 to the two-time Grand Slam champion, it was further evidence that her highest level could significantly trouble the best in the world.
“So many people came up to me after it and were like, wow, amazing match,” Tomljanovic recalled.
“(But) I'm not here to play a good match, I'm here to win. I had to just look at the positives to help myself and keep going, which is what I kind of did.
"That (Halep match) gave me the confidence to know that my game's there. But my ranking was kind of slipping, and I caught myself before Miami thinking, oh my gosh, if I don't start playing better, I'm (currently ranked) 80, it's like 20 spots from getting out of 100.
“I needed to just kind of go back to the basics and focus on just winning matches that I should win and looking at every match as an opportunity.”
The wins did start coming. First in Charleston, where she reached the last 16. Then in Rome, where she qualified before progressing to the second round. She later upset world No.17 Elise Mertens, who was the top seed that week in Birmingham, before her run to the Wimbledon quarters, which was a career-best Grand Slam result.
She then posted her best ever US Open finish thanks to a run to the third round, before stunning sixth-ranked Garbine Muguruza en route to the Indian Wells fourth round.
Having dropped to 80th in May, she improved her ranking to 43rd by October, finishing the season with 30 match wins.
She will embark on the 2022 season just a few spots off her career-high ranking of No.39, and with new-found confidence as she returns to Melbourne Park.
"I definitely still see it as a match that if it had gone my way, I think maybe some things would have happened sooner to me, that happened later in the year,” Tomljanovic said of the Halep loss.
“I feel like it didn't set me back, but it just delayed the process a little bit.
“At the same time, if some people knew what I was struggling with a few months prior … that was a huge step forward, that match and that performance.”