Setbacks be damned: Aussie Ajla into grasscourt final but Thompson loses

Ajla Tomljanovic’s latest comeback is gathering steam ahead of Wimbledon, advancing to the Rothesay Classic final in Birmingham and within one victory of her maiden WTA title.

But the news was not as good for fellow Australian Jordan Thompson, who needed to win his Queen’s Club semi-final in London against Italian rising star Lorenzo Musetti to be seeded at a grand slam for the first time.

Musetti, who stunned Australia’s top player and last year’s runner-up Alex de Minaur in the first round, denied Thompson achieving that feat in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 result that booked him his first grasscourt final, after reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart last week.

Of greater concern for Thompson will be a lower back injury that hampered him throughout the match, and he will hope it does not linger with Wimbledon starting on July 1.

Tomljanovic has endured a horror stretch with injury and illness in the past year-and-a-half since a breakout 2022 season, where she made the last eight at Wimbledon for a second time and the US Open, including ending Serena Williams’ legendary career.

A knee injury ruined her 2023 campaign, while she underwent surgery in February this year to remove fibroids from her uterus, which sidelined her for three months.

Tomljanovic has entered this year’s Wimbledon championships with a special ranking of No.33 to avoid having to qualify and will arrive confident after defeating Russian seventh seed Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in a 90-minute semi-final on Saturday.

The 31-year-old did not hide her elation after Potapova’s backhand thudded into the net. She will face Yulia Putintseva in the final, after the Kazakh beat Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-2, 6-2 in the earlier semi-final.

setbacks be damned: aussie ajla into grasscourt final but thompson loses

Jordan Thompson lost his semi-final.

Tomljanovic won a 125-level WTA tournament in Florianópolis, Brazil last year, but this would be her first title on the main tour.

“I definitely didn’t expect to play a final here, just because I really take it one match at a time, as much [of] a cliché it is,” the world No.190 said.

“Whenever I’ve done well, I’ve never looked ahead – and I’m not going to do it now either. I’m going to do my best to prepare and give it my all tomorrow, then when it’s over, I’ll reflect on the week. But you know you’re in a good place when the players’ lounge is empty.”

Tomljanovic was the better player for most of the match against Potapova, but stumbled serving for the first set at 5-4 – after also having a set point in the previous game – and let slip a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak when she double-faulted to fall back to five-all.

But some stout defence from the Australian two points later helped her secure the set, when Potapova missed a down-the-line backhand narrowly wide searching for a winner.

Potapova, who hit eight double faults and 39 unforced errors, hung in for most of the second set after staving off another break point in the second game, but slumped to 15-40 at 4-5 before another errant backhand cost her the match.

Tomljanovic landed 71 per cent of her first serves and won 36 of those 48 points in an encouraging performance, as she prepares to return to the grasscourt major after a knee injury prevented her from playing last year.

“I just tried to keep a cool head,” she said. “I felt like I was a bit too ‘into it’ in the beginning, and I was losing a lot of energy just caring about every single point. I just tried to let go [and have an attitude of] ‘whatever happens’ and focus on what I can control.”

setbacks be damned: aussie ajla into grasscourt final but thompson loses

Tomljanovic will try to win her first WTA title.

Thompson, who upset top-20 stars Holger Rune and Taylor Fritz this week, will still be one of the most dangerous unseeded floaters in the Wimbledon men’s draw, alongside the likes of 2021 finalist Matteo Berrettini and 2023 quarter-finalist Chris Eubanks.

He lost the first three games of his semi-final, but had consecutive chances in the seventh game to fight his way back into the set before Musetti clinched a one-set lead.

The second set could hardly have been more different. Thompson raced to a 5-0 lead, but another back massage at the change of ends preceded a brief fightback from Musetti, who snatched back one of the breaks and almost a second as the match went to a decider.

The Sydneysider began rushing the net more often, only for Musetti’s fabulous shot-making – which resulted in 31 winners to Thompson’s 22, as well as fewer unforced errors – and defence from the baseline to rule the day.

Thompson fended off three break points in the penultimate game but not a fourth, with Musetti serving out the match to love. He will play the winner of the all-American clash between Tommy Paul and Sebastian Korda.

“It’s one of the toughest matches of this week,” Musetti said.

“Jordan was playing at a really amazing level, especially the second set and the third set. It was a really close one and really tough game there at 4-3, when I played some amazing shots that gave me the break. I didn’t shake, even under pressure ... so I’m really proud of what I’m achieving this week.”

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