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Beyond the Baseline

Q&A with Ajla Tomljanovic

Ajla Tomljanovic Ajla Tomljanovic is in the third round of the French Open, her best Slam result. (Michel Euler/AP)

Listen to Ajla Tomljanovic for 30 seconds and it's easy to forget that she's Croatian. A Boca Raton, Fla., resident for nearly a decade, the 21-year-old and her family have fully immersed themselves in American culture and her English is -- much like that of her IMG stable mate Maria Sharapova -- accentless. Her parents live with her, and her older sister, Hana, played tennis at the University of Virginia. Oh, and she can count Chris Evert as her "second mom," thanks to spending time with the 18-time Grand Slam champion while training at the Evert Tennis Academy.

"We just clicked personality-wise," Tomljanovic said. "Chrissie has always been really close with me off the court, but she also has had great input on the court. For her to say some stuff when she watches me play is huge. It's so great to have someone like that in your corner."

With an aggressive game and easy power on her serve and groundstrokes, Tomljanovic is a talented member of the WTA's "Generation Next." Though she hasn't matched peers such as Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Robson with a breakthrough run (she's yet to reach a tour semifinal) or signature win (she's never beaten a top-25 player), Tomljanovic is making noise during the first week of the French Open. Ranked No. 72, she beat 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone in the first round and No. 32 Elena Vesnina in the second round to already clinch her best result at a major. Tomljanovic will play No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, the highest-ranked player remaining in the draw, in the third round Friday. [UPDATE: Tomljanovic upset Radwanska 6-4, 6-4.]

Earlier in the spring, SI.com spoke with Tomljanovic about her tennis roots, pop-culture interests and more.

SI.com: Your sister played college tennis. Did you ever consider going that route?

Tomljanovic: I never thought about it. Even when I was little, I thought that if I was going to do tennis, I was going to do it all the way. If I was going to choose school, then I would have stopped tennis and committed to school.

SI.com: You seem like a pretty social person. You would have probably fit in well in college and enjoyed the experience. Do you ever wonder about it?

Tomljanovic: I watched my sister for a long time and I loved watching college matches. But the first time I went to see her she was playing and all of a sudden she was like, "Let's go, Lauren" -- cheering on a teammate on another court. I was like, "Hana, focus!" The coaches encourage them to do that. I don't know if I could do that because I'm just so focused on me. I experienced the good parts of college. I went to visit my sister a lot. It's an amazing system. If you love tennis and you want to get an amazing education, it's perfect. And it's intense.

SI.com: When did you first realize you were good at tennis?

Tomljanovic: When I was 9. I played that "Little Mo" tournament in my country and we won, and then we played in Texas and won. And that's when I was like, "I could do this, maybe." That's when I thought, I'm good.

Ajla Tomljanovic Ajla Tomljanovic started last year ranked No 495 and finished it at No. 78. (Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

SI.com: You realized you could do it professionally and not just hit around?

Tomljanovic: When I was little playing all these tournaments, I was so professional already. My parents were like, "Oh, my gosh, she's crazy." I had my grips, my bag was packed, everything. It's funny, in the tennis center, sometimes people will need a grip or something and they know I have it in my bag.

SI.com: Have you done a Tennis Channel bag check yet?

Tomljanovic: No. I'm a little nervous. I'm not so tidy either, so I'm hoping they don't do it.

SI.com: What's the most random thing you have in there?

Tomljanovic: I keep all my badges from tournaments. Or if random people or fans give me something, I'll keep it in my bag.

SI.com: What's the one match you'd like to replay?

Tomljanovic: This year at the Australian Open against Sloane [Stephens, a second-round loss that went 7-5 in the third set after Tomljanovic served for the match at 5-3]. A few points still haunt me. At 5-3 in the third set, I don't think I did anything crazy wrong in those last few games, but I don't think I played the way I played to get to that point. I think my [modest] experience level kicked in.

SI.com: Is it hard to stay patient when you see players around your age get some big results?

Tomljanovic: I'm smart enough to know it's not going to happen overnight. Thankfully, I have people in my corner who tell me it's OK and to be patient. In a way, it's nice to see people like Sloane and girls my age to do well because you think, Well, I can do that as well. It's hard to find that line between being driven and wanting to do it right away and also knowing that it's not a big deal if I don't do it today. That's important to me.

SI.com: What's the last thing you Googled?

Tomljanovic: A friend gave me a trivia question: Tell me seven countries that start with a vowel but end with a different one. I got stuck on the fifth one and he said, "Don't cheat." And I cheated.

SI.com: What's the most listened to song on your iPod?

Tomljanovic: Juicy J, Bounce It.

SI.com: What's your favorite tour stop?

Tomljanovic: It was the U.S. Open, but this year I loved Sydney [where she beat Daniela Hantuchova in the first round -- see highlights below].

SI.com: Are you an American sports fan? Do you have a favorite team?

Tomljanovic: I've been a huge Miami Heat fan since I was 12. I'm not a bandwagoner. I was a legit Dwyane Wade fan. Even when LeBron came from the Cavs, I was like [shrugs], "OK, he's good." I'm trying to get into football. I'm so competitive that I just want to root for someone super good and I don't want to be called a bandwagoner.

SI.com: On a Friday night, are you more likely to be found watching Netflix or going out with friends?

Tomljanovic: I'm more the Netflix type. I'm boring. I like to have a good time, though. If it's two days off, then I'll probably go out the first night and have a quiet one after that.

SI.com: What are you watching these days?

Tomljanovic: Grey's Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, Suits, Friends and Scandal.

SI.com: You must be good friends with Laura Robson. I'm pretty sure those shows come up on her Twitter feed all the time.

Tomljanovic: Yeah. We get into that pretty quickly when we see each other.

SI.com: Three things you'd take with you on a desert island.

Tomljanovic: Chocolate. My iPod, because music is a big part of my day. And a good book.

SI.com: What are you reading now?

Tomljanovic: I've been reading the Divergent trilogy. I'm on the last one. I read the first two in like two days.

SI.com: What's the first thing you do when you check into your hotel room?

Tomljanovic: I try the bed. The second thing I do is I check the TV channels. My dad is the worst. He checks the view. If the view is not good, we change rooms. I always hope that the view is good or that they don't have any other rooms so we can just stay in the one they give us.

SI.com: Does your family travel with you?

Tomljanovic: My dad does. He was a professional handball player and he does my fitness.

SI.com: If you're at a tournament and you want to grab dinner, who are the first players you text?

Tomljanovic: OK, this is going to sound bad, but I can't remember the last time I ate with a player. Is that really bad? Does that make me really anti-social? I'm friends with everyone.

SI.com: Do you think you're an introvert?

Tomljanovic: Maybe. I go to dinner with Madison Keys, all the girls who train at Boca. I'll go with Petra Martic. I'll go to the player party with the girls.

SI.com: If you could take a selfie with anyone in the world, who would it be?

Tomljanovic: Oh, my God, that's such a good question.

SI.com: It's the new autograph.

Tomljanovic: Well, I have a picture with Dwayne Wade already, so that's out. If you take a selfie, you're basically friends with that person. [Long pause] I mean, I'm going through the guys I'm always thinking of when I'm laying down at night.

SI.com: You've got your Goslings, your Hemsworths ...

Tomljanovic: I'm going to say Beyonce. The Queen B.

SI.com: Do you have any embarrassing selfie stories?

Tomljanovic: Yeah, one with a fan. They had their phone and I was trying to be nice so I was like, "Let's get a selfie!" And I didn't like the way I looked. And there were so many people and I was like, "Can we do it again? Are you going to post this somewhere?" But he didn't speak English so I was like, "Don't worry about it. I'll just go cry in my room."

If I could have been in that Oscar selfie, I would have died.

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