‘She’s hung in there’: Why Rafter believes Ajla can claim AO title

    Pat Rafter has always had a high opinion of Ajla Tomljanovic’s talent and grit and says this summer of tennis is where she can take the next step and build towards challenging for an Australian Open title.

    The 29-year-old world no.33 will line up in the inaugural United Cup in Sydney from Thursday in an Australian line-up which includes Nick Kygrios and Alex de Minaur.

    The 18-country mixed teams event will be played in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and is where Tomljanovic will begin her preparation for the Australian Open in January.

    Tomljanovic made the quarter finals of the US Open and Wimbledon this year to reach her highest world singles ranking.

    “Ajla did well in the grand slams this year and wasn’t far off going further either. She is a great ball striker and when she has her confidence she goes great,” Rafter told AAP.

    “Sometimes her confidence isn’t there and she doesn’t play as well, but going that extra step is all about adding an extra string to your bow and working out how to win when you aren’t playing well.

    “As you get older you work out how all that works. Hopefully she has learned from her experience and can win when not playing her best tennis.”

    The Croatian-born right-hander has battled injuries over the years but it is the way she has dealt with them that most impresses Rafter.

    “Ajla has had an up and down career mainly because she’s had such horrible injuries,” Rafter said.

    “She’s had some pretty bad shoulder operations and it is pretty hard to come back from that but through it all she has remained really upbeat, which is why she is having some good results now.

    “I take my hat off to her. She has hung in there when she could have really packed it in … after being touted as the next big thing. She fought hard to get back into it. I am hopeful we can see her talent come to the fore this summer.”

    When Rafter was more involved in the Australian tennis scene he had a bit to do with Tomljanovic and her father Ratko.

    “Ajla is a great girl. All the dealings I have ever had with her father Ratko were great. They were always really grateful and a really good team,” he said.

    Rafter said he was looking forward to watching the first United Cup unfold.

    “I think it is a great concept. Tennis Australia like to try new initiatives and they are having a crack here with the men and women playing together,” he said. “I am really interested to see how it plays out.”

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