Ajla Tomljanovic admitted to feeling “a little bit like the villain” after she beat her idol Serena Williams on Friday at the U.S Open in what was likely the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s final match.
The Australian overcame a Serena-crazed sold-out crowd and an in-form Williams to emerge with a hard-fought 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1 third-round victory under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It was probably the most conflicted I’ve ever felt after a win,” she told reporters.
“During the match I was so eager to win. I wanted to win as much as the next person because I didn’t look at her like, Oh, Serena, her last tournament.
“But then when it ended, it almost didn’t feel right. When she started talking about her family and everything, I got emotional because I can relate to having a strong bond with your family.”
A tearful Williams, who is considered by many to be the greatest of all time, thanked her family and fans for what she called “an incredible journey” over her 27-year career in an on-court interview before an adoring crowd.
Tomljanovic, 29, said the journey that Serena and her older sister Venus have been on has served as a lifelong inspiration to her.
“Growing up I didn’t really have idols, but Serena and Venus were just so good that I looked up to them the most,” she said.
To beat Serena, Tomljanovic said she took a page out of the six-time U.S. Open champion’s book.
“Serena one time said she only thinks about the next point,” she said. “If I’m playing her, I might use her tactic.”
Asked how it feels to be the answer to a possible future tennis trivia question about who beat Serena Williams in her last match, Tomljanovic said it would be “cool” to be part of tennis history.
“No one’s going to pronounce my name right,” she said with a laugh. “That’s going to suck.”