Tue, Jun 20, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Vekic savors coming-of-age Nottingham victory

Reuters

Croatia’s Donna Vekic celebrates with the trophy after winning the Aegon Open singles final at the Nottingham Tennis Centre in England on Sunday.

Photo: AP

Croatia’s Donna Vekic on Sunday came from a set down to win the Aegon Open in Nottingham, England, in a pulsating final against Britain’s Johanna Konta to remind the tennis world why she was once considered one of the game’s hottest prospects.

As a teenager, Vekic won her first WTA Tour tournament three years ago, but had not won one since, enduring some tough times before Sunday’s 2-6, 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 major breakthrough win over the home favorite, world No. 8 Konta.

In a thrilling two-and-a-half-hour contest in which momentum switched dramatically, the hard-hitting Vekic, who is still only 20, was left feeling very emotional after a second tight tussle in 24 hours following her dramatic semi-final win over Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

Vekic is probably best known now as the girlfriend of Swiss three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, but in 2012, when she reached her first WTA Tour final in Tashkent, the Croat was known only as a remarkable teenage prospect in the women’s game.

“It’s pretty amazing. The last time I played a final I wasn’t allowed to have champagne,” Vekic said. “I’m going to drink a bottle of champagne with my team to celebrate.”

At 16, Vekic was runner-up in another Wimbledon warm-up event in Birmingham, prompting former champion Chris Evert to predict a top-10 career for the Croat, but she has never come remotely near to those heights.

Yet with her 21st birthday coming later this month, Sunday’s victory over Konta felt like the tennis coming-of-age for a player who had finished outside the top 100 in the past two seasons.

“She was able to continuously raise her level throughout that match and I was just not able to stay with her, so full credit to her for playing incredibly well,” said Konta, who had been hot favorite to win her first grass-court title.

Konta had been expected to become the first British woman to win a tournament on home soil for 36 years since Sue Barker triumphed in Brighton.

It all looked plain sailing as she outclassed the nervy world No. 70 in the opening set, but Vekic gradually relaxed and went for broke, finding the lines consistently.

After Vekic had let a 3-1 lead slip in the deciding set, Konta appeared to be surging toward the title as she moved into a 4-3 lead, but the Croatian held her nerve to break for a 6-5 lead and then served out for the victory.

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