Donna Vekic rose quickly through the WTA Tour ranks at a very young age. She was just 16 when she reached her first two WTA Tour finals.
But the last few years have been tough, notably since the Croat’s romance with top men’s player Stan Wawrinka was revealed.
Most recently, she was probably more infamous for the fracas between Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios in Montreal two years ago, in which her name, while not explicitly mentioned, figured prominently.
And she had to go through the usual social media abuse. Because, of course, the fact that she had an much older, more successful (and, early on, married) boyfriend obviously meant that she didn’t care about tennis any more and was just hitching her wagon to his. Sigh.
Still just 20, Vekic had the last laugh Sunday as she earned her second career WTA Tour title in Nottingham.
Vekic didn’t just win it; she fought for it. Hard.
She defeated No. 5 seed Lucie Safarova 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (4) in an enthralling semifinal Saturday.
And on Sunday, against No. 1 seed Johanna Konta, she pulled off another great upset, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 7-5 to win the title.
Not only is Konta the No. 8 player in the world, the Brit also had the home-country support.
As a result, Vekic should move to a new career high of No. 58 on Monday.
Early promise, a fall, then a rise
It’s been coming, slowly, for the solid all-around player who doesn’t have the luxury of one big weapon.
Vekic definitely got a (Wawrinka) break at Indian Wells this year when she was awarded a wild card. She defeated American Alison Riske in the first round there. But she has remained at the WTA Tour level for the most part in 2017, fighting her way through the qualifying and posting some decent wins.
Vekic had a very good junior career. She got to No. 21 in the ITF junior rankings. Often, she lost to some of the very best at the time – Genie Bouchard, Yulia Putintseva – who were older.
She reached the fourth round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2012, losing to then 15-year-old Françoise Abanda (who came to within a few games of making the final that year).
Suddenly, a year later, she was a “big time” rising player with a career-high of No. 62 in July of 2013. She had just turned 17.
It all takes some adjusting to. She’s not the first young female player to enjoy a quick rise and, in the aftermath, have trouble sustaining it.
And going through the first major romance of your young life while you’re doing it can’t be the easiest one-two punch in the world. Let’s all try to remember what that first big teenage love affair was like, if we can remember that far back. It can be all-consuming.
To each his or her own pace. We’ve seen it many times in the last: talent eventually finds it level. Unless the player truly doesn’t like the sport but merely is good at it (Nicole Vaidisova is an example which comes to mind), they will usually find their way again.
Vekic’s effort this week will give her a nice bounce going into the second half of the season. And she’ll be able to avoid the qualifying a lot more often.
Now, it’s time for her boyfriend to step up. She’s been stalwart in her courtside support of him during his big moments. Perhaps she’ll have a few moments in the near future where he can return the favor.