Wimbledon.com's thoughts on the action on the fourth day of the Aegon Classic at the WTA event at Edgbaston Priory Club...
Considering 31-year-old Serena Williams is the oldest women to ever reach the top of the rankings and that the average age of her and the 99 players below is on an upward curve, it is tempting to concede that the days of female teenage tennis phenoms are over. Donna Vekic and Madison Keys may have something to say about that.
On a day which included a frustrating rain delay of more than three hours, the teenagers booked their respective places in the quarter-finals of the AEGON Classic as they continued to make quite an impression on the crowd – most of them resplendent in fancy hats and dresses for Ladies’ Day - at the Edgbaston Priory Club.
16-year-old Vekic once again showed composure way beyond her years as she fought back from a set down against qualifier Maria Sanchez to claim a 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory and reach her second WTA quarter-final, although she was given a helping hand over the line by her opponent, who was given a point penalty at deuce in the last game for verbal abuse which followed an earlier warning for racket abuse.
As the youngest player in the top 100 at No.88 – you have to go down to No.360 in the rankings to find a younger player than her – the interest surrounding Vekic is understandable. Arriving back to the locker room after victory, the Croatian received a barrage of tweets, including one from the WTA announcing the result.
Vekic tweeted in response: “You know things get serious when @wta tweets about you.” She clearly is well aware of the rising interest in her which is bound to further increase ahead of Wimbledon.
“I do [sense it] but it is something that keeps me going” said Vekic. “I do like the attention and support I get on court and hopefully I can make people happy by winning. The only pressure I feel is from myself wanting to win.”
Vekic trains in London for much of the year – she spent last week training on the grass courts at Moor Park - with coach David Felgate, whom she paid tribute to after. “Having an English coach is quite nice during a grass season” she said. “But he has been a huge support for me throughout the year. He is one of the main reasons for my success.”
Keys had earlier completed her victory so quickly that she was the only player to book her place in the last eight before the rain fell just after 12 noon. The American 18-year-old took exactly one hour to beat sixth seed Mona Barthel 6-3 6-2, showing the fine form which sees her currently sit at a career-high ranking of No.53.
Ever since Keys won her first match on the WTA Tour at the age of 14, her potential has been spoken of, but, even still, her run to the quarter-finals here is impressive for someone who only took to grass for the first time two years ago in Eastbourne for the Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy, a yearly competition between the best juniors of Britain and America.
Up until this week, Keys had only played ten official junior and senior matches on the grass but is slowly getting used to it ahead of her first ever appearance in the main draw at the All England Club. “The toughest thing is the movement” said Keys. “I felt I kept trying to slide into balls. But I also love the grass because it is faster and it suits my game much better.”
Alison Riske is clearly someone who feels at home on the grass of Birmingham. The American qualifier beat Alla Kudryavtseva 6-1, 6-2 in just 54 minutes to reach her third quarter-final here in four years and notch up her tenth WTA main draw win, all of which have been here.
Top seed Kirsten Flipkens suffered a shock defeat as she was beaten 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 by sixteenth seed Magdalena Rybarikova, while twelfth seed Kristina Mladenovic was defeated 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 by Daniela Hantuchova, the former world No.5.
Twelve years after their first meeting in Berlin, Hantuchova meets Francesca Schiavone in a tasty quarter-final, while Vekic will face her toughest test yet against third seed Sorana Cirstea, Riske takes on 2011 Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki, and Keys plays Rybarikova.