Wimbledon.com's thoughts on the action on the sixth day of the Aegon Classic at the WTA event at Edgbaston Priory Club...
When Daniela Hantuchova played her first WTA event here in Birmingham in 1999, Donna Vekic (pictured above) was just two years old. Fast forward 14 years and the pair will contest a mouthwatering AEGON Classic final which is an apt reward for the spectators who have had their patience severely tested by the weather this week.
On another day of yet more frustrating rain delays, it was 16-year-old Vekic and Hantuchova, 30, who held their nerve. While you would expect the latter to use all her experience to come through another three-set battle, it was the composure and focus of young Vekic which stole the show as she progressed to her second WTA career final.
Vekic beat the 16th seed Magdalena Rybarikova, the 2009 champion, 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 6-3 in tough conditions, a swirling wind making it difficult for both players to play their best tennis. After a low-quality first set which Vekic took in the tiebreak, Rybarikova quickly levelled before a rain delay gave a tired Vekic a much needed chance to regroup ahead of the deciding set.
Re-energised after the break, Vekic then served for the match at 5-4 and sealed it on her second match point with a stunning backhand down the line. The win means that the Croatian, currently ranked No.89, is already guaranteed to beat her career-high ranking of 75 by around ten places and a win against Hantuchova would see her enter the top 60.
It is an impressive ranking for a player who can only play a limited amount of tournaments due to WTA rules on the schedule of under-18s on the tour. Although she trains regularly in London, Vekic has two more years of school left in her hometown of Osijek, although she admitted after that she has had no time for homework this week. “I think my teacher will be fine with that,” she said.
The comparisons with Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17, are understandable but perhaps premature. While Vekic has had a superb run here, to win seven matches on the first occasion she will play seniors at Wimbledon is another prospect altogether.
“It’s a very nice comparison but we’re very different,” said Vekic. “She has her career and I have my career. I’d have to win Wimbledon this year to win it at 17 [Vekic turns 17 on June 28]. I don’t think that’s possible at the moment. I’m playing pretty well on grass at the moment so hopefully I can win a few rounds.”
Vekic would have been sipping on an Oreo milkshake – a superstition after her dinners this week which appears to be working – as Hantuchova clinched her place in the final, beating Alison Riske 5-7 6-1 6-4 in a match which concluded just before 8:30pm after a two hour rain delay midway through the first set.
In the deciding set, Hantuchova edged ahead in the ever crucial ‘seventh game’ as she broke for 4-3 with a stunning low return which Riske failed to get back. The Slovakian former world No.5, now ranked No.60, then sealed the match with an ace to move just one win away from the first Birmingham title that she so desperately craves.
“It’s been a long time since 1999 so it’s about time,” said Hantuchova. “It was not easy to recover quickly [after her three-set quarter-final with Francesca Schiavone finished late on Friday] but I tried not to think about it and give my best and it paid off.”
Hantuchova’s win brought an end to the remarkable run of American qualifier Riske, ranked No.167, who had earlier beaten fifth seed Sabine Lisicki 7-6 (7-2) 2-6 6-4 in controversial circumstances. The pair had resumed their quarter-final at 2-2 in the deciding set and with Lisicki serving at 4-5, 15-0, Riske shouted out mid-rally before Lisicki had a chance to hit the ball.
The umpire felt, however, that it was not a hindrance and a lengthy discussion followed with a furious Lisicki, who called for the supervisor and cited the Serena Williams incident against Samantha Stosur in the 2011 US Open final as an example, even offering to show video footage of it to the officials.
However, the decision remained and play eventually resumed. Moments later, Lisicki was out the tournament. “She said ‘come on’ before I hit the ball,” complained the former Wimbledon semi-finalist, who also vented her fury on Twitter.
“You’re not supposed to do that. It shouldn’t have been her point. [The umpire said] that the ‘come on’ didn’t change my play on the point. But it [did] hinder me on the play.”