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Hantuchova rolls back the years to win Aegon Classic

Daniela Hantuchova and Donna Vekic at the Aegon Classic

Wimbledon.com's thoughts on the action on the seventh day of the Aegon Classic at the WTA event at Edgbaston Priory Club...

If anyone needed any further convincing that age is no barrier in tennis these days, they need look no further than Birmingham as Daniela Hantuchova edged the clash of generations with Donna Vekic to win the AEGON Classic, her first ever title on grass at the age of 30.

Hantuchova saw off a spirited challenge from 16-year-old Vekic as she won 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to finally claim the title she has chased ever since coming to Birmingham for her first WTA event in 1999. It has been quite a week for the former world No.5, who played three consecutive three-set matches on her way to the final, including a three hour and 22 minute quarter-final against Francesca Schiavone.

“It just tells me that I can still compete at the highest level, especially physically,” said Hantuchova. “It shows me that I am in pretty good shape being able to play so many long matches throughout the whole week. The first tournament on the grass is always demanding on the body and I was really glad with the way I managed to deal with that.”

Clearly fired up and focused from the start, it was Hantuchova who edged ahead in the first set, breaking for 4-3 with a forehand down the line. Many teenagers would be prone to letting their head go down at this point but Vekic showed why she is touted for big things as she stayed calm and played a flawless game to immediately break back to love.

The tiebreak was where Hantuchova’s years of experience shone through, although she nearly threw away a 5-2 lead as Vekic, showing incredible defence from the back of the court at times, pulled level. A forehand cross-court winner from Hantuchova set up a set point, on which Vekic netted.

Although Vekic was up a break at 2-1 in the second set, the Croatian was never the same after receiving treatment for a locked rib which was causing pain in her back and shoulder. Unable to move as freely as she had done in the first set, Hantuchova immediately broke back as she bossed proceedings from the baseline.

Vekic managed a couple of gutsy holds but faltered when serving to stay in the set and Hantuchova only needed one match point to win her first title for 16 months and claim a place back in the top 50. It is she feels the result of the hard work that she has put in with coach Eduardo Nicolas and physical trainer Tiffany Nesfield, both of whom she has been working with since November.

Hantuchova now heads straight to the Netherlands for the Topshelf Open in s-Hertogenbosch – where she will compete in both the singles and doubles – before returning to the UK for Wimbledon, where she feels she can do well with a bit of luck in the draw.

“Being unseeded, it obviously depends on the draw” said Hantuchova, a quarter-finalist at the All England Club in 2002. “Obviously I was a bit unlucky in Paris playing Jelena [Jankovic]. I thought it was a great match, just unfortunate it was the first round. I took a lot of positives from that.

“Hopefully at Wimbledon I get a better draw. But on grass I always feel like I have my chances against anyone I play, unless it’s Serena at her best. I think we all know she is the toughest player out there.”

Like Hantuchova, Vekic will also be a dangerous floater the seeds will want to avoid after her remarkable run in Birmingham. She was understandably upset after losing her second WTA career final but, with the help of coach David Felgate, will get over the defeat and take the positives as she prepares for her first ever appearance in the seniors draw at Wimbledon.

“I am full of mixed emotions right now,” said Vekic. “It was a great week for me and I am very happy to get to the final but I can never be happy after I lost the match.

“I wasn’t nervous. I went out there and I enjoyed myself today unlike last time [in Tashkent last year]. I was very happy to be playing the final on centre court and hopefully I will have many more matches like that.”

Australian Open runners-up Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellaqua won the doubles, beating Cara Black and Marina Erakovic 7-5 6-4.

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