NOTTINGHAM, England - Unseeded Donna Vekic stormed to her first WTA title in over three years at the Aegon Open in Nottingham on Sunday, coming from a set down to beat top seed Johanna Konta in the final, 2-6, 7-6(3), 7-5.
The Croatian burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old in 2012, when she reached her first WTA final in Tashkent, and won her first career title just over 18 months later at the BMW Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur. However, in the seasons since, the Croatian struggled to replicate her early success as a teenager, and reaching the final in Nottingham marked her first appearance in a WTA final in a year and a half.
A season ago, Vekic was ranked outside the top 100 and lost her opening round match in Nottingham to Great Britain's Tara Moore, but will see her ranking rise to a new career-high of No.58 as a result of her efforts this week.
"It's pretty amazing and I'm really, really happy," Vekic said. "Jo played amazing and she's having an amazing year, but I was just trying to focus on myself, serve and good as I can and be aggressive, which is not easy against her. Wimbledon is my favorite tournament of the year and I'm very happy that I can go into that winning a couple of matches, but first, next week is Birmingham!
"I was a little bit mentally tired from the [semifinal] match yesterday, but physically I was feeling really good. This is something I've been dreaming of since I won my last title...there's no way to describe it, and it's something that keeps me motivated to work even harder."
It was looking like the British No.1 who would claim victory on her home court at the start of the two hour, 30 minute encounter as she rolled to the opening set in just under 40 minutes behind two breaks of serve.
Vekic began to gather momentum to begin the second set, as she broke the Konta serve for the first time to lead 3-1, only to see the top seed hit back to win the next two games to get the set back on serve. Undaunted, Vekic twice brought up set points on the Brit's delivery at 5-4 and 6-5, but needed to get things done in a tiebreak, where she won the last four points after the change of ends to send the match to a decider.
"To be honest, I really, really didn't expect to win today," Vekic said. "I was just hoping to get into the match, especially after the first set. As my serve improved, my return games improved as well. I'm happy I turned that second set around and I just kept playing better and better until the end."
In the decider, the World No.70 broke serve in the opening game, but Konta rallied to win three games in a row to take her first lead of the set at 4-3. Faced with the pressure of serving to stay in the match, Vekic responded with aplomb with an emphatic love hold en route to running off the last three games of the match.
With the victory, Vekic scored her second-ever win against a top 10 opponent, and first since April of 2014 - where she also beat a top seed to win a title; there, she took down Dominika Cibulkova in the aforementioned final in Kuala Lumpur.
Konta was looking to make some recent British WTA history in her first career final on grass, as the last British player to win a WTA singles title at home was Sue Barker in Brighton, on carpet in 1981, while the last British player to win a singles title at home on grass was Virginia Wade in Eastbourne in 1975.
"I think she was able to continuously raise her level throughout the match, so full credit to her for playing incredibly well," Konta said. "I'm very happy that I got to play five great matches on the grass and I'm really happy that I got to come back to Nottingham and play on this court in front of this crowd."
Both players will head to Birmingham for the Aegon Classicc next week, as No.4 seed Konta faces Lesia Tsurenko in the first round while Vekic matches up with Alison Riske.
"I'm really looking forward to that tournament, because it's where I played the final [in 2013] and I really enjoyed my time there," Vekic said. "You're always trying to get matches before Grand Slams...but I'm not thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing before Wimbledon,' I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing for my whole year.'
"Just to win a title is something amazing, and if I can get close to winning another one this year, it's going to be amazing."