TORONTO, Canada - There are two sides to every classic, and Donna Vekic came to Canada after landing on the wrong side of that spectrum at Wimbledon, narrowly falling in three sets to Johanna Konta.
“I was crying for maybe 20 minutes after the match, but I also really enjoyed myself,” she told WTA Insider after a hard-fought win in Rogers Cup qualifying. “I was playing on Centre Court, which was such an experience for me. It’s where I dreamed of being since I started playing tennis. Growing up, I was watching Serena and Venus playing on Centre Court.”
Vekic had conquered Konta two weeks prior to win her second career title at the Aegon Classic in Nottingham. Beating Ricoh Open runner-up Natalia Vikhlyantseva in her opening round at the All England Club, the Croat appeared poised to cause the tournament’s first big upset over the British No.1.
The 20-year-old performed brilliantly - particularly on serve - to push Konta deep into a final set in front of an enraptured crowd, earning a standing ovation after the 7-6(4), 4-6, 10-8 decision.
“Before the match, I was so excited, nervous, and happy to have this opportunity. To play so well, then, I was even happier. I obviously would have been happier to win, but it was just one or two points. I know I’m there, can beat her, and hopefully next time we’ll have another match like that and I’ll win.”
What followed was a much-needed vacation, time to travel home to relax, recharge, and truly process what had been career-revitalizing turn on the grass courts. Ranked as low as No.99 back in January, Vekic finds herself on the cusp of the Top 50 after earning a career-high ranking.
“It was all really great, but after Wimbledon - and even during Wimbledon - I was so mentally exhausted. We were more than halfway through the season and had already played so many tournaments, traveling all the time.
“It was a few days after the match, when I realized how amazing the last few weeks had been. I could really enjoy it then.”
Regrouping with coach Nick Horvat and longtime physio Dario Novak, Vekic made it through a windy and wild first round against Canadian teenager Carson Branstine.
“It was very tough conditions,” she said after a stormy Saturday. “The wind made it almost impossible to play, and we were both struggling to find any rhythm. I just had to stay in it after the first set; I was up 5-3 and lost 7-5.
“But that’s when she started to play better, which actually gave me some rhythm. We started having a few more rallies, so I could play better in the second set and towards the end, because I finally had rhythm.”
The match-up proved to be an abrupt role reversal for a player who herself burst onto the tour as a teen, reaching her first WTA final at the Tashkent Open back in 2012.
“She’s obviously very young, and I didn’t know a lot about her. I was also a little bit nervous, because you don’t really want to lose to someone who’s 16. That was me a few years ago and now I feel old compared to her. That was something different to deal with!”
Calmer conditions helped Vekic expedite her journey into the main draw, dispatching Romanian Patricia Maria Tig in straight sets.
“There are no huge adjustments. I had quite a big preparation over the last few weeks - after my break, of course! I’ve been working on some new things, but mostly trying to improve everything a little bit, be fitter than before. This is another long trip, and it wasn’t easy to leave home. I hope I can really win more matches again.”
Switching between the Rogers Cup’s two locations - Toronto in odd years, Montréal in even - proved the bigger adjustment, but one she’s eager to rectify with the help of some sight-seeing.
“I don’t get to experience Toronto so much, because we stay quite far from the city. I prefer the club in Toronto to Montréal, but…I cannot say I like Montréal better as a city because I haven’t gotten to explore Toronto as much, and it’s very nice here. People are very friendly, and honestly, the food is so good.
“I hope I get to go to Niagara Falls. I’ve never been, and I heard it’s only about an hour away. I’m here with a friend so I really want to make it there.”
Vekic will play her first round match against former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard on Tuesday.